May 13, 2015
Haley Schulz graduated last weekend from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources with a degree in environmental studies and sustainability and agriscience. She was the student speaker at the CANR Commencement Ceremony, was named CANR’s Outstanding Student Leader, was a Bailey Scholar, president of the CANR Student Senate and a member of the MSU Homecoming Court.
Just a few years ago we received one of the most important letters of our lives, to that point: our acceptance into Michigan State University. Many of us celebrated by crying, jumping up and down, fist bumping, or if you were like me, singing the Fight Song at the top of your lungs while running around your house.
Since that time, we’ve experienced big success like cheering our Spartans on to win the Rose Bowl, landing our ideal summer internship, studying abroad, or receiving a distinguished scholarship. As Spartans we know that the little things are worth celebrating too – like a double scoop of Dairy Store ice cream, Midnight Madness, a meter with time still left on it, the midnight scream, not getting hit by the CATA bus or a bike, literally anything free, patio drinking at the Peanut Barrel, emails about cancelled class for snow days, our last undergrad final.
For my major, I was required to take Chemistry 141. This class made me question whether I was even cut out for college. Lucky for me, I took this class with one of my best friends, who pushed me hard to get extra help, show up in class and tutored me every step of the way. With every completed problem and passed exam, it was Becca who celebrated even the worst possible passing grade to keep me motivated.
My experience in this class made me wonder: What would it be like if we changed our perspective of how we defined success and started treating the little accomplishments like big victories?
Like Chemistry, my study abroad to Belize challenged me in ways I could not have imagined. It changed my perspective of what the successes of life truly are. While English is Belize’s national language, most families speak Spanish or Mayan at home and school.
Now imagine me, not speaking any Spanish, trying to teach students with a limited English vocabulary. Seriously my Spanish vocabulary consisted of como se dice (how do you say) and baño (bathroom), which I thought would get me quite far on that trip.
My first day walking into the classroom, the teacher handed me a book of problems and said, “You teach them now.”
And just like that the classroom was mine. I stood at the front of the room with 15 non-English speaking students staring back at me, waiting. I began writing on the board – trying to think of something I could say to these students.
Finally I turned around, and just as I began to talk a student got up, walked to the board and explained the problems to his classmates. For 20 minutes, this eight year old taught his classmates. Then the lunch bell rang.
Instead of the students running out of the room, they invited me to eat with them. From that moment on, we worked hand-in-hand to understand each other and at the end of my time in the classroom, my students were writing and speaking in English 90 percent of the time – and I knew significantly more Spanish.
On the last day at the school, my students shared their culture with our study abroad group. While other classes shared Spanish poems, songs and prayers, I was not ready for what my class had prepared. Their teacher began playing the guitar, the students started to clap and sing, in English. A line of their song went like this: “… our color may separate us, but English is what bonds us together.”
My students rejoiced over the simple idea that as humans we can all connect despite our social status, wealth, race or what language we speak. Life’s celebrations do not have to be defined by earth shattering moments, but rather the real moments that allow us to truly appreciate everything we have.
What’s next? Celebrating passing a difficult exam will become a distant memory as we leave East Lansing. We have redefined the standards and expectations of what really matters in life and how we should celebrate them.
As freshmen, we assumed that once we arrived on campus, all our moments would be big and life altering. We found value in the little moments along the way that made our Spartan journey so special.
We have found mentors, the best friends we’ll ever have and our second home. As Spartans we know what it means to celebrate both loss and triumphs, and no one does it better than us.
Congratulations Class of 2015 on yet another moment in life worth celebrating.
Photo of Haley Schulz and Kelly Millenbah, associate dean, College of Agriculture and courtesy of CANR