Laura Anderson was honored with the "Major of the Year" award at the Kinesiology & Health Sciences department's graduation ceremony. She received a certificate, medal, and will receive a check from the Borgenicht Endowment. Below is an introduction by the Chair, Michael Deschenes, and Laura’s speech to the graduating class of 2018.
This year’s Kinesiology & Health Sciences Major of the Year Award went to Ms. Laura Anderson as a result of a vote by the department’s faculty. Clearly, Laura impressed her professors during her four years here at the College. Importantly, Laura has always been a dedicated and faithful member of Kinesiology & Health Sciences. She not only is exceptional for her academic achievements (perhaps best exemplified by her induction into the elite academic society of Phi Beta Kappa) but also her participation in service and research projects. Most notable of the latter was her participation as a research assistant in the newly implemented falls prevention program at a local retirement community. Ms. Anderson has always had a strong sense of what her future would hold for her, and she takes her next step on that journey this fall when she begins her doctoral training in ocupational therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University. We wish her luck, but know that she won’t need to rely on luck!!
Thank you Professor Deschenes and hello everyone! I am so honored to be speaking to you all today. I would like to begin by saying Congratulations class of 2018 – we did it!! I think I speak for all of the graduates when I say thank you – thank you to the parents, siblings, friends, professors, faculty, and staff who have helped each of us on our journey over the past three or four or five years through this program. Without each of these people, I would not be standing before you today. For those of you who don’t know me, my experience in the human cadaver anatomy lab has had the most significant impact on my identity as a student and a furthermore as person, facilitating growth in my education and inspiring my curiosity. So, of course I have to share a piece of that with you.
I’ve always known what a lung was – that organ that sits in your chest, making it rise and fall as you inhale and exhale, most often without even knowing it, but sometimes being the center of focused attention during a meditation or slightly burning after a really well rallied point in a volleyball match. So, you could say I was at least familiar with the function of a lung, but maybe not so much the structure. You see, when it was time to learn the internal organs, I was taken slightly aback by what I saw that Tuesday night – I don’t really know what I expected, because rationally, lungs couldn’t simply be a plastic bag of air sitting in the middle of your chest, and I guess I knew that. But honestly, I didn’t know it until I was standing in a blue paper lab coat trying to figure out if I was touching a secondary bronchi or a pulmonary artery, holding this pick spongy thing who’s texture reminded me vaguely of a cooked mushroom. I also didn’t know that this would be one of the defining moments of my college career until looking back on it.
In retrospect, that is how a lot of my most memorable experiences were. I like to call these happy accidents – events that go against the seemingly perfect plan I had laid out for myself on paper, but that made me the person who I am today. The past four years have helped me realize to embrace change and take it in stride, especially as we are walking these paths for the last time.
I knew when I went to college that wherever I went I would fit into some major that fulfilled the sole goal I had at the time of working with toddlers, I knew I would make friends that would become study buddies and support systems, I knew I would utilize my professors as resources from time to time, and I figured that I would be presented with opportunities to pursue the passions I developed while I was in my undergraduate home. What I didn’t know, however, was just how awe-inspiring these opportunities would be here, at this place, because of the people in this room.
I definitely didn’t know what the word Kinesiology meant, or what I could do with it, when I was more or less thrown into what would become my first class of college. Eager little freshman Laura took her Orientation Aide’s advice and planned out a beautifully crafted schedule. But, when registration didn’t go well, because it never ever does, my roommate, now of four years going on seven might I add, started throwing out CRNs to me as I typed them as quickly as I could. This new version of my schedule included Professor Queen’s Introduction to the Human Body course, and luckily, no Friday classes. Those five little digits changed the course of my life and career as a student, diverting my path into this major. It was another one of these moments that afforded me the opportunity to shadow at a pediatric therapy clinic, showing me a career that would combine my newfound passion for enhancing my understanding the functioning of the human body with helping toddlers through play as an occupational therapist.
Some of the happiest accidents have been the friendships that have developed and strengthened through my major. Clearly I didn’t think I was going to be a “science person” when I came to college as I have uttered the phrase “I hate cells” more times than I could count. But after braving anatomy together, my lab group, affectionately self-titled “the epiploic appendages” after what we deemed the cutest of the structures in the abdominal cavity, took on human physiology together. It was the countless hours spent trying to decipher my own handwriting as I translated the notes I took at breakneck speed – by hand, without a computer - into organized, color coded diagrams that turned classmates into lifelong friends and future colleagues. The collaborative nature of our classmates turned the girl who hated cells into the girl who finally understood them well enough to be excited by their explanation. The wonderful thing about friendships here at the College is that they extend so far beyond the classroom, as I have seen while cheering alongside classmates in the stands as we watch our classmates on the football field. Although gathered here today because of our shared major, each of us has our own passions in and out of the classroom. Look around – each and every individual that you have met here has had an impact on you in some way, and you have done the same for them. As we graduate and move on to other places, every person we encounter has the ability to shape who we become, even due to the chance of the happy accident in which we get to meet them. They will write into the narrative of who you are as a person if you allow it, and hopefully, when you take the time to encourage it.
