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Seventeen years ago, I stood outside First Presbyterian School in Salem, Ore. and began my education. My memory of that day was of butterflies in my stomach. I also remember loving this dress. 🙂

Today, I took my last college final. I am officially an alumna. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a nerd about school. I love learning. This also explains my obsession (now as an adult) with NPR and PBS programs.

I love that every term there is a fresh start with new classes, new material, new books, new teachers and new friends to be made. I love taking notes and color coding them when I study later. I love school.

Walking though campus today, I felt sentimental about leaving. My fondest college memories have been on campus and in the classroom. Again, I realize that this makes me a total nerd. I don’t care. What a joy it was to study what I love on a campus so beautiful I feel that I’m in a storybook.

Looking back, here are my nuggets of wisdom for how to succeed in school.

Get involved. A lot of learning takes place outside the classroom. Seek out opportunities to play sports, join clubs and volunteer. There are a plethora of opportunities that, if tapped into, can greatly enhance your education.

Raise your hand. If your don’t understand something (or you respectfully disagree), say so! Chances are you aren’t the only one in the room with the same thought.

Track your grades. Keep a file on each class and keep all the homework you get back. You should never be surprised to find that you are barely passing at the end of the term. Your grade is your responsibility.

Go to office hours. Want to know my secret? Even if you don’t have an actual question, come up with one to get yourself to that first office hour. These times are set up by your teachers to help you. Mark office hours in your planner. Let your teachers help you. They are there to help you be successful in your education. Building relationships with your teachers is vital. They are an incredible resource. Most are more generous with their time and input than you may think. *Also, visit your advisor and your career counselor often.

Go to class. I know, this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people blow this off. Show up and be engaged in the material. Quite frankly, I think it’s disrespectful when you don’t. Your teacher took the time to put together a lesson for you. The least you can do is attend. If that means nothing to you, then consider whether throwing $60 out the window is a good idea. That’s how much it costs you financially.

Work first, play later. In college especially, there will be plenty of opportunities to play. Make a rule for yourself to not play until you’ve finished your homework. You will be more productive and practice managing your time. Also, I think that this is a healthy reward system. Work hard, then play hard!

An education is an outstanding gift. I know that I for one have been so inspired by my time at the University of Oregon to use my education to make a difference in the world.

As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.”

To the UO faculty and to my fellow seniors, see you next week at graduation!