By MANI THANGADURAI
In a matter of weeks, I will say farewell to UT and move on to a new phase of my life, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to return to UT for my Master of Science degree in Finance. Through all my experiences here in America over the last five years, I can honestly say that I have learned many lessons, both inside and outside the classroom.
My undergraduate experience at university in India was forgettable to say the least, since I was seldom made to feel valued or appreciated. I was always eager to make the most of my time in America, and UT was the perfect place for me to begin this exciting new segment of my journey. I was able to learn so much about myself, and a lot more about what I needed to do for myself in order to become a more well-rounded person. I absolutely thrived in the atmosphere here which was definitely more open, and my impressions about university life in America were not belied.
When I first came to America in the fall of 2013 with a lot of hope and excitement, I took a big plunge by re-entering the classroom after a gap of nearly 10 years. Maybe in some ways I wasn’t completely equipped to tackle a demanding program, or maybe I just needed some luck. After leaving UT in 2014 without completing my MBA due to some academic issues, I had to start again at a new university in Florida which thankfully wasn’t far away from Tampa. But I was able to earn that MBA degree, reclaim some lost self-esteem and grow from the earlier disappointment. This segues into an important lesson I was able to learn: to be grateful for the life I’ve had so far and to not focus on the hurt, the regrets, and what might have been. The more I was able to truly appreciate the things that made me feel happy, the happier and stronger I became and the more able I was to truly move forward.
I also learned the importance of not just taking responsibility for my work as a student or student leader, but really owning it. It isn’t enough to just make a small contribution to a project or an event; I realized that only by really stamping my mark on something could I earn any satisfaction. Even with individual assignments I realized that I had to set myself apart from the other students with regard to how I approached and completed my work. It wasn’t always easy, and I admit there were times when I didn’t do what I set out to do. While I’m proud of the moments when I did, I must also remember my failures and make sure they aren’t repeated. This lesson will only serve me well as I look for employment following the conclusion of my education.
With regard to friendships, I learned the importance of treasuring them while I have them and making sure that my friends aren’t taken for granted. It’s often accepted that as we move on, friends will drift apart and become just too busy. However, given that our generation has been blessed with social media and more advanced means of maintaining contact, there should be no reason why we cannot maintain at least the closest of our ties. While I was on sabbatical away from UT I made the mistake of getting off social media, and several friends I made during my first time here ended up drifting away and forgetting me. But after returning, most of my remaining friends were glad that I was back. I’ve also learned the hard way that while some friends can be held close, others may require some distance. Having had so many visions of being friends with as many people as possible, I’ve had to apply that filtering process on more than a few occasions. I guess that’s a reality of life.
Another fantastic lesson I was able to learn here is that missing out on a wonderful opportunity should not be a barrier for future success. A great quote from the film Cool Runnings is my motto now: “If you’re not enough without something, you’ll never be enough with it.” Whenever I’ve missed out on something wonderful, like the chance to represent UT at a competition or be accepted into the Delta Sigma Pi fraternity, I’ve had to overcome the initial hurt by somehow steeling myself and reminding myself that I had bigger fish to fry. While I know that earning my diploma is the main aim, I’ve always wanted to experience some great opportunities which would have added some shine to my overall academic journey. But instead of allowing that hurt to envelop me, I am merely reminded that I have to make myself great in other ways. I’ve always been a believer that if I miss out on something small, it could lead to something big. There have been times when I’ve wondered about the wisdom of that, but on all occasions I’ve managed to return to center. I guess I just have to be strong enough to keep on believing, and it’s still a journey, but I know I’ll get there.
Whatever happens in the coming years, I will look back on the five years I’ve spent as a student in America, particularly the three years here at UT, as the best years of my life. I have been able to not only gain an education, but also gain some self-respect and self-worth. I know that with a wonderful education and grounding inside and outside the classroom, I am prepared to tackle anything. I’ll be almost uncontrollably emotional when I finish my last class, but I know that it’s time to move on and let go. In return, I’ll take away nothing but the most beautiful memories which will not fade for a long time.
Mani Thangadurai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org