DI Voices | Embrace failure, trials, tribulations in education


Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Alma Mater stands tall at the corner of Wright and Green streets dressed in a commencement robe. University students remind each other that making mistakes is part of your educational journey.

By Dennis Austin, Senior Columnist

On a bitterly cold evening in Palos Hills at Moraine Valley Community College, I sat for my final two GED exams. 

After the exams concluded, I sat in the lobby area constantly refreshing my phone, eager to see the final results. There it was. Three years after dropping out of high school, I had earned my high school credential, mere weeks before Christmas in 2016. 

While millions of Americans were both eager and terrified of the incoming Donald Trump administration, I was excited to resume my life as a student — this time in college. 

I enrolled in a small community college in rural New York, and after completing my program there, transferred to the University in January 2020, settling in my new surroundings before a global health pandemic put an end to that. 

As a member of the December 2022 graduating class, I am in a reflective mood, thinking back on the trials and tribulations leading up to this point. However, rather than solely focusing on my success, I also reflect on my failures and what I learned from failing. 

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Be it a less than satisfactory grade for an assignment, or dropping out of high school at the age of 19, failure can often engineer a new opportunity. Thus, I am writing to you new members of our campus community to embrace failure, and yes, other hardships. 

Sometimes, society shields us from the harsh realities of life. It is easy to become inundated in a Disney-esque fantasy world where nothing bad ever happens, and in the end, you marry the strikingly gorgeous prince, who whisks you away to a castle where you live happily ever after. Life is not that simple nor reflective of the true struggles endured by many.

At some point, you will experience hardships — be that personal or academic. You may experience a breakup, the loss of a parent or loved one, the breakdown of friendships, not to mention, the strong possibility of experiencing academic hardships and even financial difficulties. If anything, while this pandemic has left us with an indelible mark on the human soul, we draw from this experience valuable lessons on the health and welfare of our communities. 

COVID-19 has reminded us how much we take for granted the gift of waking up every morning, knowing that as we rose, someone did not. 

Do not run away from the consequences of failure and hardship. Embrace them. You will get something wrong at some point in your time here. Accept it. Of course, that does not nor should it create an excuse to be apathetic and lazy, but it does allow us to be realistic about ourselves.

It is common to see students here in a rush during the final weeks of the semester, begging their professors for passing grades, almost to the point of desperation. It is madness. Of course, failing a class comes with consequences: potential loss of a scholarship, being held back from graduating, finding employment. 

These are possibilities not to take lightly if you fail a class. Then what? What’s your next option? Throw a temper tantrum in your dorm room? Good. Eat ice cream and cry? Good. Maybe throw bottles against the wall? Only if they’re not glass. Do all of that and when your mourning has ended, remind yourself that you are not defined by your GPA and that there are many more important parts of what makes you yourself than what a transcript displays. 

Use this as an opportunity to not just retake a course and pass, but to become a better student. That is, after all, your only option.

Failure will happen to all of us in the future. We are not done failing nor experiencing hardships in life. It’s not a matter of if, but when and where it happens. How will you respond? This is the beginning of your life as an adult. 

Long after you cross the stage four years from now, there will be many more failures and difficulties you will experience. This isn’t to be grim, but merely a reality, and as you get older, how you respond and eventually overcome those obstacles will define you. 

Suffice to say, while dropping out of high school at 19 years old was not a pleasant experience for me, coupled with other personal circumstances, I did learn from them. It helped shape who I am and is the reason why I, a GED recipient, will be graduating from this university next year. 

As new students begin to step on campus, keep these words in mind, not just during your tenure here, but for the rest of your life.


Dennis is a senior in LAS.

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