A Freshman Journey
By Estefania Lazo
I remember the first day of classes as if it were yesterday. I was very nervous wondering about the professors and new people that I would meet. Faculty and student leaders encouraged each student to become involved in the school on more than just an academic level. Many people say that Biology majors have so much work that there is no time to get involved in extracurricular events. But almost immediately I met students who were also Biology majors encouraging students to join clubs; that motivated me to sign up for clubs such as the Science Club, Globe Spotters, Dance Club, and Student Ambassadors. Not only that, a few months later I had the opportunity to go on two trips that the school offered. Both of these trips taught me that there is a vast world to experience outside of school that is important to participate in instead of simply focusing on academic goals.
On my first school trip, I spent spring break in Joplin, Missouri. This was my first trip outside of New York City since I arrived from Ecuador five years prior. The purpose of this trip was to do community service to help people from this area recover from a recent, devastating tornado. I went with a group of twenty students, ten from the Long Island Campus and ten from the Brooklyn Campus. When we arrived, I found myself surrounded by nature. I could feel the fresh air in the morning and see the stars at night. We were immediately divided into groups and given different jobs. My job was to help build vegetable and fruit gardens at an elementary school. I enjoyed practicing skills I hadn’t used for five years, such as nailing, digging and painting. While we were working the school children talked to us during recess. They asked, “What are you guys doing? Where do you come from?” We explained that we were from New York and that we were building gardens for them so they could have fresh fruit and vegetables to eat. They were really happy and thanked us with kind words and warm smiles. My heart felt like it was jumping for joy. As a person with aspirations to become a pediatrician with the goal of improving children’s health, I was especially satisfied because I was doing something productive that would directly benefit all of those children.
After dinner, the volunteers gathered and talked about the experiences that each group had during our service duties that day. I found it very emotional to listen to stories about the tornado victims, especially about the children who were affected by the tragedy. One story affected me very deeply: on the day of the tornado a brother and sister went to a restaurant with their parents to celebrate his birthday and his sister’s graduation. When they returned, they found their home completely destroyed. They had nowhere to go and the family has not had a stable home since then. This and many other stories made me reflect on how hard it must be for many people to endure such a terrible disaster. This trip was a memorable experience because I met many new people, learned about their lives and helped a community in crisis. I also had the great opportunity to get to work with a group of passionate and motivated students who like to help others.
On my second trip, I went to a women’s leadership conference at the University of Maryland in Washington for two days. On this trip we met many leaders who were inspiring models to follow. I was very shocked to hear so many powerful women talking about the hard experiences that they had to endure to reach their professional goals. In this conference we also had the opportunity to choose the workshops that we wanted to attend. The most inspiring workshop for me was “Living a Brilliant, Bold and Balanced Life” led by Michele Ashley. She was very charismatic and said that we should start the workshop with an energetic and positive mood so we all stood up, danced and sang to Kelly Clarkson’s song “Stronger”. Michele gave us pointers on how to have a balanced life. According to her, the five principles to balance our lives are: staying flexible mentally, making smart actions, releasing fears, being grounded and knowing your boundaries. She cautioned us that we cannot achieve all this in one day, but that we should work on these little by little in order to build and maintain a balanced life. This workshop was important because this advice helped us as college students to lay the groundwork for a successful career.
Both of these trips brought unforgettable and amazing experiences into my life. I got to know many leaders and inspiring people. I will always keep the adventures and memories in my heart. Now I understand what the faculty and student leaders were talking about on that first day. I am thankful to the school and the people who organize these kinds of trips because they help students to have enriching experiences that are not just for fun, but also to learn wonderful things, which help us grow as people. My experience as a freshman helped me realize it is never too early to start realizing your dreams. During the women’s leadership conference, Michele Ashley cited John Quincy Adams: “ If your actions inspired someone to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” I hope my journey inspires others to take their first steps toward becoming leaders.
Estefania Lazo is a Junior Biology major. She is from Ecuador and hopes to return there as a pediatrician.