Thoughts on Life and The Awesomeness of College

It’s official…I’m a college graduate! On May 10 I walked across the stage and had the opportunity to celebrate with my family and friends. It was such a bittersweet day. Although I’m sad to see college career come to an end, I’m excited to take the next steps in my career.

Let the future begin!

Let the future begin!

As we all know, college isn’t just about the books. There are so many life lessons the college experience teaches so well. Here are five of my favorites:

1. If you want to achieve goals, make them happen…starting now.

The summer before I went to college, my church’s youth pastor and his wife coached me on college readiness to help prepare me as much as possible for life as a college student. One of the most valuable pieces of wisdom they shared with me was that if I wanted to instill a new habit, I had to start as soon as I arrived to campus or as soon as my semester started. If not, busyness and routine would take over and any hopes of accomplishing that goal would most likely slip through the cracks.

This was GREAT advice. Right when I got to college, I set aside the time I needed to reach my goals, such as going to the gym, staying in touch with family and friends and practicing (I was a music major at the time).

As I plan out what my life will look like in the future, I know it will be more of a challenge to set good habits, as more responsibilities add up. However, it isn’t impossible and achieving goals is important no matter what stage of life I’m in.

2. Mom and Dad are cool.

There’s this shift that happens usually right before high school ends or halfway through the first year of college where mom and dad are suddenly cool! When I left for college I remember being excited to be on my own, but every time my parents made the trip up to Denton for the weekend I was always very excited to spend time with them.

Not only are they cool but also smart, contrary to what my teenage self credited them. I’m thankful that my parents were so involved in my college experience. My mom basically knew more than my advisors and quickly became a pro at helping me plan out my schedules so I could graduate with a degree and a half in four years. I’ve grown rather close to my parents, as I should. They’re the only ones I have.

3. Detours are sometimes the best things that can happen to you. 

I was a double major in music and public relations my first and second years of college. I knew I loved music and also knew I loved to write, although I wasn’t exactly sure I knew what PR was quite yet. As a music student I participated in music ensembles, took lessons and learned theory and music history at one of the most prestigious music schools in the nation. I really enjoyed it, but quickly saw my passion fading after hours on top of hours of practicing and struggling through my music theory assignments.

I finally came to a point where I had to choose. PR won and I’ve never regretted that decision, nor have I regretted the time spent making music at the University of North Texas. Some of my closest friends were made through the marching band and some of my favorite memories were in the music building and performance hall.

4. You don’t have to be the smartest to stand out.

I was honored as the Outstanding PR Student of the Year at the journalism banquet in May, an award chosen by the Mayborn School of Journalism’s faculty. It was a very exciting moment, that’s for sure.

A lot of people who congratulated me said things like, “Wow! You must make really good grades!” The truth is I’ve never been an extremely academic person. I worked VERY hard to make good grades in school, which paid off in the end, but certainly wasn’t a walk in the park for me as it was for some of my friends growing up.

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2014 Outstanding Public Relations Student in the Department of Strategic Communications at UNT

I think the key to being successful and standing out is hard work and being passionate about what you do. During my college career I had seven different internships, was the president of UNT’s Chapter of PRSSA and was the kind of person who attended networking events and watched webinars on her days off. People would always comment on how busy I seemed, but I was just doing what I think is fun! Those internships and tough classes flew by because I absolutely love what I do.

As my youngest sister and cousin graduate from high school this year I sincerely hope they fall in love with their major as I did. It makes college (an life)THAT more awesome and rewarding.

5. Friendships are a gift, not a guarantee

After I graduated high school I started to lose touch with some of people I considered best friends during middle or high school. It was sad at first, but as I changed and grew, my old friends were changing and growing too.

These two drove four hours to come see me graduate! Lindsay (left) has been a best friend of mine for 11 years and Kelsey (right) is a friend I met my freshman year. She transferred to UT Austin for nursing school, but we have stayed close ever since :)

These two drove four hours to come see me graduate! Lindsay (left) has been a best friend of mine for 11 years and Kelsey (right) is a friend I met my freshman year. She transferred to UT Austin for nursing school, but we have stayed close ever since 🙂

There are several friendships I have that have lasted more than ten years, but college taught me the value of learning when to fight for those friendships and when to let go to make room for others. Letting go of friendships is bittersweet, but I can’t think of a time where new friendships weren’t blossoming. I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and as I’ve grown older, I’ve been even more thankful for these gifts and realized that they are blessings that I am not entitled to.

