Adapting to Life’s Challenges
By Randi Rioux
I think this week I’ve been letting it settle in my mind that I’ll no longer be a student at UCF. It’s weird and emotional, yet extremely exciting. As I’m preparing for graduation, I asked myself “what do I want to leave behind?” and that answer comes as a story and a hopeful message to all the undergrads and students who are looking for advice. My advice? Improvise.
When I entered my college career, I was embarrassed. I’ll be the first one to admit, I was not some scholar in high school. I wasn’t great at math and I was mediocre in science. I loved to read and write, but my GPA was always below average. I hated feeling like I had to fit a certain stereotype to feel successful. I knew I wasn’t the best, but I also knew I had a passion for art and writing. I was in the AP art program, drew every day and I was president of the National Art Honors Society my senior year. I had set my heart on a private art school and hoped to become an illustrator. My hopes were quickly dashed at the realization I could not afford such a high tuition cost. I had to decide what was next. For the first time I could remember, I had to improvise!
I had a lot of friends from high school attend some amazing colleges. Some studied abroad, and others were in Ivy League universities. I felt like something was wrong with me. I didn’t feel like I could ever be that successful. Yet, I pushed myself mentally and decided I would work harder than I ever had before. In my first two years, Valencia College taught me important core values of motivation, focus and determination. Every single one of my professors was passionate about their students and wanted each of them to succeed. I strongly believe I was humbled and molded into the person I am today because of this. In the blink of an eye, I received my associate degree in Studio Art in the fall of 2016 and was accepted into UCF. I was at an all-time high. I felt confident, excited, happy and like I had the whole world in front of me.
Within a couple of months of attending classes at UCF, I knew I wanted to expand my passion for visual design and bond it with another passion of mine: writing! The Ad-PR program was a perfect fit. I was lucky to be accepted the day before my birthday. It’s been a whirlwind of fun, excitement, learning, collaborating and growing ever since. Fast forward two years later. 2018 was going to be my year. When the New Year’s ball dropped, it hit me for the first time that this was going to be the year I became a young adult in the real world. Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last very long.
February 14, 2018 – Valentine’s Day. This used to be my favorite holiday. I remember coming home from my classes to fix lunch and prepare a gift for my significant other and get ready for our date. I turned on the local news to see the weather and it was interrupted by a breaking news alert: someone was shooting up a high school in south Florida. That high school was mine.
That day, 17 fellow Eagles had their lives cut short. My hometown was changed forever. My safe place and refuge was no longer the place I grew up in. As the days went by and more information was released, I remember asking, “what do I do now?” That’s when I decided I wanted to help. The following month, I teamed up with the Counseling and Psychological Services at UCF (CAPS) to create a workshop where fellow Douglas alumni and anyone who was affected could come, connect, grieve, share stories and know they were not alone. I wish this part of the story is where things get better and things go back to the up-and-up. Unfortunately, I was hit with another life-altering situation.
Not even three months after the event at my high school, I was preparing for final exams when I got a phone call. It all happened so fast, I couldn’t tell you the details. My mom found out she had a benign brain tumor and needed to go into emergency surgery within the next 48 hours.
How does something like this happen to a person in such a short amount of time? How can someone carry this shock, pain and fear? They improvise.
I held myself together to take my exams the morning of my mom’s surgery. I drove home as fast as I could to make it in time for her to come out of her surgery. I forced myself through my exams and studied as hard as I could. I guess the focus paid off because I passed all of them with flying colors. I am still stunned about that to this day!
Fast forward seven months later. Today, I am preparing for the next chapter of my life. To say this year was full of challenges would be an understatement. But I wanted to share my story with all of you and to leave you with my personal list of advice.
- Talk to your professors. This year alone, I was so fortunate to befriend my professors. They were the ones to give me the strongest advice and give the best support when I needed it the most. Seriously, talk to them. They care more than you think.
- Surround yourself with good quality friends. In these last four years, I’ve built an amazing circle of friends I know I can rely on when I’m having a rough day. For those “friends” who only stick around when you’re at your highs: forget them. Your true friends will see you at your lows and be the ones to lift you up.
- Be humble. It’s great to be the top of your class and get every internship you’ve ever wanted, but no one is going to care if you don’t stay humble about it. I’ve met several students who are incredibly intelligent and have a passion for what they do, but they have an attitude like they will never fail. Newsflash: everyone takes an L. Be humble when you succeed and be gracious when you fall. It only gains you respect.
- Have fun! It can get overwhelming as you get older and your final campaign approaches or personal life events can bring you down. Please don’t forget that you’re only an undergrad once. You are in your current position only once. Embrace every moment. I know I’m going to miss being a student at the best university in Florida.
- Be kind. Maybe there’s a student who’s not as great at writing as you are, or maybe someone isn’t as visually creative. Maybe they got a late start. Be kind to them. Teach them along the way. I like to call these people underdogs, and if you’ve seen any great underdog film, they always win in the end.
- If you’re that underdog, stick with it. It can be hard when you feel like you’re alone on the road to become the professional you’ve dreamed of being. The world does not look kindly at those who show their struggles and mistakes. I’m on your side, and I’m rooting for you. Which leads me to the next tip:
- Not everyone is going to understand your vision. It sounds like something out of a cheap motivational book but it’s true. I loved my fellow students, but some of them had different ideas and plans for what this major meant to them. I understand I may have not been a typical Ad-PR student, but that didn’t stop me from losing sight of what I wanted out of this major.
- Breathe. It’s funny, I know. However, people forget that they can be so consumed by deadlines and assignments that they forget to stop and take a moment to get in their right headspace. Not every assignment and every deadline must be met with such high stress.
- Improvise. If there is anything you can take away from this, please improvise. As a lover of communication, PR plans and advertising strategies, it’s ironic how much we cannot control.
- Accept those things you cannot control. Didn’t get into your major the first time? Try again. Failed that test? Study a different way. Didn’t get that job or promotion you wanted? Look for another door. I cannot tell you how many people I meet that have this expectation of walking, no, running down this path they’ve created in their minds like nothing’s going to go wrong. I laugh. They think there is only one special door and only one path they have to stick to. I tell them they must look at all the different paths around them. I promise, even with every bump, crack, rock and obstacle, with enough motivation and determination, you will get to that door.
It has been an absolute honor to serve as your creative director for the student chapter at UCF! I am so thrilled to see Quotes continue to evolve. I look forward to being a helpful professional and mentor to the next era of Ad-PR students.