A Lesson in Learning One

2012 Honors College Induction Ceremony Speech

By Alyson Germinder

Good morning. On behalf of the Honors College faculty, staff, and students, it is an honor to welcome you today. My name is Alyson Germinder, and I am a senior here at MU. I am studying English and Theatre. And, like all of you, I am an honors college student.

I want you to take a moment and think about this question: what challenges you?

Most of you probably answer that question with a list comprised of inspiring teachers, favorite subjects, maybe your family, friends, or a recurring debate topic. Some items on that list may be trivial – that one Sudoku puzzle you can’t solve, the idea of a blind date, the center of tootsie pops.

Four years ago, I would have come up with similar answers. The Kansas State debate championships challenged me. My relentless but nonetheless motivating debate coach challenged me more. The one girl who beat me out every year for top academic girl in the class challenged me, until I challenged her my senior year.

High school, in many ways, was challenging. Advanced courses, extracurriculars, too many hours spent on too many projects and papers and assignments – all because doing so was what being a good student meant. Pushing myself to be the best, the brightest, the one who no one doubted would go to college.

Sound familiar?

As honors students, we were the good students. We followed the rules, read the rubrics, gave most of our assignments thought. And we will always be good students. But being a good student doesn’t always mean the work we did challenged us. I bet some of you haven’t felt challenged. Or challenged enough. I have a feeling that’s why many of you are sitting here today, anticipating an honors program that will challenge you in a way high school didn’t.

I also know that not being challenged is nice sometimes. We can write a paper the night before and still do just fine. We can forgo proof reading an application and still get the job. We can do the minimum at our level and still rise above the majority.

But that’s not challenging. And, what I’ve found, is it’s not very rewarding.

Realizing that, I’ve had to change my answer to that first question over the last 4 years. What challenges me?

What’s challenged me at MU is failing. That’s right. Getting it wrong. Being told no. Bad grades, poor interviews, and awkward conversations. Falling on my face on the way to class and wondering if it’s worth getting up.

If any of you are like the honors student I was, then chances are you may have gotten a B one time on one paper and immediately dismissed that teacher for the rest of the year. How dare that teacher challenge my ability. Maybe you didn’t (or didn’t want to) understand one vague comment on an essay, but didn’t ask for clarification because how dare that teacher fail to explain herself the first time.

How dare they not?

I know, how dare I suggest that, yes, for all those years, those people that have questioned us, pushed us, told us maybe next time or never again, they were right in doing so?

Now, I came to college with a near perfect academic record, pay from a steady job, and a long list of school and community involvement activities. So when I came to Mizzou and realized that for the first time, I had nothing to do, and no one asking me to do something, I panicked. I was used to being too busy, to doing too much, but somehow doing it all.

The first lesson I learned in college was you have to look for something to do.

Sitting in my room one day freshman year, I decided I was tired of an empty schedule. I wanted to do something. So I saw an advertisement on the MU Announcement email for a job at the Career Center. Come be a Career Specialist, and gain paraprofessional experience working with students and community members who want and need career advice. It seemed like a great opportunity, so I filled out the application with my Pilot black ink pen, crafted an About Me sheet, and bought a packet of résumé paper. I showed up to my interview in my finest debate tournament outfit, shook the Career Center director’s hand firmly but not too hard, and smiled my way through the first round interview. When I got the email saying I had been invited back for the second and final round, I was happy but not entirely surprised. I had been through this before.

So I came to the second interview in my second best debate outfit, but sat in a room of 4 professionals and attempted to answer interview questions I had never been asked before. I hadn’t prepared for “what are you weaknesses” and “tell us about a time when…” questions that can break you in an interview. I took too long to answer one question, and for the first time I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way I had portrayed myself.

And then I got the email from the director, Craig Benson, that said we had a lot of qualified candidates and while we wish we could offer the position to everyone, we can’t. And we unfortunately can’t offer you a position at this time. Craig offered to discuss the decision, so I typed out a “yes, I’d like to talk” as I blew my nose and wiped away too many tears. This was the first time someone had told me no, and I didn’t know what to do. I’m not good enough, I thought. I can’t work anywhere.

When I met with Craig later that next week, I shared with him why I was so upset and how new I was to this all, that I was scared of not finding a home on this campus. So over another box of tissues and a conversation about my interests, Craig worked with me to create a list of things I could do to get involved. Apply for Residential Life, talk to the college of education, look into the theatre program, join an acting troupe, become a writing tutor. And, if I wanted, reapply at the Career Center next year.

