There is one wish I made a few years back that, as of late, has bothered me above all others. It was an excruciatingly hot day in the middle of August 2012. The sun was blaring as my dad, stepmom, and I waited in the line of cars swerved around the parking lot adjacent to BBB Halls. Cramped on one side of the car and surrounded by an excessive amount of clothing and Pinterest-inspired dorm décor, I was a mess. I was nervous. I was anxious. I was scared to be left alone. On that day, my first day on the Syracuse University campus, I silently wished that the four years ahead would go by quickly.
Now past the finish line and officially an alumna, I can’t help but cringe at this wish. Not making it wouldn’t have made time go any faster or slower, but it would have been helpful to know then, on that hot summer day, that: those nerves were worth dealing with, the discomfort was worth working through, and those personal barriers were worth breaking down. I wish I knew then that I would become a stronger, more open minded, and more driven person thanks to the many differing and challenging opportunities Syracuse University would put within my path and equip me to face.
My first glimpse into the depth of the pride of Orange Nation occurred before I arrived on campus. Many welcoming and encouraging students, faculty, staff, and alumni commented and sent messages of congratulations following the publication of my article in The New York Times. Enthusiastically writing about my dream acceptance to Syracuse University, I painted a vision of what I hoped to achieve, including mixing my two academic passions, writing for the Daily Orange, and traveling abroad. I described the university as a place that fit me – a fosterer of education that would not force me to alter myself to attend. At that time, that description rang true, for everything I sought, SU offered.
No more than a few days after the article’s publication, I abruptly hid in a supply closet in the forensics classroom at my high school to take a call from Erin Martin Kane, SU’s then associate vice president for public relations. To my surprise, she offered me a position at SU’s Office of News Services. In that moment, I was undoubtedly excited and grateful, but I had no perception of how much that phone call would impact my experience at SU and the immeasurable amount of opportunity that would come with it.
An article, a phone call, a few months, and a nervous move-in day later, and my undergraduate career had launched. Over the course of the four years that encapsulated it, many memories were created, some of which I accurately predicted in my article – such as studying abroad and pursuing two majors – and most I had not, but all were more dynamic than originally expected.
As a dual major in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the College of Arts and Sciences, my academic experience was diverse, yet cohesive. I learned from authors, prosecutors, communication directors, veterans, photographers, graphic designers, entrepreneurs, and movie producers. I pursued subjects I am passionate about and subjects I was hesitant toward, gaining valuable skills from each class and appreciating exposure to topics of unknown territory. My academic experience was thought-provoking. It was strenuous. It was worthwhile. It was enjoyable.
As a founding member, recruitment chair, vice president of academics, and then president of Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority – a sorority being something I never thought I would join – my longstanding shell of shyness disappeared and an indescribable support system emerged. I built memories with future lawyers, teachers, IT specialists, occupational therapists, communication professionals, dentists, talent agents, and accountants. I handled situations I was trained for and situations that could not have been predicted. I learned the importance of leadership, communication, prioritization, and inclusiveness as we attended academic conferences, planned campus-wide events, raised money for charities, promoted positive body image, welcomed new members, hosted a reception with Chancellor Syverud, and inducted a brave 15-year-old young lady with Cystic Fibrosis as an honorary sister. I celebrated as our young organization strengthened its bonds and successes. I was honored as we were awarded SU’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs’ highest award for 2015-2016 and as I was named chapter president of the year. My Greek experience was exciting. It was demanding. It was uplifting. It was empowering.
As a member of #44Social, SU’s student social media team, I worked creatively and served as a voice for the university. Though designer’s block and 140 character limit struggles were frequent occurrences, nothing compared to knowing a project brought smiles to the many faces in our community.
As a student abroad, my sense of independence and enthusiasm toward learning about other cultures and practices were invigorated. I survived the times of sleeping on a staircase after missing the last train in Cinque Terre, getting locked in an apartment in Seville, and saying goodbye to my host family, yet nothing will beat the enjoyment I had while traveling with good friends and sampling good food.
As a peer advisor and Student Affairs Advisory Board member and through the many Juice Jam concerts, Mayfest celebrations, comedy shows, philanthropy events, bus rides, Marshall Street runs, basketball games, and late nights at Bird Library, I met incredible people who influenced me in one way or another and made my four years unforgettable.
And, as an intern at SU’s Office of News Services, I wrote articles and press releases, designed infographics and media passes, photographed events, delivered broadcast reports, shook Oprah’s hand, documented a Commencement, attended a chancellor’s inauguration, witnessed the Dalai Lama rock an SU hat, live-tweeted the Mirror Awards, met SU alumnus Prince Sultan bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, shadowed amazing people, and gained the foundation to succeed in internships and my future career.
Now, a phone call, a wish, and four years later, it is clear that my original depiction of Syracuse University no longer suits me. I had not anticipated how inaccurate my description would become as I became more adept to varied situations through interactions with thousands of different people with different views of life. I learned to abandon any preconceived notions, take advantage of all situations, develop a better understanding of differing social and comparative perspectives, and become a member of a diverse community of undeniable pride and collaboration. I did alter myself at Syracuse, and in fact, it was for the better.
Now, my foundation remains the same, but my aspirations, priorities, and appreciation for the world have all evolved. Now I’m no longer nervous. Now I’m ready. I am a Syracuse University alumna, Class of 2016.
None of this would have been possible without the extraordinary people who have supported me along the way. Thank you to:
- Paula McKinnon – for encouraging me to write for The New York Times, guiding me through my last year at Brooklyn Technical High School, and for being such a genuine, kindhearted person
- Erin Martin Kane – for making that phone call, being the best mentor with the kindest soul, and drastically changing my experience at SU in more ways than I could have ever imagined
- Maren Guse – for trusting me, offering advice, and giving me so many opportunities
- Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz – for serving as an incredible role model and doing so much good for SU
- Justina DeMott – for helping me remember to take care of myself, consistently encouraging me no matter the situation, and for being an unbelievably courageous person
- Claudia Strong – for always pushing me to be creative and challenging me to produce my best work
- Bill Jasso – for helping me fall back in love with writing and always making me laugh
- My professors – for teaching me to be a stronger thinker, communicator, and person
- My friends – for exploring all of the ridiculous adventures with me
- My family – for loving me unconditionally
- My dad – for everything. I love you bigger than a watermelon
Cassie Dagostino is a recent graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and Maxwell School with a BA in Public Relations and Political Science.