I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I just completed half of my WashU career. In high school, I had a pretty good idea of why I wanted to get a college education: make connections, get a good job and have some fun. I only focused on the outcomes and never really considered what I would learn along the way. With two years down, I can confidently say that I have learned more than I ever thought I would; however, that learning hasn’t been restricted to theories of development and models of architecture. I want to talk about a few of the things I’ve learned at WashU that have made a huge impact on me.
For a while, the idea of failure scared me into never taking risks. It wasn’t until a conversation with a fellow student that I realized how flawed my thinking was. I set up lunch with a senior I idolized to ask for advice and discover what contributed to his immense success. Instead of discussing his accomplishments (which include numerous awards and a Rhodes Scholarship), he talked about the times he had fallen short, suggesting that these times were not failures, but experiences from which to grow and learn. It’s like the idea that Ben Franklin never failed, he just found dozens of ways how not to make a light bulb (yes, I recently watched National Treasure). This different way of thinking about success and failure marked a simple, yet formative shift in how I think about life. At WashU, the students you walk along side will teach you invaluable lessons you will never forget.
EVERYONE is Human
This seems like a pretty straightforward idea; but it wasn’t until a United Nations conference that I truly understood what it means. This semester, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia. The night before the conference, my friend and I went out dancing (when we probably should have been asleep). We saw a table of Americans there that seemed to be having an awesome night and stayed even later than us. The next day, as we walked to our 7am meeting, we saw the same Americans meeting with the President of Colombia- they were high-level delegates speaking on behalf of the United States government. I had always been intimidated by people that were leagues ahead of me; this moment represented a different way of thinking about people- as humans. This concept applies to professors, businesspeople, and anyone else that seems intangible. Knowing that these people were once in the same position as yourself makes it easier to enter a conversation and clearly express yourself. Throughout my experiences at WashU, this idea has been reinforced to the point that, now, I feel comfortable talking to just about anyone.
Don’t Let Schooling Get in the Way of Your Education
WashU realizes that you will learn just as much, if not more, outside the classroom than within. The University emphasizes that education exists in diverse experiences through creating opportunities for students to learn in a variety of contexts. Earlier this semester, I felt a disconnect between the theoretical conversations we were having about community development in the classroom and what was actually going on in St. Louis. After expressing this concern to my professor, he organized a meeting for me to talk with local developers and discuss what they do on a daily basis. These opportunities exist for all students at WashU and reinforce their commitment to holistic and effective education.
Know People by Name and Story
This is the most important thing I have learned at WashU. Dean McLeod brought the idea of knowing people “by name and story” to campus. The maxim is a fundamental outlook on how one ought to interact with others. By appreciating people for their name and story, you embrace the diverse experiences everyone brings and unlock incredible potential for collaboration and understanding. One of the most highly regarded professors of campus, Bob Hansman, echoed this idea by reminding his students, “Everyone has a story just as full as your own.” If I take nothing else from my time at WashU (which seems unlikely), I will remember to know people by name and by story.