Monday, February 2, 2009

From the Mouths of Brainy Cyclists

Jon Paretsky, a senior on the Ripon cycling team and a Knop Scholar, was asked to welcome the 30-plus high school seniors who were on campus Saturday to compete for scholarships.

His presentation went a little like this:

Hello! It’s my pleasure to welcome you all to Ripon College. First of all, congratulations, for each of you has shown a certain degree of skill and scholastic aptitude to have been invited to scholarship days. I trust that your interviews and essay writing went well, now is your time to relax, and to enjoy being here.

When I was first asked to speak at Scholarship Days, I wasn’t really sure what I would talk about. Not unlike yourselves, I am a senior. I have worked throughout my four years of college for this last semester, for the preparation of my next leap into the bigger world. I, too, am applying to academic programs, although in my case I’m looking into Ph.D. programs in chemistry. So I’m pretty familiar with that feeling you probably have — trying to answer the big questions, like: “Where do I go next? What place is right for me? What will I study? Will people like me? How will I know?”

So I’ve taken time to reflect on my own college experiences to see how I’ve come to this point now. You know, four years ago I was sitting in your spot. I had just hammered out an essay and made it through a couple of interviews. The next school year, I would be entering Ripon College as an incoming freshman of the class of 2009.

Like most people, I came to college undecided about what I wanted to study, although I had a pretty good idea of what I thought I wanted to do. I would, of course, continue studying German, because I enjoyed languages in high school and figured that it would be a neat path to follow. However, language majors are encouraged to take a second major, and I thought I would take up history. Well, some things just don’t work out the way you plan them to. Although German has been a mainstay of my academic experience, history soon fell out of the picture as I got hooked on chemistry after taking an introductory course.

Hey, no judgment casting guys. I hated chemistry in high school like most American students are supposed to. Part of what caught my interest was the new environment that I found myself in: people interested in learning science and seeing what they could do with it. And then there were the professors.

Ah, professors. Talk to almost any Ripon College student about the best part of the education here, and they will certainly mention their professors. When you’re looking at schools and trying to find your ideal student to professor ratio, what you don’t realize is that professor may become one of the driving factors of your education. I may have hated chemistry in high school, but my professors here at Ripon inspired me to not only enjoy it, but to thrive on it. They have encouraged me to challenge my comfort zones, to push myself in class, and to not give up, all while ensuring that I understand the material I’m supposed to be learning. Professors have such a keen impact on students’ lives because they actually care and take the time to become involved.

Enough about professors though, because, ultimately, there is so much more to college than being in the classroom. Indeed, some of the greatest lessons you will learn will be through the activities you participate in, the friendships you make, and the places you go.

Preparing for this speech made me realize just how much I had fit into my four years here.

I have participated in themed living groups, where a group of my buddies and I lived together in various residence halls over the past three years, throwing movie events and raising money for hunger programs.

Even though I’m not a theatre major, I have participated in a number of Ripon theatre productions, including two student-directed one-act plays.

There are numerous campus events for students, ranging from movie nights to iron-chef competitions to a concert by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

And there’s intramural sports. Nothing is quite like getting a group of your friends together to play innertube water polo in the fall or a vicious round of floor hockey in the spring. My friends and I live for the days when intramural sign-up sheets are released.

This past year I participated in something absolutely new to me: the brand new Ripon College Cycling team. Wow! Was I in for a rough road, literally. Our band of cyclists traveled near and far on the weekends competing in collegiate and general mountain bike races across the Midwest. I’ll admit, I’m not a stellar mountain biker, and believe me, I have some scars to prove it. But cycling gave me a chance to try something totally new, and in the end it was one of the most personally fulfilling things I have done at Ripon. I found that I was capable of doing things I never thought possible, like surmounting an impossible hill, or getting up and finishing a race after biffing it on the asphalt for the third time.

Ripon College has enabled me to have some of the most formative experiences of my life by providing me with the opportunities to travel. As a sophomore, I participated in a Maymester class that spent two weeks in a tiny mountain village in Jamaica, helping out with menial labor, painting walls and keeping the children out of trouble in after-school programs. This was my first major cultural exposure. In the following year, I spent my spring semester abroad at the University of Bonn, Germany.

Yeah there’s that German connection again. I’ve known since eighth grade that I wanted to go to Germany, and my junior year I realized that dream. I spent five months living in Germany, meeting new people from across the world, and taking classes in German language.

While there, I met up with fellow Ripon students who were on their own abroad programs. I visited my best friend in Scotland, and entertained guests in Germany who were studying in programs in Paris, London and Italy.

Probably my favorite part of studying abroad was an internship I had. I actually connected my interests in chemistry and German by doing lab work in the Bonn chemistry department. I spent about 20 hours a week in lab, gaining not only valuable lab experience, but some really cool German friends, too. I admit, it was hard working in an environment where I was speaking a foreign language, and there were days that I was so frustrated that I couldn’t find the German words to explain what I was doing; but the victories I had in lab made me feel like I was 10 feet tall. Studying abroad gave me a chance to live in a world that I had only ever seen pictures of, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about all that I have gained from it.

So there, now you’ve heard of all my experiences at Ripon, and believe me, there’s much, much more that I don’t have time to include in my talk. There’s a little something for everyone here, whether it’s Spanish theatre class, the hustle and bustle of Greek life, or a secluded corner of the library with your favorite book. Now is the time for you to have your own experiences and make your own memories. Good luck with your decisions ahead of you, and I hope you take advantage of the life shaping opportunities you will find here at Ripon College.
For more of Jon's experiences on the bike team and other miscellaneous tidbits, check out Jon's blog.

No comments:

USA Cycling Collegiate News

USA Cycling News Headlines

USA Cycling Mountain News