by Ashley Finethy Wheeler ’11
Here are some of the biggest life lessons I learned during my four years on campus that I continue to practice in my life.
Not Everyone Is Going To Like You . . . and That’s Okay
I was nervous to come to college and have to make a new set of friends, and I met some of my least favorite people ever (and very best friends) during my time on campus —particularly on the volleyball team. I am naturally a people pleaser, so it was difficult living on such a small campus and having to face peers and teammates every day knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could do to make them like me. I made the difficult decision to not play volleyball my sophomore year because of how toxic some of my teammates were, but once they graduated I felt psychologically safe enough to join the team again with some of my best friends.
Honestly, I almost transferred after first semester, but it was a challenge I was able to overcome and now it makes me a better friend, colleague and employee who cares about inclusivity and making everyone around me feel accepted and included. Through navigating these tense and sometimes awkward situations, I became more confident being myself and realized that I would rather live life being my authentic self than have everyone like me.
Value the Friendships You Do Make
I am SO lucky to have met so many great people and made some life-long friendships. It was great to have friends as part of all aspects of my life on campus — my volleyball friends, Courier friends, communications major friends, etc. They all gave me diverse and interesting perspectives on life.
It’s great to have remained close with a handful of them (seen above at my wedding!) and I have really enjoyed staying close through all sorts of crazy life changes — new jobs, new boyfriends and husbands, celebrating milestones with their families, and now kids. They know most of my deepest, darkest secrets and are there for the good, bad and everything in between. If I didn’t go to school in New London, I wouldn’t have met amazing life-long friends.
Push Yourself to Try New Things
For my pathway classes, I was put in what I can only describe as Professor Laura Syke’s Lewis and Clark nature adventure section. I was not thrilled. There was a media law section that would have been a perfect fit for me as an aspiring communications major, but after several attempts I realized that there was no way I was getting in. So, I begrudgingly showed up to class and made it very clear I was not happy to be there. Once class got going, we were all able to laugh at how I would have never survived their journey and would miss my cellphone. Slowly my resentment toward class started to melt away and I found myself actually enjoying class. The “stepping stone” classes were also nature focused — one involved renting snowshoes and identifying trees and birds outside every class.
Though it was not my cup of tea, I was so glad I learned a new skill set, had a professor that I respect and trust, and realized that this was an experience I would have never signed myself up for and that I should do that more often.
Make Time for Your Interests
Being on the staff of The Courier was one of the most rewarding things I did during my time on campus. I always thought I would be a journalist, and working as a writer and an editor gave me the chance to explore my interest. I knew I was passionate about writing and journalism when I was willing to give up social time (willingly!) to spend time in the office on the third floor of Colgate brainstorming ideas, copy editing, or working to get the layout just right. The Courier allowed me to explore my interest in photography and to explore my passion for storytelling in various forms.
It is always an option to make room for your interests (so don’t worry!), but college is a great place to explore them with access to more resources and no major risk of failure.
Take A Stand for What You Believe In
One of the reasons I chose to come to Colby-Sawyer was the school’s rich history of empowering women. I quickly found my way to a women’s studies minor and lived in Abbey (yes, by choice!) to honor some of the school’s history. Through thoughtful and engaging class discussions, I started to understand the importance of gender equality and all the ways my (quite privileged) life had been affected. I took basically every class Melissa Meade had to offer and found it fascinating how gender and media were intertwined. I found myself wanting to learn more about gender inequalities and wanting to use my voice to protect women whose voices my not be heard (this photo is from a NARAL Pro-Choice event.)
It felt safe and productive to discuss topics like gender inequality in an academic setting and have access to resources that allowed me to form an educated and informed opinion that I felt comfortable standing up for. I continue to try to take this approach in my adult life in a world full of increased conflicting information.