I could have done two things with that list: thrown it away or did something with it. As discouraged as I was, I was determined to see that list through. A year later, I applied again, and I brought with me that list; it was 80% checked off, but I still wanted to be a Career Specialist. 2 years later, I am now a Supervisor at the Career Center and will teach my third semester of Career Explorations this fall.

Not getting that job the first time didn’t mean I was not hirable. And it certainly didn’t mean I was a failure.

It meant I needed to learn a lesson.

The second lesson I learned in college was you have to earn everything you do.

One of the first things I did after my talk with Craig was contact Dr. Rachel Harper at the Writing Center. As an honors student, I had the opportunity to take the Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing seminar my freshman spring semester, which is the required training for any student wanting to be a writing tutor. I contacted her early enough that, after a short talk and knowing yes, I really do want to be a tutor, I got a permission number.

In January, I found myself in a small classroom tucked away on the fourth floor of Ellis library, surrounded by sophomores and juniors and people who clearly knew more about the English language than I ever would. When Dr. Harper put up examples of passive voice on the board one day, I was trying to figure out how I would ever keep these grammatical terms straight in my head and was everyone else following this? And then I wrote my first paper for the class, an assignment in which we had to observe status moves of those around us. I waited until the night before to write it. For our two examples, I pulled one from a movie I saw the weekend before and another from an overheard conversation between two of my friends. My thesis was weak. My organization was worse. But it was good enough. I thought.

A week later, Dr. Harper handed me back my paper with a C+ grade and more commentary than I was used to seeing in the margins. She caught me. She called my bluff. And for once, I got the grade I deserved.

I revisited the assignment, worked on my writing – really worked on my writing – and ended the semester with an A and one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I’m starting my fifth semester tutoring at the Writing Center this fall. And Dr. Harper is serving as my advisor for my senior honors thesis next spring.

Getting a C+ on my paper didn’t mean I couldn’t write. Or that I was a bad student. Or that I was a failure.

It meant I needed to learn another lesson.

By my junior year, I had learned to look for and to earn everything I did on this campus. But the third lesson I learned was you have to keep looking.

I will graduate with degrees in both Theatre and English, and when I tell people I’m pursuing a job in theatre, they say I must be a fan of rejection, that I get some sick satisfaction from being told no. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m rejection’s #1 supporter, but it has given me a tougher skin and a better appreciation for the word “yes.” Last fall, I auditioned for three shows and heard no three times. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Was it my monologue? Was it my hair color, waist size, the way I walked in heels? What did it take? I started asking myself why I put myself through this. I started doubting theatre and myself all together. But with that last no, I finally sought the advice of a graduate student. She told me to talk to a new theatre professor, Dr. Cat Gleason, about being involved in a production in the Columbia community. While I wasn’t looking to audition, I was looking for an opportunity. The theatre world is much larger than the actors who walk on its stage.

Dr. Gleason introduced me to dramaturgy, a behind-the-scenes position that’s research heavy and education based. She asked me to be the dramaturg for her upcoming show, and it was my job to advocate for the play and playwright. Figure out what actors needed to know to understand this particular play’s world. I researched heavy ion colliders, the solar system, and stories of nepotism so that I could craft an actor packet for the cast. I was combining my love for writing, for reading, and for teaching in one position. I found a new way to love theatre. I now have a faculty member who admires and vouches for my work, and who again asked me to be her dramaturg for another production this year. And I finally have an answer to the “so what are you going to do with that?” question that all started with someone telling me not this time.

Not getting cast didn’t mean I shouldn’t be in theatre. It meant I should be a dramaturg. And that I had one more lesson to learn.

So here I am, four years later, and while I’ve been challenged by phenomenal professors, upper level classes, and students who now ask me “what should I do?,” I have learned the most from knowing the least.

I’ve learned that I am still a good student. I am still hirable. I am still a good writer. But I had to prove that. I had to do something.

And the great thing is, I learned that you can always do something. Even if someone tells you no.

I know that, for all of you, the next four years will be challenging. I know that you want to be perfect, to do everything right, to be the good student you have always been. And you will be. You will accomplish, read, and learn more through this honors program than you undoubtedly did before. You will work with the best faculty and be surrounded by students just like yourselves. Just like me.

But you will be told no. You will get turned down. You will look in the wrong places and show up to something on the wrong day. You will fail.

Be proud of those moments. Accept those challenges. And know that you are still good students. You are still honors students. You are not failing. You are simply learning a lesson.

I wish you all the best and the worst during your time here.

Thank you.