Baccalaureate Reflections, Danette Norman Till ’85

Danette_000Baccalaureate Reflections on the Journey by staff member Danette Norman Till, a member of the Class of 1985:

Good evening.  My role at Manchester University is director of counseling services.  What a privilege it is to share with you this evening some reflections.  Because of my role and confidentiality, I will not, of course, share names but I can share with you experiences, lessons learned, impressions, and growth experienced that I have noted along the way. 

I recall a former senior student sharing with me that he wished in some way that there could be a diploma for all the work that he had done behind closed doors, the closed doors of the counseling office, and the closed doors of his own space where he did hard work.  Many people have a story that becomes known to others, and many just work through their story on their own – but we all have one, our own story, our own challenges.  

I recognize that I have the honor of meeting only a few of our graduating seniors, but from those that I know personally and those I know through others, I am proud of these seniors and the compassion they will bring to the communities and workplaces of their future.

I have witnessed traits in the class of seniors that will lead to continued success after college and will share a few of them with you now:

Resilience: Some of you who have experienced an unexpected set back with a grade, or in a relationship, or financially and it has seemed impossible to move forward, but you have done just that – perhaps to your own surprise; that ability to bounce back and do what did not seem possible, that is a trait that will help you not just graduate, but it will help you find success in your employment, in relationships, and in life

Showing up authentically is hard; many of you have taken the risk to meet with a counselor or a mentor on campus because someone you trusted suggested it could help; that ability to take a risk and see yourself honestly, as well as allow others to see you, is not easy; I congratulate you.  Allowing help, asking for help, these are also habits of success for your future. 

  Many of you experienced the loss of dear friends while a student here, others also experienced the loss of an important family member while a attending here, and others became more aware of a loss because they saw what others had in relationships growing up that they did not; moving forward after such a loss can feel impossible but amidst such difficulty one is also forced to find resources inside oneself you did not even know you had or could have; this is the type of strength that is not typically felt in the moment, but rather is often noticed in hindsight, because at the moment all you may feel able to do is put one foot in front of another, but doing that daily will get you through.  

  Some of you experience severe anxiety.  It has become the number one reason college students seek counseling here at Manchester and across the country.  Anxiety can make us afraid to talk to new people, it can create sensations in us that make us feel like we are having a heart attack, or cannot breathe, and it can make it hard to leave our room.  But you have pushed yourself beyond what is comfortable, to speak in a group, to show up when your heart is beating so fast you think you might pass out.  With determination, you have pushed yourself to talk with someone, maybe a counselor or a physician, perhaps medication played a role, or mindfulness activities, or distracting yourself with trusted friends, or maybe calling home to allow Mom to talk you through your panic.  Whatever options you utilized, you did it because of your determination that you will not be shut down by your anxiety.  That determination deserves recognition and yet many will never know your achievement.  They will not know what you went through just to show up.  

 Taking notice of that for which we are thankful; some of you figured out that being intentional about gratitude makes a positive difference in your life; I have learned from students about apps on your phone that are used to prompt you to remember to notice those things for which you are grateful.  Being able to be grateful is a habit of those who have resilience to get through hard things.  Studies have shown that a gratitude journal results in higher alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy, improves the immune system, improves sleep, and can help reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms. 

These are all traits, skills if you will, that are within all of us and if we are intentional to practice them, incorporate them into our lives regularly, they become a habit.  

I will close by sharing thoughts to assist you as you travel forward in your journey – things that I hope you will choose to incorporate daily and make a “habit” in your life: 

Take care of yourself (daily) – be kind to yourself, physically and mentally.  Try not to hide from yourself, take the risk to show up and hear that small inner voice that is talking to you.  

In the spirit of author Brene’ Brown, “Lean in, not away from those that are different.  It is hard to hate up close.” 

Don’t be afraid of “hard,” the good stuff often comes in the rumble of the hard stuff.  The world is not black and white; we often want a quick fix because it is hard to sit in the rumble.  The rumble is actually where the good stuff can be found – don’t be afraid to look. 

Make mistakes, avoiding them takes so much energy and keeps you from your best selves.  Mistakes are part of learning, be gracious with yourselves.  We don’t typically do it right the first time, mistakes are part of the journey to success.

When faced with uncertainty, be curious, ask questions, (of yourself and of others) ask “tell me more”, “Help me understand” and then LISTEN, not with preparation for your next argument, listen with an open heart to hear.  We all long to be understood.

As you leave here, remember you do “belong” here at Manchester.  You fit and you are leaving a legacy here by the mark you made.  The mark you made may be different than another’s – but you have made a mark at Manchester, you belong.  You are important. Trust in your importance.  Notice the internal gremlin that tells you that you are not enough, or that nobody cares, or nobody notices you.  Tell that gremlin to stop, it is not helpful.

You are noticed, you matter, you are important.   This is a truth to cling to, believe in, allow it to ground you, keep you solid, and carry you on to the next phase of your journey.  Learn to trust yourself, flaws and all, it is what makes you “you.”  You are the best “you” there will ever be – there is only one of you.  

I will leave you with a favored Maya Angelo quote to savor: You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all.  The price is high.  The reward is great. 

May 18, 2018