Here are some of the friends that made college such a wonderful time in my life:

This month I’ll be moving to Dallas, standing by one of the friends I’ve known the longest as she marries the man of her dreams, starting the next chapter in my career and vacationing with my family in Boston. I’ll miss the ability to plan my own schedule, nap times between classes and exciting intern adventures as a college student, but I’m so excited to see what the future has in store.

“ Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” – Proverbs 19:21

What are your favorite things about your college experience?

Glenn

I always see posts on Facebook that people claim will “restore all hope in humanity,” but I had the chance to experience my own yesterday.

IMG_8042I had an interview in downtown Dallas and after driving around in circles through the busy one-way streets looking for the parking garage (I admit…I’m a little directionally challenged), I decided to park at a meter since I wanted to make sure I had enough time to make it to the correct floor. As I parked, I grabbed two quarters out of my cup holder and realized that was all the change I had with me. Anxiously I started weighing my options because I didn’t want getting towed to be one of them.

A man walked past me on the sidewalk and I asked him if he had a spare quarter. No luck. I looked around and saw a car had pulled up about 100 feet behind mine. Approaching strangers in their vehicles is not a habit of mine, but I just needed a quarter! I walked up to the car and asked the man in the driver’s seat if he had any change and explained the circumstances. He pulled two quarters out of a bin on his dashboard and handed them to me with a smile. As he reached for the coins, I couldn’t help but notice an I Am Second bracelet on his wrist.

“I noticed your wristband,” I said. “I’m a Christian too!” He smiled and said he would pray for my interview to go well. I thanked him and walked inside. Everything went well during my interview and I left the office excited about the possibility of working for the company. When I arrived back at my car I saw a white piece of paper on my windshield. I immediately feared I got a ticket, but when I got closer I could see the imprint of handwriting on the folded page.

Here is the note he had left on my windshield:

How cool is that? Whether you believe in God or not, I think it’s amazing how the littlest things can encourage others and how helping someone else can brighten even the darkest of days. It’s funny to think that if I would have found the parking garage like I was intending or if I had two more quarters with me that this wouldn’t have happened. I’m thankful for the little moments that remind me that God is in tune with every detail of every minute of every day.

I aced the interview, by the way 🙂

The Cuban Five: Rediscovering Cuba

This year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. It all started with one question my grandmother asked, “Will you go to Cuba with me?”

Ready for Cuba!

Ready for Cuba!

My grandmother is basically Wonder Woman. She has been to all seven continents and wrote two books about it. The first one, Around the World in the Middle Seat talks about her many adventures as a group travel leader and the second one, Seven Before Seventy, is about reaching her goal of traveling to Antarctica, her seventh continent. I’ve been blessed to have her as a role model and I couldn’t be more proud to follow in her footsteps as a writer.

Of course I said I would go with her to Cuba. In case you are unfamiliar with tourism in Cuba, not many Americans are able to travel to Cuba. In fact, only a few travel agencies have the certifications to bring American tourists to the island. Because of this reason, I had never really thought about Cuba as a place I’d ever have the opportunity to visit. I savored each city we visited, knowing I was extremely fortunate to be on this trip among 27 fellow travelers, which by the way, I was the youngest by about 45 years. If you know me, you know I can talk to anyone/anything, so it was no problem and I enjoyed learning about Cuba with each of them. Many of the group members were alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the issuing of the Embargo, so I learned a lot about the relationship between the United States and Cuba just by talking to them.

While Cuba was an amazing historical journey, I loved experiencing the culture first-hand. Here are five of the attributes I wanted to take home with me:

 1. The weather

When I left Dallas early March it was cloudy and windy. When I arrived in Cienfuegos, the sun was shining and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze. It rained once while we were on the road to Havana, but the weather quickly cleared up and resumed its beauty. Although it’s spring in the United States, we were in Cuba during the middle of winter. I’m glad we didn’t stick around for rainy season, but I wouldn’t mind having such a mild winter here in the States.

