Walking home from class today, I found myself in awe of the beauty of an Indiana sunset—one of those sunsets that finally appears on the first warm day of spring, bringing with it the birds and the flowers and the overzealous college students itching to dust off their hammocks on the nearest tree limb. Walking through the crowd of students soaking in some much needed vitamin D, the irony was not lost on me that this sunset was a fairly on-the-nose metaphor for my quickly dwindling days as an undergraduate student. In one month (or, to be more precise: one month, 2 days, 11 hours and 56), I will be walking across a stage in front of my friends and family wearing a funny looking hat to receive a piece of paper that will represent the culmination of my last four years as a student, supposedly. Watching the sun set on what has been an important chapter of my life, I find myself to be in a very reflective state of mind, wondering what I would go back and tell my freshman self if I could. Of all of the ideas bouncing around in my head, one stands out more than any other: do not be afraid to ask for help.
It turns out that college is hard, and even though I tried to prepare myself for this coming in, I was not prepared for the specific kind of difficult that college can be. Yes, the academics are tough, but for me the beginning of an undergraduate career came with trials that went beyond the classroom: how to transition to living away from home, how to properly take care of myself, how to study in a new way, and how to grapple with the fact that I might not be able to do everything on my own. You see, I have always been a relatively self-sufficient person, and somehow as my education progressed I came to believe that anything worth doing had to be done by myself. I had convinced myself that if I needed to ask for help, that meant that I was not smart enough or good enough to do it on my own. Maybe this was the reason why I chose to attend a relatively small liberal arts school, where the class sizes would be small enough that I would be able to do everything by myself; however, I quickly learned that college’s unique difficulties make it kind of an impossible thing to try to do on your own. Unfortunately, by the time I realized this I had already spent 20 years of my life conditioning myself to not ask for help, and at the end of my first year of college I was not sure I even knew how to talk to a professor.
Things turned around when I began to interact with professors that both encouraged and expected their students to meet with them outside of the classroom. These mandatory check-ins gave me a reason to talk with my teachers without feeling like I was a bother or a failure for asking questions and getting help. More than that, they allowed me to get my foot in the door and start an honest dialogue with people who would have an incredible positive impact on the rest of my college career. Visiting a professor’s open office hours to go over a test led to a delightful conversation that ended in both of us realizing that our families are from the same small town in Pennsylvania. A mandatory “getting to know you” meeting with a psychology professor my Junior year led to a chance to be a member of a psychology lab and learn how conduct research for the first time, a chance I never would have gotten if I had not been forced to chat about my favorite genre of music. These relationships I built with professors outside of the classroom turned into great sources of information, mentoring opportunities, and references for jobs and grad school, and I slowly began to realize that my college experience could come to be defined as more than just a GPA.
As a Freshman, I wish I had known that these discussions with professors could be about so much more than my test scores and my class grades. In fact, I am convinced that I only survived my four years of higher education because I was able to sit in my music professor’s office once a week and talk to her about anything and everything that was going on in my life (under the guise of taking horn lessons, of course.) I cannot pretend that I have it all figured out, and learning how to talk to professors outside of the classroom is still a skill that I need to work on, but I am so thankful for the professors in my life who took the time to make me feel comfortable and confident coming to them whenever I needed to.
If I could walk up to my younger self on her first day of college, I would tell her to start practicing the skill of asking for help early and often. Make no mistake – asking for help can be difficult, and at times it can be scary, but it is a skill that can generalize to every other area of life - not just school. Asking about something that you cannot quite figure out might open the door to questions you did not even know you had, starting conversations that can turn into influential relationships. I am coming away from college with the confidence to believe in my own abilities, and the realization that I can still ask for help when I need it. The combination of confidence and humility, meaning knowing when to ask for help, should situate me nicely for my future. With this idea in mind, I can walk confidently into the sunset of my undergraduate career knowing that this is a skill that will prepare me well for the next chapter to come.
written by Allie Henry
Allie is a graduating senior from Butler University, who majored in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Music. A native of Indianapolis, Allie will be continue her education at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University next year. She has been an active member of Butler's campus, participating in a psychology research lab, plays the horn as part of performance ensembles, and many other activities. Allie really loves pizza (it is her happy place), and she is very excited to see Hamilton in New York City this summer with her mom.