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Last Friday, November 30, as fall classes came to an end and finals were merely days away, students descended on the Barrett Student Center in Tempe for a Take the Moment showcase. The topic? Failure.
Failure may be an uncomfortable topic in a university, but the event was meant to challenge that discomfort. For the two-hour event, students, staff and faculty were invited to have a conversation about their failures and what they learned from the experience. The event began with a video from actor Will Smith telling the audience to fail early and fail often.
As students munched on salad and sandwiches, they heard stories and watched performances of failure. Failing to get into graduate school, realizing you are not good at the career field you had your heart set on, or not being chosen to become the captain of the team you devoted years of dedication to, were just a few of the topics presented during the event.
“I don’t think we talk about failure enough. I meet with students everyday who tell me everybody else has it figured out, everybody else is fine, nobody else is struggling. And the fact of the matter is that’s not true,” Dr. Dawn Rendell, Barrett assistant dean of students told the crowd.
The presentation began with Emma VandenEinde, a Barrett student majoring in journalism, telling the crowd about her time in high school speech and debate. After years of hard work gaining the experience she knew her competition lacked, VandenEinde was crushed to learn she was not going to be the captain of the team, “It was like arrows to my heart. And I felt like a failure. . . a complete failure,” she confessed to the audience.
But, that failure lead her to her current pursuit: journalism. Landing a position at her high school newspaper, she eventually discovered reporting to be her hidden passion. She could still pursue the truth, “without the early mornings and the competition, or the pantyhose under the suits,” she said.
Rendell spoke next, telling the audience of her desire to leave the state of Arizona for the east coast, only to discover after living there that she felt most comfortable in Arizona and moving back. She initially perceived this as a failure, but eventually realized she was happier in Arizona. Plus, “there was no good Mexican food in New England,” she joked to the audience.
Next up was Dr. Jodi Menees, who told the crowd of her biggest failure: attending the University of Arizona. Jokes aside, “I went from someone who was going to be a doctor, to dropping out of college,” she professed to the crowd. But it was not an inherent inability to be successful academically, it was simply the wrong major.
Robert Alberts, residential life community coordinator, revealed his failure to get into his dream graduate program. Next, Barrett student Janani Lakshmanan revealed to the crowd that despite dancing since the age of four, she never felt good at it. The crowd then watched her perform Bharatanatyam, a genre of Indian classical dance.
Jack Longo, an honors student majoring in business, spoke next about his fear of failure. Despite this, he took a chance and applied for the McCord Scholarship, only to be rejected. This rejection caused Longo to realize that being afraid of failure kept him from taking chances. Amber Kinnier an honors student in CLAS, revealed that once in college, she realized the career she had her heart set on and had devoted so much energy towards, was not for her.
Shea Alevy, residential life associate director, was the last to speak. He opened by saying, “my journey here has not been all about sunshine and rainbows and definitely not about straight A’s.” Despite challenges, he said he continued his journey through his undergraduate degree to his masters degree and to his current position. He ended with a video game metaphor, “if things start to get way harder than they used to be, that means you just leveled up and that’s a good thing,” he advised.
The event ended with Rendell telling the audience to continue the conversation about failure. “Ask people to share their failures because I think if we share our failures they wouldn’t be so scary,” she said.
Despite the topic being failure, every speaker spoke with confidence about how their failure had devastated them, what they learned from their experience, and how they viewed failure not as an end, but rather as a beginning.
Because ultimately, the only definite failure is in giving up. Failure may have been the topic, but the theme of the event was persistence. So, press on.
Story by Ryan Wadding, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in political science.