 2. The cars

Back in the 1950s it was common for Americans to travel to Cuba on a ferry. Our local guide told us that many came to gamble in Havana and after one too many mojitos I assume, many bet their car. This explains why so many Chevys and Fords can be found speeding through the streets in Cuba. Our guide Ari said, “There are no mechanics in Cuba. Only magicians!” This is certainly true, as many of the old-fashioned cars are still up and running even though they’ve passed through many generations. Not all the cars have the antique charm only the 50s birthed, but these gems that do make Cuba such an exciting place to venture. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ride around in a red convertible for an hour the last night we spent in Havana. By the end I was wishing I hadn’t taken the time to do my hair, but it was certainly a memorable experience.

3. The architecture

Because of Cuba’s history, there are so many types of architecture in Cuba. Some buildings had regal columns and others resembled brightly colored boxes. Each city we visited had a different style and even some neighborhoods were distinguished by particular architecture styles.

My favorite was Jose Ramirez Fuster’s neighborhood. Fuster is a Cuban artist whose style can be described as a hybrid between Picasso and Dr. Seuss. Each house in his neighborhood had elements of Fuster’s mosaic style and then BAM! Fuster’s house is an explosion of imagination and creativity. I would’ve been perfectly fine if my group left me behind.

4. The music

I grew up around music and although I thought I enjoyed music a lot, I quickly realized that Cuba is on an entirely new level when it comes to enjoying music. A mariachi group, acoustic guitar duo or percussion ensemble serenaded nearly every meal and a few of the musicians even asked me to join in! Music is not just in the background in Cuba. In many places there were musicians playing in the street or at markets. Wouldn’t it be nice if every meal were accompanied by music?

 5. The outlook on life

Most of all, I loved the laid-back, easy going way of life the Cubans enjoy. In the countryside and even in the large cities, I saw families sitting together on their porches or congregated by the fences talking to their neighbors. Most houses and apartments had all windows and doors open, partially because it’s so hot and humid, but mostly because the people see their neighbors as family. The thought of even leaving my door unlocked is frightening. It’s hard to imagine living life with an open-door policy like the Cubans do.

Needless to say, our countries have had their differences, but I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to explore Cuba and I hope someday I can take my grandchildren like my grandmother took me.

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PR Needs Better PR

One morning as I was walking to class I noticed I was walking the same pace as a young man headed in the same direction. We smiled awkwardly and continued on. Finally he looked over my way, laughed and introduced himself. After I introduced myself to him he asked what my major is. I was not expecting what happened next.

 “Public relations? People like you are the reason the government and media are so corrupt,” he yelled. “I hope you have fun making the world a worse place someday,” and he stormed off (After throwing in a few expletives).

 The rest of the day I sat at my desk wrestling with his harsh words. Although there’s a chance he had no idea what he was talking about, he has a point. Ironically, pubic relations needs better public relations.

Why Ethics?

The reason PR is lacking a positive reputation boils down to one word: Ethics.

Ethics are capable of building up someone’s identity in a positive way or capsizing it, drowning any hopes of a successful future.  Poor ethical choices can tear away a person’s privacy and swap a tailored Armani suit for an orange jumpsuit. Even if the poor decision never comes to the surface, the guilty person or party will suffer a clouded conscience and live in fear of being found out. Misguided ethics can lead to joblessness and in some cases, infamy. There is tremendous power in choices.

PR crises are a dime a dozen and many ex-professionals (or current pros who have managed to salvage what’s left of their reputation) are victims of their own poor ethical choices. Identity is a delicate thing.

I admit…many of the real-life ethical breaches brought up in my ethics and media law class happened well before my time. I was not as familiar with some of them as I knew I should be. I decided to research more about each case. As I began, I noticed something interesting. Before the name of the company/person was fully spelled out in the Google search bar, I knew almost exactly what area of ethics had been violated.

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When an individual makes unethical choices that are brought to light, they weave new words into their identity. Personal branding is a real thing and when someone’s identity is paired with words such as “scandal,” and “plagiarism,” I think it’s safe to say that the outcome isn’t good.

Ethical practice not only helps businesses stay out of trouble, but it also allows for peace of mind that comes with a clear conscience. Pubic relations can only be properly practiced with credibility, which is reinforced by good ethics. If there’s no credibility, there’s no business.

Proceed With Caution

Although there are situations where ethics are black and white, oftentimes there’s a grey area between what is ethical and unethical.

