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?

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