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Tell more stories of failure, not success

Former Opinion Editor of The Miami Student.
Former Opinion Editor of The Miami Student.

By Nicole Theodore, Editorial editor 2012-2014

The smell of fresh turquoise paint wafted through my room as wind from an open window blew in the warm and sticky air, rustling old high school pictures on a nearby bulletin board.

It was the summer of 2010, and I was lying in my bed at two in the afternoon while the rest of the world was at work. My face was half under the covers, only my hazel eyes visible to the bedroom packed to the brim with post-college furniture and garbage bags full of clothes.

As I stared blankly at the ceiling my cell phone kept buzzing on the nightstand next to me. I knew what it was saying, so I felt like I didn't need to physically dial into what was going on three feet away from me.

Unread emails were attempting to tell me some sort of disappointing news ranging from "Please send final GPA for scholarship disbursement," "Scholarship declined," "MIAMI UNIVERSITY ACADEMIC PROBATION WARNING," "SCHOLARSHIP AIDE CHANGED."

I rolled over quietly to continue staring blankly at a freshly painted wall, sweating from the summer heat but unable to remove my self from under the covers.

I was hiding.

Hiding from my parents who were unable to look at me, as they were rightfully confused how I went from 4th in my class in high school with a 4.2 GPA, previous center midfield soccer star and bubbly blonde to the girl lying in her bed mid-afternoon, half dead to the world, all within a year at Miami.

Fast forward almost three years later, and I am standing on top of the highest mountain in Kosovo with just an ancient Nokia phone in hand and a backpack. I looked around me at the lush green mountainside that went on for miles, the wild flowers and the Gorani shepherd trying to make his unrelenting sheep listen to him. He threw his wooden cane at them after they refused to stop drinking water from a pond, cursing in a foreign language and waving his hands around, clearly upset at the lack of respect he was receiving.

Laughter immediately took over my entire body. I don't know if I was laughing so hard at the little elderly shepherd swearing in Gorani or the fact I was in Kosovo, working as an international journalist for a summer and I was just standing on top of a mountain, after I had almost failed out of college.

It was so ridiculous because I once was that girl who wanted to hide in self-pity and bad grades. Now, I saw myself wearing my mistakes and my failures on my sleeve as if they were battle wounds I was proud to tell anyone about, equally eager to share them with my successes.

The middle of my Miami experience is key to understanding how I got to laughing on top of a mountain in Southeast Europe. I was so lost my first year, rightfully so as I was a pre-medicine and psychology major. I couldn't study for the microbiology or chemistry exam, couldn't explain to my Spanish 111 teacher why I missed the first exam. I was a shell. The entire time I filled journals upon journals with notes and letters. Telling my professors that I was sorry…but never telling them in person.

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I failed because it wasn't my passion, but all along right on my desk in Brandon hall, was my passion. That damn notebook and pen that I went to every day was trying to tell me something.

I saw a flyer for UP Magazine at Shriver, which many of you know as that quirky fashion magazine that comes out three times a year. I applied for a writing position in between my classes at Hughes without even giving it a second thought.

Lauren Pax, the editor-in chief at the time and now a Miami alumnus, didn't ask me about my grades. She didn't ask me what my major was. Lauren asked me about my writing and if I had passion for it. The rest is history.

It was a wide open door that led to four years of writing, photography and web work that developed into something I am absolutely addicted to doing. I added journalism as a major immediately after. The classes instantly clicked for me - everything made sense.

Something still kept fear locked in my head though. Whether it was the fear of failing, the fear of staying a fifth year, the fear of someone finding out about my average GPA, I am not sure. But I do know that fear held on to me tight through the end of my fourth year, the same stomach-punching-sort-of-feeling I experienced in my bedroom three years before.

Tears welled up in my eyes at the 2013 graduation ceremony, right as summer was beginning and I would be making the trip to Kosovo with the journalism department in three weeks. I watched as my class that I grew up with hugged one another in a sea of red caps and gowns. I felt jealousy and anger as my best friends of four years laughed and celebrated together.

"Why the hell is this happening to me," I kept muttering in my head as warm tears quietly lead their way down my cheek. "I should be with them."

The booming voice over the microphone pulled me from the questioning, "What if's?" and "What if I did this differently?" thoughts in my head. It was the voice of commencement speaker Wil Haygood, a Miami alumnus and Washington Post writer.

"The truth is that no one can ever really cut away your dream," Haygood said as my attention shifted in the sticky bleacher seats. "It is lodged deep inside of you. It is a force of nature. When you lose an opportunity, don't be afraid to circle back. Ask that person for a second chance. That's exactly what I did. Knock on the door again. Life is about second chances, but only if you ask."

That day I left the fear of failing on Yeager field. I went to Kosovo three weeks later with a blank journal and an open heart. I figured out my past mistakes were something I shouldn't be scared of.

Because in the end that is truly what creates adversity and amazing dreams, not acing an exam or playing it safe because it often seems like the "correct" course of action. Doing well in school is so important, and I don't advise anyone to fail freshman chemistry or miss their Spanish exam like I did, but you know what, I wouldn't change a thing about either of those events. Not a single thing.

Take risks. Go to a country you have never heard of. Add a major that makes you happy and curious. Explore the world and take every advantage that Miami has to offer you so that one day, you can tell your kids about the amazingly complicated, adventurous, deeply challenging and academic experience you had at Miami.

You didn't just come to this school to be perfect, did you? What about messing up? What about breaking the rules and learning from it? What about bouncing back, about going out of the well-defined box we are often put in as 20-something-year olds?

Learning how to pick my self up and to keep going is one of the most important lessons I will take away from my Miami experience.

I am telling my story, because you know what, there should be more stories like mine told. We don't hear the failures. The stories that aren't so beautiful, that don't look so black and white. Maybe if we told more stories of failure, we as a university and as a student body, could be more accepting of each other's flaws and weaknesses.

I am not alone in these failures and mistakes at Miami, and part of my story, is maybe yours too.

I will be going back to Yeager Stadium where I left my thoughts and delusions of fear a year earlier, to graduate with the class of 2014. I have never been more proud to say I am graduating from Miami, because I realized Miami had my back all along. I just had to get out of my own way to let them help me see what I had been overlooking.

Thank you for having me as your co-editorial editor for almost two years now at the paper, and I hope this page will continue to serve as a collection of voices and different experiences that blend into a cohesive forum of respect, adversity and understanding.