Warning... this is going to be a kinda long post- so grab a cup of coffee, cuddle up with a blanket, or close your computer and save my thoughts for later. Whatever you're feeling- but you've been warned.
I’ve been in a constant state of reflection the rest of today. My roommate and I spent a solid hour reminiscing about our first semester living together. I turned on the radio today and “Chandelier” by Sia was playing (which was my jam all freshman year—don’t ask). Then tonight the senior art students went to our professor’s house for dessert. We shared our best memories from Roberts and laughed at our most embarrassing stories.
I’ll be putting out some more blog posts with all sorts of stories from my college experience over the next couple weeks, but today I want to share a story about an overarching theme of my time here at Roberts…. It starts out like most students and is not crazy or exceptional, but stick with it— the ending is good.
Ella Zehr in 2014 went into school with an end goal— to graduate with a great GPA, get a job right out of school, have minimal debt, and graduate in 3 years (and get married not long after—although I was a “strong independent woman” and wouldn’t have told anyone that at the time)… I was driven, an overachiever, and ready to take on the world.
Things changed though—as they do for many students. I remember being told freshman year—by 3 upperclass art students—that I should transfer from Roberts in order to get a good job when I graduate. Let me tell you, that was not encouraging to a studious freshman with high aspirations for her career. I was paranoid—if my school couldn’t give me the skills I need to succeed after graduation, why was I here? Later I discovered that these students said this because Roberts is not an easy school and they were struggling—I didn’t know this at the time though.
After hearing from the third student that Roberts isn’t the place to be, I did my research and announced that I was going to transfer. I’d leave my newly-beloved music department family, my soccer team, my new roommate, and the new city of Rochester that I was growing to love. I told my parents, my roommate, my boyfriend.. everyone knew. I remember walking into the library to print a scholarship form for another school—on the verge of tears from all the overwhelm it was causing me—and a friend came over to say hi because it was a rare occurrence for me to be in the library (because I spent 99% of my time in the art building). He saw how upset I was and comforted me, offered to pray with me, and got dinner with me that night. For months after that, he joked that I only came into the library when something was wrong (the other time he saw me in there was when I was filling out a “change of major” form).
My professor walked in and sat at the table across from me and watched me work—I don’t know why she came back after class ended, but she was there, giving me tips on my piece here and there. I asked her about her art career some. She told me that she did her undergrad at Roberts—which I hadn’t realized. After Roberts, she applied to the prestigious art school where she did her masters and got in. I asked her if she felt like Roberts prepared her for the masters program and the real world. She bluntly said “no”. I was caught off guard by this—like ‘you’re a professor and you’re saying that the school that you teach at doesn’t prepare us for the career field you’re supposed to be training us for?’. She didn’t try to defend herself- just said “no”. Then proceeded to say that she had to work extremely hard during her masters to flourish as an artist in her desired field.
I don’t know why I felt comfortable telling her then about my decision to transfer for this very reason, but I did. In that moment, she felt like a friend—sitting across the table talking to me—allowing me to confide in her. I told her everything—what other students told me, my desire to be the best that I can in what I do, and fears that Roberts wasn’t going to prepare me for that.
I realized then that Roberts was what I wanted. I wanted a place that would challenge me, and where I could push myself to succeed. If this professor finished her undergrad at Roberts and is so good at what she does now—and she is willing to sit down with me, during her free time, to tell me about her experience, I wanted what she had.
So I stayed.
My dad told me later that he had been praying that I would decide to stay—he felt that it was a bad decision for me to leave, but never wanted to enforce his opinion on me. My roommate felt the same.
What changed after that has driven my time in college to be what it has been. I applied—on a whim for a student council position of graphic designer. I was going to be a graphic designer, but I didn’t know graphic design at all at the time. I figured out how to use Illustrator, got it on my computer and interviewed for the position. I remember seeing the email at midnight during April of my freshman year—saying I got the position—in pure amazement. I was jumping into my career already. I have had that position since.I became a photographer and designer for two more groups on campus. Made connections, and got involved in everything I could. I worked extra hard to learn the Adobe programs—when most of my graphic-design major classmates already knew how to use them, I was at square 1.
I went on an art trip to Paris and London my freshman year for a month with 9 upperclass students I didn’t know. On that trip, I got to know a senior who became an inspiration to me then—and still is today. On the back porch of our hotel in London, she shared her testimony with me and I learned the power of testimony—even to other Christians. This wouldn’t have happened had I transferred or been at a traditional art school.
Now, two stories to finish off my long story:
During my second year at Roberts, I had a high school senior stay with me for a weekend while she was visiting. I showed her around the school, told her about my major—and the opportunities I’ve had within it. We bonded over talk about artsy photo spots in Rochester, quinoa, and instagrams. She thought she wanted to do computer science—which Roberts doesn’t really have—but hadn’t decided yet. Afterwards, this girl met with her admissions counselor and told her that she wanted to go to Roberts. After talking with me, she realized that she wanted to be a graphic design major and saw a lot of advantages with going to Roberts for it.
This year, I met a girl who is a freshman marketing major. Her concentration is graphic design though and prior to declaring that, she had some questions for me—which I happily answered for her. I’ve had the privilege of helping her with basic photoshop when we’ve happened to be in the design lab together. It makes me happy to encourage her in her skills—and champion the program she is in that allows her to learn them so well. This is what I wish the seniors had done for me when I was a freshman in her shoes. Seeing as I’m graduating, the student council needed to hire a new graphic designer. I encouraged her to apply—even with little experience, I knew she would be great. Had I not encouraged her to apply, I don’t know that she would have. Anyways, she got the position and is stepping in with a confidence that I didn’t have two years ago when I got it.
I am proud of these two girls who I have been blessed to encourage in their college pursuits. All this to say, no school is perfect, and Roberts is certainly not perfect. It has been worth my investment here though. My teachers genuinely care about me as a person—and that is what has set my college experience apart from most. Tonight, when I was eating chocolate at my professor’s house with the other art seniors, I was reminded how blessed I am to have had this experience.
If I could tell any prospective student one thing though—college is what YOU make it. It is your attitude, your pursuit of greatness, your desire to get involved. That is what will propel you forward. Don’t think for a second that you will succeed in life because you are going to a school with a good reputation in your field of study. Sure—that can help— but it is not going to get you a great job someday.
I got a job about a month ago (story about that to come) and I will be walking the stage on Saturday. Its crazy how fast it has gone, but hey—it was great! Now I’m here—sittin at my desk, drinking my turmeric latte (latest obsession- link below for recipe) and full of nostalgia and gratefulness. My life is good. God is good. And my Roberts experience was good.
My ceramics art teacher's site: https://www.joannapoag.com
My hand lettering portfolio (senior exhibition work): http://ellazehr.weebly.com/handlettering.html
Favorite Turmeric Latte: http://minimalistbaker.com/5-minute-vegan-golden-milk/