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Just because something is legal does not mean that it is ethical, and just because something is ethical does not mean it’s also credible.

The diagram to the right illustrates that what is ethical, credible and legal are connected but separate. Just because something is legal does not mean that it is ethical, and just because something is ethical does not mean it’s also credible. It is not uncommon for PR practitioners to be asked to do something questionable by persons of authority. It’s important to have a plan for these situations to ensure that the ethical, legal and credible decision will be made.  Sometimes this can involve standing up for what is right—maybe even at the expense of your job.

A decision-making model from Trust, Inc. advises the following steps when confronting an ethical dilemma:

L- Learn everything you can

  • What are the key facts and data?
  • What outcome is important?
  • Which laws/policies/codes apply? (Always keep the PRSA Code of Ethics handy)
  • What raises an ethical red flag?
  • Who are the stakeholders?

E- Evaluate your options

  • Level 1: If all stakeholders agree, move ahead
  • Level 2: When it’ s not that simple…
  • Consult a mentor for a fresh perspective
  • Identify key consequences

A-  Access your intuition

  • Can you sleep at night knowing you made a certain decision?
  • What would your mother think about said decision?
  • As my professor says, “how would you feel if your decisions today were tomorrow’s headlines?”

P- Put your decision into action

  • Time to act
  • Evaluate

No matter what decision you make, always:

  • Be honest
  • Be respectful
  • Be transparent

It’s important to be educated on ethics because a snap decision during a crisis can have negative consequences. Stay up to date on current issues and put yourself in the shoes of professionals in crisis. In addition, it’s important to be educated on the code of ethics for your company or industry to have an idea of, and prepare for, issues that could arise.

With my college graduation on the horizon, I am working hard to be prepared to face anything that might come my way during my professional career. I know PR has a long way to go when it comes to having a positive reputation in the public eye, but I fully intend to do my part in reversing the stigma. This might be a challenge, but in the end I hope I can say I’ve left a positive mark on the profession.

Anyone Can Be an Alchemist

I visited an agency about a year ago and met an insightful account executive who recommended Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist when I asked her for reading recommendations. I finally had time to read it during my time off from school and work during the holidays and I’m glad I did. Although it didn’t directly pertain to PR, it provided inspiration that easily applied to my career and life in general.

The Alchemist is a story of a young boy, Santiago, who embarks on a mission to find his treasure. Along the way, he falls into snares and consequences of naivety, makes immense sacrifices, finds and loses love, and learns life lessons from an infamous alchemist.

As I read The Alchemist, several major themes kept returning:

1. Find your Personal Legend

This book placed an emphasis on chasing after your dreams.  Santiago was on a mission to find his life’s purpose. As many others can relate, Santiago didn’t always know his personal legend and reason for life. If you don’t know, that’s okay. Part of the fun is discovering that one thing that makes you happy and makes you different from anyone else on earth. Are you hoping to discover your personal legend this year? The beauty of this concept is that making a decision is only the beginning of a lifelong journey that can be extraordinarily rewarding.

What are you most excited about in life?

2. Don’t fear the desert

In The Alchemist, Santiago took a journey through the Sahara Desert to go to the pyramids, where he believed the treasure was buried. This was an apprehensive time in his journey. The caravan through the desert was long and dangerous and at times Santiago was tempted to give up.

Sometimes your life’s calling will require you to take a detour. Instead of feeling inconvenienced by these perceived setbacks, see them as opportunities– even in the midst of suffering. You might be thinking, “That sounds a lot easier than it is.” Coelho cleverly wrote, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself… No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” You’re not alone in the desert and when you reach an oasis or your final destination you will be reminded of life’s blessings and be thankful for life in and of itself.

What are you most afraid of? Why?

“Immerse yourself in the desert. You don’t even have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.”

3. “Where your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” 

During Santiago’s journey, he finds a beautiful woman and falls in love. She tells Santiago to follow his heart and find his treasure, and then he can come back and they will be together. I admired this selfless aspect of love because she wanted him to pursue his dreams enough to let him go.

As Coehlo wrote, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

How can you do a better job of loving your family, significant other or coworkers?

Life is Golden 

The alchemist book

Add this one to your booklist.

I admit… when I picked up this book I wasn’t really sure what an alchemist was, but now that I’ve finished this book I understand that life is less about a treasure hunt than transforming what you see as lead to gold.

