COLUMBIA — Ask upcoming graduates if they've changed in their time at college, and very few of them will say no. In fact, many of them will laugh as if the answer to the question is a given.
This weekend, almost 5,800 MU students will become graduates.
MU’s colleges and professional schools will award 6,495 degrees in 17 ceremonies and an online commencement from Friday through Sunday, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Yet no two experiences were the same.
Some said they grew more mature. For others, college was about adopting the motto, "You Only Live Once," or "YOLO."
The Missourian asked upcoming graduates to reflect on their time in college: What would they tell their freshman selves? How have they changed in the past few years? What defined their years at MU?
'Really, really stressful'
Two years into college, Jessica Askew realized change was a necessity.
After a high school experience where she didn’t feel challenged, Askew said it was difficult to learn how to study at MU. She said she got caught up in the social opportunities of college life and without the structure of high school classes, she ended up having a GPA that was too low to get into graduate school, she said.
"(It was) really stressful. Really, really stressful," she said. "Because I guess I had gotten used to kind of not putting in too much effort, but just enough, and then I had to put in enough to get all A's constantly, and if I got a C, it would just destroy the rest of it, and I wouldn’t have been able to get into grad school."
Askew was able to bring her grades up and get into graduate school at MU where she will be studying health care administration in the fall.
"It was hard to get that GPA back up, but you know, you work hard enough, you certainly can."
'Go and see lecturers'
For Joshua Behiels, the chance to have an international experience drew him to MU. Behiels, who is studying international business, is from Australia. He said he thought a degree from America would help him in his career. Behiels said coming to MU also had social and academic benefits. He said he really enjoyed the social atmosphere surrounding sports at MU, which is different from the atmosphere in Australia.
Behiels specifically remembers the February basketball game against the University of Kansas.
"The last basketball (game) was one of my favorites," Behiels said. "The feeling, the atmosphere, was fantastic. One of the best feelings."
Behiels said if he could give advice to his freshman self he would encourage himself to be outgoing not only at sporting events but also when he needed to talk to his professors. Behiels said he would tell himself to talk to his professors sooner.
"More than likely they’ll like your initiative," he said. "And they’ll give you more tips on what you’re having problems with, whether it's an assignment, or an exam, or a paper or anything."
Behiels plans to return to Australia after graduation to try to get a job, but he also hopes to continue preparing himself for an international career. He already speaks English and Chinese, and he hopes to take classes to learn another language, possibly French.
'Something that really applies to what I want to do'
For the past four years, biology major Jessica Philbrick has been involved in the Raptor Rehabilitation Project, a service organization in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
During her first two years of college, she volunteered and learned to work with birds that were part of the program. During her sophomore year, she became an education coordinator and had the opportunity to make presentations to the public about the birds.
"So that’s what our main objective is, is to teach people about how important (the birds) are and what we can do for them and how much they should be valued," Philbrick said. "It's a lot of fun."
While she has been a part of multiple organizations in the past four years, her work with the Raptor Rehabilitation Project has been constant.
"I’ve been involved with them for these four years, very involved," Philbrick said. "And so that was one thing that I kept around as something that really applies to what I want to do."
Since she wants to do research as a future career, she said her work with the project will help her communicate her ideas to others."It will really help me to teach people about the conservation applications of the research that I want to do in the future," she said.
After graduation, Philbrick will spend the summer at the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research working on projects about genetic diversity in cactus wrens and northern mockingbirds. After that, she plans to attend graduate school.
'I had to miss a semester for military training'
David Nagel, a political science major, is about to graduate after five years at MU. During his time in college, he spent a semester training with the National Guard, which he joined to help pay for college.
Nagel has also participated in two-week training sessions each year and other monthly trainings. He said the transition between a military and school atmosphere required him to learn how to balance the two.
"Whenever I came back from military training, it was different being in a relaxed environment that you get in college, where like students will talk while the teacher’s talking," he said. “In the military that wouldn’t happen. You'd be sitting up in your seat, quiet, waiting for instruction or something."
He also said his experiences in both areas helped him learn to find something he liked and to excel at it. He will continue to be a part of the National Guard until his contract expires in three years.
'I came in pregnant'
When Tiffiny Jones, 21, came to college, she was pregnant. During her second semester at MU she had her daughter, Trinity Chambers, who is now 2 years old.
That semester, Jones had to drop all of her classes except one online class. After that, Jones had to juggle her time and her budget. She said there were times she had to decide if it was more important to pay the electric bill or buy her daughter diapers.
“It was just having to juggle spending time with my daughter and then doing my homework," Jones said. "Late nights, early mornings, every night, every day. It's definitely been a struggle, especially financially, because I am a single mom and I really had no support coming in here. My parents didn't support me. It was just me doing it by myself."
Jones said being a single mom made her college experience different from most, but she said she still felt herself grow in her own way.
"My decisions compared to a traditional student's is very different," Jones said. "Instead (of) worrying about going to this party this weekend, I had to worry about how am I going to get diapers for my daughter. And I didn't work, so those (are the) kind of the decisions I had to make. But I've definitely grown as a student here at Mizzou."
Jones is graduating after just three years of school as a sociology major, and she plans to attend graduate school at MU in the fall.
What letter would you write to your freshman self? Tell us in the comment section below.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.