I knew no matter where undergrad took me, I would have some pretty nifty professors along the way. What I didn’t know, however, was just how invested professors would be in cultivating relationships with their students and challenge us to learn to our highest potential. When Professor McCoy wasn’t throwing a kajillion and one true/false questions at us on one test after making us stand up and figure out how to abduct our limbs between the chairs in Washington 201, he was in lab with me at 8 am on a Saturday morning after my class schedule and the open lab hours completely overlapped. Or how Dr. Buchanan’s class would challenge my individual body-focused view of humans to be expanded to public health impacts on the global level because learning to wrestle with the complex relationships was more important than actually devising a single solution. Or how understanding motor learning from Professor Kohl demonstrated the cognitive aspect of movement that would set the foundation for my education in psychology.
The most amazing thing about accidents, though, is how they tend to work out. Like how an accidental breakdown in her office leads to the most incredible mentor and support system I could have asked for in a professor in Professor Burnet. Not only acting in that role throughout my entire collegiate career and graduate search process, but going so far as to physically save me from falling to the floor after I tried to balance on one foot with my eyes closed during biomechanics lab… and two years later doing it again on a Biodex. Although they may not be there to physically catch us when we fall, I know that the support system created here between students and professors will last a lifetime, beyond just the crumbling walls of Adair. The exemplary leadership and relationships emulated by this faculty made it easy for students to trust and be mentored, so we have no choice but to take these strong examples to learn from for mentoring others later on.
Lastly, I didn’t know how connected the world could be, especially in the little colonial town we have called home for the last few years. I will take any opportunity to spend five minutes with a toddler, whether exchanging a wave at the farmers market, bopping around a school sponsored petting zoo on a Tuesday afternoon, or playing games and sharing laughs. I was introduced to the One Child Center for Autism’s Kids Respite Nights this past summer and was fortunate to spend Saturday nights with some of the most incredible kids, building Mr. Potato Heads, diving across turf fields, and showing off our best tricks on trampolines. Each time, I left exhausted, amazed at just how much energy can be held in little bodies. And each time I learned just how resilient kids are – when accidents happen, they just pop right back up, shake it off, and roll with it. These little flukes were all part of the learning process. It took a while for the meticulous planner in me to let go and let these little ones run around and blow off steam – and then even join them myself. Because these accidents aren’t really all that bad, and more often than not, they produced the most genuine giggles and pure joy of the night.
The thing about accidents is that they just sort of happen, you roll with the series of events leading to the consequences, and then allow this change of course to guide your next decisions. Sometimes they can be huge and life shifting, sometimes pretty menial or insignificant, but either way, happy accidents alter the course of our life as we know it. Moving forward, it is imperative to look out for these happy accidents: keeping our eyes and minds open to the experiences and opportunities that might otherwise just flit by without second thought, because it is those that could not only change our aspirations, but also our perspectives. Where would each of us would be if everything had worked out perfectly in that first round of Orientation registration? It is because of these unexpected opportunities that we are all sitting here amongst our peers who have not only faced challenges, but overcome them with grace and strength. But it is absolutely no accident that we are all sitting here in Trinkle Hall today. As individual students we have worked incredibly hard to find our individual passions and follow them, and together, we have found our community in being Kinesiology majors and as the class of 2018. In this bittersweet moment, there is so much greatness that lies ahead and so many chances to leave our little mark on the world. Remember what got us here - how different our lives would be from this moment if we didn't allow ourselves to change? To shift our goals when we found new passions to follow? Remember that your foundation remains here, in this place, keeping you forever grounded and reminding you where you came from, but allow those passions and chances to guide what moves you forward. Let those moments change your life. Keep a piece of this Tribe with you as you move forward, but more importantly, keep your eyes and mind open to see the happy accidents that might happen and allow them to shift your perspective and guide the new brick path before your feet. So, take a deep breath, fill up those clearly not so plastic sacs of air in your chests, and take a step into the next phase of your future, wherever that is taking you.