The following letter to students from President Carolyn J. Stefanco was published in the Saint Rose Chronicle, the student newspaper at Saint Rose, this week.
Earlier this month, I found myself practicing archery alongside a group of Girl Scouts at Camp CEO, a program where executive women mentor girls entering grades 9-12 in leadership development.
While most who know me as the President of Saint Rose would not describe me as “outdoorsy,” the truth is that I backpacked in the Rockies for many years, and I take pride in pushing beyond my comfort zone in terms of physical challenges.
I have been saying for many years that life is an adventure. This is one of the ideas I talked about with the girls at Camp CEO, and it is one that I want to share with you as we begin the academic year at Saint Rose. I think this will be particularly helpful for those of you who are new to our campus. Things might feel strange right now, but I promise you that in the discomfort, you will find limitless opportunities to grow. For those of you who are returning to Saint Rose, now is also the time to think beyond what is familiar to you.
When I say “life is an adventure,” I mean that we should all be open to possibilities, see the best in the circumstances we find ourselves in, and seek out new experiences. While those who know me best recognize that I am a planner and somewhat cautious by nature, I am also very willing to try new things.
When I was a young mother in California with a 3-year-old, I considered applying for a faculty position to teach in London. The planner in me weighed every conceivable pitfall, and, as a parent, this normal apprehension is amplified times 100. Raising a preschooler largely on my own was already challenging, but I was considering moving to a different country where I did not have a support network.
I applied anyway, and I was selected and had an incredible experience living in Central London, sending my daughter to nursery school with children at the University of London, who were from all over the world, and traveling with new friends and my daughter to Scotland, Wales, and other parts of the United Kingdom. Like this example, many of my “adventures” have involved international travel.
When my daughter was in high school, I took her on a two-week trip to the Azores, a group of islands nearly 1,000 miles off the coast of mainland Portugal. There, as strangers in a place where everyone knows each other and roads do not have names and houses do not have numbers (there is no need!), we befriended a taxi driver who became our guide, and quickly made great friends. On the island of Terceira, we had a remarkable experience watching a bull run in a little village on the back of a flatbed truck with Azorean people who we had met earlier that day.
What was most special about these experiences is that they brought me and my daughter in contact with people we would have never met. From the time I was a little girl, I have always been interested in people who are different than me. This probably helped to inspire my passion for history and anthropology in college and graduate school. Most significantly, however, learning about other perspectives and ways of living greatly broadened my understanding of the possibilities in my own life.
Saint Rose is a community of students representing 61 countries, 34 states, and many religious and ethnic backgrounds, and life experiences. Your roommate may love a type of food you have never tried. Your classmate may have gone to a high school that is incredibly different from your own. At Saint Rose, you can think beyond the boundaries of where you were born and the people with whom you most often come into contact.
You can meet a lot of new people in the more than 60 clubs and musical ensembles at Saint Rose. In our classrooms, we seek to expand your mind, but there is another mode of learning that happens outside of your coursework. College is the time to be intentional about exploring that which lies outside of the subset you call your own interests. The ability to grow from meeting new people and trying new things is only limited by your willingness to be open and to reach out.
By choosing to live life as an adventure, we challenge not only ourselves but the expectations that others have for us. That is how we become our best selves. I sincerely hope that this year at Saint Rose is an amazing adventure for each of you.