I just wanted to start off by saying how honored I am to get to speak to a room full of some of the most brilliant students in all of northeast Michigan. And how we are all so fortunate to have such a supportive community filled with generous donors to allow us to further our education and gather here today.
All of us in here have just closed a door in our lives: whether it be closing the door of high school or ending another school year at college, we are all going to be starting somewhat fresh in the fall. Over the years we have been able to learn and grow in a community that offers us sports, academics, clubs, churches and other opportunities that have been so beneficial to the individuals that we have become. We are all here because this community has once again offered to support our growth in the next chapter of our lives.
This community has chosen to support us because we have shown promise of intelligence, creativity, focus, involvement and hard work. Although receiving the funding may seem to be the end of the scholarship process, it is only the beginning of living up to one of our new titles as a “scholar.” We were not given the funding just to help out with tuition, we were given the funding so that we could build upon the scholarship to discover a passion, make ourselves more knowledgeable and reach our full potential.
You have been given the first step doing this, but now there is more work that lies ahead. As you are opening doors in the next chapter of your life, it is important to think about how you are going to discover a passion and reach your full potential while pursing your career. For me everything successful that I have accomplished has come from or started off as a volunteer opportunity.
I found my passion in Great Lakes and ocean conservation and was fortunate enough to have the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary located in our community. I became a volunteer to try to be helpful to the community and learn a little bit more about what marine sanctuaries were all about. Little did I know that becoming a volunteer would create even greater opportunities for me.
I also started out as a volunteer in the Aquatic Animal Health Lab at MSU. During the interview they asked me how I would feel if I had to kill 160 plus fish in a shift and I was appalled by that idea, but I said, “Well if it’s in the name of science, I would do it. Sure enough my first day of work was killing and dissecting over 100 fish. But here is where I have learned more about fish than I could have ever learned in the classroom.
This being said I believe it is important to line up your volunteer opportunities with what you are passionate about or interested in doing. You might not see the importance in your work right away but know that you are making a difference in the organization and you are also growing.
My suggestion to you is to volunteer as often as you can at as many places as you can until you find the perfect fit. Reach out to any organization or group that you are interested in and ask if they need help with anything at all. Chances are they could use some help. Use your passion, dedication and focus that earned you these scholarships on your volunteer position and you will shine.
I encourage you to reflect on the time you have volunteered. I hope you will notice how the small tasks you complete evolve into more important jobs and even greater opportunities. Perhaps these opportunities will lead into a paid position, or more importantly, development of relationships with people in your area of study.
One of the best doors that has opened for me since becoming a volunteer at the marine sanctuary was my mentor Jeff Gray’s office door. I cannot stress to you all enough how important it is to form mentor relationships. My mentor has helped me grow, navigate in the right direction, learn more skills and help me set, readjust and reach goals that I couldn't even imagine being possible. He has picked up the phone as I was in tears stressing out about what is the most beneficial way to spend my summers, as well as helped me network and form other mentor relationships with others in my career field. He has taught me that being purposeful, positive and passionate will get you where you want to be. As important as it is to create these mentor relationships, it is just as important to keep in touch and let them know how much you value your relationship with them.
When it comes to forming these relationships with professors, it is easy to lose touch after the semester is over. A friendly email or stopping by during their office hours lets them know you are serious about your success and that will stand out to them.
Another way to reach your full potential in years to come can be by joining your peers in or creating clubs. Most universities have a club for literally everything. Clubs are cool on campus because you can get out of your experience with a club what you put in. Clubs also are useful for meeting new people and finding even more opportunities that are out there.
Networking with your peers in clubs is as important as networking with people who are already in their careers. Becoming a leader for a club is also a way to stand out and grow. Taking the initiative to further your education outside of the classroom will lead to even greater success. Although doing well in the classroom is important, you will find that you are even more marketable when you have more extracurricular experiences.
Another resource that you should have open eyes for are even more scholarships that are offered through your university or on a national level. Many schools have scholarship offices. Setting up a meeting with them can help you align yourself with funding that compliments the work you have done. These offices have helped me pick out scholarships to apply for, write my application, and edit my resume to help make me stand out.
This past year I reached out to the scholarship office at Michigan State and was aligned with two national scholarships. With the help I received from the office and my mentors, I was awarded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hollings Scholarship and honorable mention for the Udall scholarship. The scholarship office noticed my success and has used my application as template for other students, as well as lined me up with even more opportunities to apply for next year.
I want to personally thank the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan and the generous donors because this is my third year receiving funding from through the Community Foundation. That is proof that this isn't just for seniors in high school.
I encourage you all to reapply as many years as you can because as you continue to grow into your full potential the community will notice and will continue to support you. There are endless opportunities out there. You just need to keep an open mind as you look to grow.
As you complete these next years, looking for doors to stick your foot in and seeds to plant, always remember that you are not the only one wanting YOU to succeed. You can receive help from many of the connections you have made along the way if you stay positive.
This is just the beginning. The support you have been given is so much more than money, each one of you can get so much more than financial help out of this. It is all about putting yourself out there, challenging yourself and finding your passion.
I hope that as I spoke to you today, the word that stuck out to you the most and might have even been used too much was “passion.” I don’t want my accomplishments to inspire you. I want you to find a passion that inspires you and run away with it.
That being said, it is now time to not only thank our generous donors, but impress them with the doors we are about to open and how much we are about to grow with their help.
I wish you all the best of luck and I hope that you each aim for your full potential and finding your passion starting this fall.