Would you say your life is more like lead or gold?

Although life will never be perfect, it’s rewarding to follow after your personal legend even if it means you’ll have to travel through a desert for a while. You have everything you need right now to see your life as the sparkling gold it is.

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”- Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

Icepocalypse 2013

It’s rarely very cold in Texas, but this winter is off to a chilly start. Last Thursday was the beginning of what UNT students called the “Icepocalypse” in Denton. I was cooped up in my apartment for several days and campus was closed for nearly a week, but the ice is finally starting to melt away.

Fortunately my power didn’t go out, but a few friends in Dallas weren’t so lucky. My old roommate and close friend, Nicole Bell, told me she was stuck in apartment without power. My roommates and I invited her over and after battling traffic and icy roads, she finally arrived with a bridesmaid dress and suitcase in tow, a little disappointed that her flight to North Carolina for her best friend’s wedding had been postponed.

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 10.34.06 PMTwo nights of movies, laughter and failed attempts to drive on the ice passed and she was finally on her way to the airport. I checked with her later that day to make sure she made it to the airport safely and she had big news. She was asked to film a video diary for ABC News! The reporter had found her on Twitter and after she filmed some of the airport madness her clip was played on Good Morning America that night! Her hashtag #NicoleStranded2013 made for some good laughs and it was cool to see one of my best friends in the world on the news! I thought this was also a great example of how being in the right place at the right time can have its perks, even if it’s a life-giving-you-lemons kind of situation.

(Side note: People’s flights were canceled so they brought in some clowns? Uhh…)

As for me, finals week was condensed into three days (That’s another story for another day) and all of my finals were on the same day. It’s good to be done for the fall and even more strange to be registered for my last semester as a college student. For now, bring on the Christmas cookies!

Is an #UNselfie mindset possible in a #selfie world?

Shouldn't every day be an #UNselfie day?

Shouldn’t every day be an #UNselfie day?

Forget chocolate. Selfies are society’s new guilty pleasure.

So what exactly is a selfie?

Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” for 2013 is defined as, “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” More than 90 million selfies have been posted across social media channels since the word was first used in an Australian forum in 2002. Since then, selfies have become widely popular among social media users, including celebrities, political figures and athletes.

It didn’t take long for technology to adapt to the trend by creating front-facing cameras and smartphones to accommodate selfie photographers. It’s no surprise that Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram are loaded with them and that Instagram’s most used hash tag is #me.

Don’t you think it’s all a little narcissistic?

Unleashing the #UNselfie

This week was the second annual Giving Tuesday.

A number of what users are calling #UNselfie photos were posted featuring people holding signs supporting charities and advocating self-sacrifice.

This day of giving was initially launched by New York’s 92nd Street Y , the United Foundation and the Case Foundation and has since rallied thousands of nonprofits to reach out to prospective donors and share the importance of giving. The hope behind the campaign is inspiring similar fervor to that of Black Friday sales, according to Forbes.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen people camp out for days in advance and line up for blocks just to help others.

Comparison of #selfie posts and posts about giving

Comparison of #selfie posts and posts about giving

An Instagram hashtag search on Giving Tuesday pulled up more than 60 million photos tagged #selfie, but less than 600 thousand photos were tagged with the top five commonly used hashtags about giving: #giving, #givingback, #givingtuesday, #unselfie and #givingbacktothecommunity.

It’s heart-warming to see the reaction to the movement dedicated to giving through #UNselfies over social media and  I don’t want to discount the compassion behind anyone’s efforts to make a difference, but shouldn’t every day be a giving day?

In Conclusion…

Let’s face it; we’re all guilty of taking selfies and putting our wants above the needs of others at one time or another. Living in a #selfie culture makes it easy to forget that giving isn’t only something we should do during the holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice if we greeted every day with thanksgiving without a turkey dinner, gave without expecting anything in return and felt immense joy in the absence of a decorated tree or presents?

I challenge you to give this Christmas season, but to also continue giving long after the tree and lights are packed away. Do your part to make your life a walking #UNselfie. As many have said before, it’s much better to give than to receive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we greeted every day with thanksgiving without a turkey dinner, gave without expecting anything in return and felt immense joy in the absence of a decorated tree or presents?