Academic Read #12: Learning How to Succeed

From our Mission Statement: “Gonzaga cultivates in its students the capacities and dispositions for reflective and critical thought, lifelong learning, spiritual growth, ethical discernment, creativity, and innovation.”

“’If you could give a piece of advice to yourself at eighteen, what would it be?’

‘If you want something, you’ve got to ask. Hard work isn’t enough. Yes, you need to work hard. But then you’ve got to ask.’” –Humans of New York, New York Times

 If you had asked me when I was eighteen what my life’s plan was, I would tell you what college major I would graduate with, what grad school I would attend, and what city my first job would be in. I would assure you of my ability to balance my academic workload, social life, spiritual life, and physical health with each other adequately. I would tell you that I would be able to do this all on my own, with little external resources or support. What I didn’t realize when I was eighteen was that it is okay to need support.

I went to a large high school in a relatively small town. Of my class of 650 students, I worked to excel in honors and AP classes as well as varsity athletics. I spent the majority of my time at school, at practice or at work. My grades seldom suffered, but as senioritis took over, I learned exactly how much work had to be put into assignments to ensure an A in a class. After gaining admittance into Gonzaga, I knew that I would take with me the skills necessary to be a successful student. Fast-forward a few months to my first weeks at Gonzaga. To escape the impending homesickness, I decided to try to get involved in everything I was involved with at home. I joined the club swim team, joined as many clubs as possible, signed up for retreats, and took on the demanding coursework and prerequisite classes that science majors were required to take. As my friend groups began to solidify, I felt completely at ease with my college environment. That is, until midterm grades came out. I sat in my advisor’s office. He assured me that my grades were ‘alright’, but asked if I wanted any resources or strategies to bump my test scores into the next grade bracket. I denied his offer and assured him that I would increase my grades by finals. As I left his office, I was shocked. I had never been one to receive ‘alright’ grades. I started studying harder and for longer durations. I realized that I wasn’t balancing my life as seamlessly as I had imagined, and tried to get back on track.

The Jesuits focus on cura personalis, or the care of the whole person. Aside from gaining a holistic education at Gonzaga, I have found that professors and faculty members embody this idea. The incorporation of the mind, body and spirit are essential for succeeding and excelling in academics at Gonzaga. After receiving poor midterm grades, that first semester of college, I tried to change my study habits. Instead of utilizing the C/M study rooms for nightly homework, I started working in the library. Instead of cramming for exams in the nights leading up to exams, I tried to go to office hours well ahead of time to understand of concepts needed for a test. I would like to say that these changed tactics landed me on the President’s List for that first semester. They didn’t. My grades improved from being ‘alright’ to ‘fine,’ but I was still missing something. I was trying to do it all – by myself. Spring semester of my freshman year, I reached out for help in classes. I joined study groups. I sought out help from TAs. I went to office hours religiously. I visited my advisor to make sure I was on the correct path for my desired career. I continued to put in hard work in all of my classes, but the difference was that I asked for help. The first step in my academic success was admitting to myself that I was unable to do it all on my own. I needed to allow myself to lean on others.

Entering into college, I knew two things. One was that I had my plan. The other was that I loved Gonzaga because of the unique community that it possesses. I learned that my plan didn’t play out as expected because I didn’t allow myself to rely on others. It wasn’t until I accepted my surrounding community and the resources that it provided that my academic standing improved and I was able to become the student that I knew I was capable of being. College is hard. But you’re not in this alone. You will have some sleepless nights, or low test grades, but you do not have to be alone through your academic career. Ask for help. Advocate for yourself. With a lot of persistence and a little bit of help, you will be able to navigate through various academic workloads to turn your life’s plan into a reality.

Jen O’Toole is a Gonzaga senior from Napa, California, now majoring in psychology. Her favorite time of the year at GU is the first warm days of spring right before Spring Finals, where students try to study on lawn chairs on Herak Lawn with friends and then going to baseball games for dinner.

IGNITE Question: Reflect on a time where you needed to change your “plan” in order to achieve your end goals. What obstacles stood in the way? Did you keep, ignore, or alter your plan? What takeaways did this experience leave you with?

5 Responses to “Academic Read #12: Learning How to Succeed”


  • I really enjoyed this blog because I have the problem of not asking for help and that held me down throughout high school. This coming year I believe I will make it a habit to reach out for help and study every night. It’ll be rough at first, but it seems to get easier as you said you began to go into office hours religiously. Again, thank you for posting this, it really helped me realize some aspects of college!

    • Hi Lacey,
      I am so glad that you got so much value out of this blog! When I was a freshman, I was terrified to go to office hours because I was super shy and nervous. But, I got over that fear and found so much value in a one-on-one setting. Professors are able to give you individualized attention and rather than critique your questions and concerns, they drive you to a success and clarity. I hope you are able to attend as many office hours as possible, they are extremely beneficial. We are so excited for you to be on campus soon and we hope you have an amazing first year!

      Best,
      Garick Sherburn
      Small Groups and Catering Manager, O-Core 2014

  • One of my goals this summer was to earn money to help with college expenses. When my plan for getting a job fell through, I had to pursue other avenues. Through this experience, I learned that one of my greatest strengths is perseverance.

    • That’s awesome, Katrina! Being able to push through adversity is such a great strength to have-and it’ll for sure come in handy in college!

      Megan Soldati
      Academics & Special Populations Manager

  • I had my entire Senior year, and the months that would follow graduation all planned out: I would be graduating high school, completing the IB program, working at my summer camp, and beginning my college adventure at Gonzaga. However, the year instead brought on a journey much different than I had ever planned for myself. I couldn’t afford to attend Gonzaga, and was too afraid to be honest with people to ask for help. When the rest of my IB class was talking about the schools they would be attending, I was facing a year of uncertainty. I didn’t get my dream summer camp job. I didn’t leave for Gonzaga in August. I was instead jobless and temporarily without a home. This was the beginning of a year that would teach me that there was power in asking for help, and that it is so very human to do so. My dream remained to attend Gonzaga, but my plan to get there changed drastically. It took a couple months to accept that 2013 would not hold what I had dreamed it would, I eventually got a job(then another, and another), and found friend’s homes to stay in. I worked three jobs at the same time for 7 months, so that I could afford bills but also save for Gonzaga. I was once again accepted this year, and submitted my enrollment! But found the quote from Humans of New York ringing true, ‘If you want something, you’ve got to ask. Hard work isn’t enough. Yes, you need to work hard. But then you’ve got to ask.’ I worked really hard in high school, and this past year to be able to go to college. But was once again faced with that hard work not being enough to get me to Gonzaga. There was a gap between the financial aid I received, and the amount I needed. But because I am independent, with no cosigner, I was unable to get loans! It felt impossible, but my friend wouldn’t allow me to give up on my dream, and encouraged me to ask for help because I would be attending Gonzaga. And while asking for help was hard, it wasn’t as hard as living my life without my dreams! So I created a fundraising page, and asked the world for help. I received tremendous monetary support, and get to attend Gonzaga because of it! But what was even more incredibly transformative was the love and belief people shared with me, their words filled my heart(and my eyes with tears), and has made me believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can make my dreams come true. That was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. This experience left my whole being profoundly changed! The support I have found has helped me to understand the true importance of dedicating my life to service, the transformative power of love and utter belief in one another, and most importantly the strength that comes with asking for help.

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