Reflecting on Four Years – College Insights from Youth Advisory Board Member, Lauren

Contributed by: Lauren Caton


This Saturday, I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. As the life I’ve built for myself over the past four years came to an end, I was forced to grapple with the emotions and thoughts that followed suit. What exactly did my time here mean? What did I learn? I have compiled some of the recollections I have gathered during my time here in order to share some tidbits of information I wish I had known before entering college.


Be who you want – do what you want

To this extent I don’t mean blow off classes, binge watch all Netflix original series’, or skip all commitments for a day in the park. What I mean is that it is important for you to listen to yourself – what do you want and need to do to accomplish your dreams?


· Your life belongs to you: So often people get wrapped up in the next career step or what it takes to make it big, without thinking about if it’s what they really want. Don’t let what anyone else thinks you should do with your life cloud your actual interests and goals. Constantly listen to yourself and check to see if the path you are headed on feels right to you

· Find your strengths: I came into college thinking I wanted to become an M.D. However, after becoming involved in extra curriculars, I realized I was actually really good at organizing people for a common cause and thinking of long term strategic visions for organizations. For this reason I believed my talents were better suited for a field where I could think strategically about the causes and long term future directions of health.

· Simple: Find the thing in your life that brings you joy and fill your life with it

· Practice Self-care: If you are tired, hungry, or stressed – rest and fuel! Listen to your body and you will function so much better. It is so easy in college to get carried away with the next deadline or exam, but this can lead to unhealthy and detrimental behaviors.


Give 100% for the 70%
· The minority: This one is SO important, as a college student and college graduate; you now make up only a small percentage of people in the U.S. with this honor (around 19.8% to be exact). Today, many see it as a rite of passage – but that still isn’t true, and many people still don’t have access to these opportunities.

· A critical lens: Look around your community and see the barriers that prevent individuals from having this access – think critically about solutions – and act.

· Contribute: Our workplace culture is increasingly shifting away from the individual and moving toward collaborative team- based models in order to meet the demand of our increasingly global society. Service and learning to work with and accept people from all different types of backgrounds is the most valuable lesson you can take away from college and will enable you to develop solutions that face our current world. Organizations like the Girl’s Empowerment Network have given me this opportunity and I couldn’t be more thankful for the lessons provided.


Strive to lead not follow
· Initiative: College curriculum does not train students to become leaders – you have to take on that burden yourself. Something people don’t tell you is that to ACTUALLY advance in your career you need to be able to lead others effectively, not have the entire periodic table memorized. Getting involved in GEN programs allowed me to cultivate these skills.

· The twilight zone: I was a shy and unconfident student before I came to UT. But, after pushing myself out of my comfort zone I was able to find my niche, passions, and voice. It wasn’t until I reached college that I even found my true passion for girl’s empowerment. In college you should always be stepping out of your boundaries, as uncomfortable as it may seem and as one of my professors said once “College is a constant state of confusion”.


Notice that little of the advice I have to give is actually regarding academics. Don’t get me wrong – the reason you are in college is to learn and grow! But, despite graduating with honors, I can barely tell you half the lessons I learned in the textbooks. What I do remember are the long nights of studying that made me stronger, the people that changed my perspectives, the professors who opened my eyes and gave me courage and the community that I learned to give back to. Wherever you are in life, whether you are graduating college or entering college, or reading this for inspiration, I hope you take your world by the horns and innovate, inspire and engage with your community.

Felicia Gonzalez