Before a round of conducted purposeful laughter to put a smile on the faces of those gathered in the Student Center Ballroom Tuesday evening, students were given advice from a familiar college professor and mentor who understood the obstacles many students face.
“Just remember, it’s not the destination, but how I get there,” said Dr. Colleen Cooke, professor of Parks and Recreation and Environmental Education. Cooke was emcee for the evening for the event entitled: The College Journey and Overcoming the Obstacles of Life.
At the event, a panel of four university professors sat before the audience, which many of the students recognized.
The first of the panelists was professor of English Dr. Myra Balok. Balok shared a brief glimpse into her college journey and how the decisions she’d made impacted her life.
The tone of the evening was about student self-discovery and the process that each takes to find themselves while overcoming many of life’s hardships.
Balok spoke right to students when she’d said, “I lost myself. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and decided that I did not become the person I wanted to be. I was beaten down. I was defeated.”
Balok shared with students about love and encouraged them not to carelessly give their hearts away.
“You don’t have to betray yourself to fit in,” she said. “You have been created every single one of you for a purpose. I know it took me awhile to realize that.”
Balok said she regretted how she spent most of her time in college.
“I wasted so much energy on me, me, and oh yeah, then there was me,” she said. “I didn’t spend enough time serving.”
Friends were the biggest motivators when it came to her sense of self and confidence, Balok said.
“I found amazing friends,” she said. “One of them wrote a note for me on my mirror that said, ‘You’re rough, you’re tough, and you’re damn good looking!’. I looked at it every day and laughed. I found laughter again.”
Balok also shared a past story that took place on SRU’s campus. The story was of a young woman who had written on a bathroom stall in the women’s restroom on the second floor of the Spotts World Culture Building about getting help from an abusive boyfriend. Many women responded back with encouraging words and messages for her. After a while however, the school’s property was becoming defaced and soon painters had to come in and paint over the words.
“But the painters missed one tiny message,” Balok said. “Do you know what it said? It said, ‘You are beautiful.’”
Next on the panel was professor of biology Dr. Wayne Forbes. After following Balok, he took the microphone and told her, “You almost made me cry.”
Forbes talked to students about the difficulty in carrying on with his college education after the death of his father. His mother encouraged him to keep working toward his degree saying, it was what Forbes’ father would have wanted for him.
“Persevere,” Forbes said. “Never give up and never forget your family.”
Forbes assured students how important family was in his own life and encouraged students to value them in theirs.
The third panelist, professor of exercise and rehabilitative science, Dr. William Ryan offered different advice for students.
“Take care of yourself,” he said. “Surround yourself with people that are good for you and never stop the search for self-discovery and self-actualization.”
Ryan told students he had discovered these things once he found himself with a ‘D’ average in his first year of college.
“I would study an hour a day,” Ryan said. “Then I thought, ‘I’m not going to make it in college.’ So I disciplined myself to work harder and play less. I allowed myself one night a week off. I began studying three to five hours a day and my grades started to improve.”
Learning the art of meditation through many of his friends in college also helped him to remain in a state of inner balance, he said.
The fourth and final panelist, Dr. Kimberely Smith, also a professor of exercise and rehabilitative science at SRU spoke about realizing she wasn’t alone in her journey.
In high school she graduated with a 4.0 GPA and she was the valedictorian of her class. The problem was her family didn’t have the money to send her to college. So Smith paid her own way through college while working six jobs.
“I would always complain until one of my friends said to me, ‘It could always be worse.’ I realized she was right,” Smith said.
Smith’s moment of perseverance came when a friend encouraged her to train for a marathon.
“’Make goals if you want it to happen,’ she told me. ‘Make excuses if you don’t.’” Smith said.
Smith had trained for the race and was finally there. Halfway through the marathon, Smith told her friend she was becoming tired until she saw a man with cerebral palsy carrying on as well as a blind man.
“Don’t you ever let me tell you I’m too tired,” Smith told her friend.
After the four faculty panelists shared their stories, they went around and talked with students about overcoming obstacles in their college journeys and offered words of encouragement and hopeful inspirations.