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The Daily Illini

Students should appreciate impact of graduating class

By Hayley Nagelberg, Columnist

It was a few weeks into my freshman year the first time an upperclassman made an effort to talk to me about something besides, “Hey, what’s your name, and what are you studying?”

While attending an event for an RSO I was starting to get more involved in, we stayed up late talking about life before college, our families, our values and views at the time on different elements of life. As the weeks went on, these conversations became the norm with him and many other juniors and seniors who would start to become my college and life guides.

When the senior class graduated last year, I was sad. Yet, many of the people who graduated were those who I had not had enough time to get close to.

For two years now, I have looked up to, learned from and lived with this group of people who had already, to some degree, made it through whatever crisis I was going through at any given time. This spring, as I finish my sophomore year, preparing to say goodbye to my graduating senior friends seems like one of the most difficult things I have to do.

How do you accept that you won’t be able to text any of these people in a panic, asking to go for a walk around campus just to find yourself sitting somewhere quiet, unloading all your hopes and fears at once?

How do you accept that you will be the upperclassman, expected to be the guiding voice for a new group of students? I have so much more to learn for myself still — how can I live up to the heights they have all set before me?

For the last number of days and weeks, these are the thoughts that have been racing through my mind. I am counting down the moments with excitement until I am done with the academic portion of the year, which has tested me in so many ways. But at the same time, I am watching the moments with the graduating class tick by faster than I am prepared for.

There is a TED talk I have watched over and over titled “Leading with Lollipops.” The speech has been presented to me numerous times in the context of understanding what it means to be a leader.  The speech revolves around the notion of learning to recognize the moments that have made the most impact on your life, and the moments you have made the most impact on someone else’s life, as moments of leadership.  

The speaker tells the story of the moment a girl came to tell him how he changed her life the day he walked around handing out lollipops. The speaker gave the lollipop to a boy near this girl, who in turn gave it to her. The girl said that this moment gave her confidence to continue with her schooling, and she went on to date and marry the boy who passed the lollipop to her.  

The lollipop changed the course of her academic trajectory, her college relationships and her entire future. The speaker said he did not remember the incident, but when she thanked him he realized how unaware we all are of “lollipop moments” like this one, and how special it is to make note of them.

The speech stressed the importance of telling people when they have made an impact on your life. I decided to take this message to heart and started to write out notes to the graduating seniors who have made an impact on my life and will be handing them out before the school year ends.

It is not for any of us to replicate the leadership that anyone who is graduating showed us. It is for us to be leaders by simply being aware of everyone around us. At the end of the day, when we come to college, we all become part of an unspoken community of teachers and leaders simply by being good people and sharing our own knowledge.

I hope if you are upset to see this year’s senior class move on, you can think to do something similar by letting these people know the impact they have had on your life. And one day, probably far sooner than any of us can imagine right now, someone will do the same for us.

Hayley is a sophomore in ACES.

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