Yes You Can!

Glitter scrapbook paper, hot glue guns, and rhinestones aren’t what everyone associates with college graduation. However, it’s common for sorority women to take any opportunity to craft, so I’m not sure why I thought this milestone would be any different.

Deciding to decorate my graduation cap wasn’t just an effort to individualize myself in a sea of graduates, upgrade a boring hat, or avoid studying for finals. Rather it was a chance to express what has made these four years possible, and better yet, the four best years of my life.IMG_2002

It may seem silly—and maybe it is, most of the best things are—but we gain so much from learning in some way or another what motivates, energizes, and gets people out of bed in the morning, even if it’s just through a photo.

“Yes you can” is the phrase I have told myself during the longest push-up series imaginable, all-night study sessions, emotionally draining days, and four half marathons. More importantly, it’s the phrase I’ve shouted to my loyal Wednesday night UMN Rec yoga sculpt students for two years, used to ensure friends in times of doubt, and even told my dog during laps around the neighborhood.

It’s a personal mantra, and the best part is, it’s not personal. It’s not mine, I believe I stumbled upon it through CorePower classes four years ago as a freshman, and it stuck for the remainder of my college experience, and has no plans to disappear. It’s not mine, because it resonates with the ears it lands on. I have many friends and sorority sisters who will tell me they hear me voicing this mantra as they reach a difficult part of their workout or life. It’s built and nourished by a community and support system that has maintained my enthusiasm, positivity, and sanity when I couldn’t do it alone. This graduation isn’t personal.

IMG_2044The pearls hugging the rim of the cap represent Alpha Gamma Delta, as it is our chapter jewel. Words can’t describe the role this chapter and these women have played in my college experience or life, so it only made sense for the pearls to tie everything together. That’s what Alpha Gam has always done for me, I’ve said here is the laundry list of what I want to accomplish, the types of lasting friendships I want to sustain, and the responsibility I want to take on. Even when these combinations created a bit of chaos, there was comfort knowing I was protected by a safe space where I could be authentic, try something new, and most importantly, find out what should not be tried again.

Finally, the lilac lotus flower. If you’re an avid SarahReedit reader (consider it), you’ll know the lilac wasn’t coincidental. Lotus flowers grow, nourish, and strengthen through mud before blossoming into the gorgeous flowers we recognize from the local yoga studio or hippie neighbor. My college experience wasn’t mud, my life hasn’t been mud, which I truly express gratitude for every day. However, mud still comes and goes for us all; and recognizing these times as opportunities to blossom even more once it’s gone, is what IMG_2039allows us to notice the beauty in ourselves and around us. We have a lot to learn from the little guys, and I am happy to continue copying them in admiration.

For you, maybe it’s not a hat, or a jewel, or a yoga mantra. But many things, many words, many people have gotten you to where and who you are today. Take the time to celebrate that—diploma or not—and rejoice in what this group effort has created and what is to come.
Yes you can!

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Save Her Seat

My favorite part of college has been learning what makes me unique, by recognizing what skills come to me naturally that may be for someone else would take hours to even start to think about. Everyone has these, whatever they may be.

For me, it’s very communicative and very visual; I able to effectively express how I think and how I see the world to other people. Recognizing my gifts and learning to maximize the gifts of others has been the most significant and pivotal point of my education, career path, and of my future.

But self awareness isn’t the final prize; once we know it, we have to own it. For many, myself included, this is the hardest part. There will always be difficult situations we don’t know how to deal with; we don’t usually learn in school or at a work orientation how to console friends going through loss, excel in relationships, or engage the shy person in a group. These situations can only be conquered with what comes to us naturally, what doesn’t feel like work.

It was through deciding to minor in Leadership that I began to truly understand what elements of my life were not work, or as we say, were life-giving.

GroupThis semester in Global Leadership I had the opportunity to dedicate my time to focusing on the lack of female leadership in politics.

While the words “group project” tend to bring up emotions often associated with going to the dentist, I was fortunate enough to had a group that made this project continuously inspiring. This semester-long project started with extensive research on the topic, and comparing the US to countries chosen for their diverse approaches to this issues.

Rwanda acted as our bright spot—ranking #1 in the world—with a quota system that ensures women will hold government seats. We did take this with a grain of salt, seeing as Rwanda is a dictatorship and their leader has been charged with various human rights charges…(always good to scratch past the surface, apparently). Norway—ranked at #13—served as inspiration for their successful integration of a quota system that reserves 40% of corporate board membership for women. Finally, Japan—#115—as a comparison for a nation focusing on grassroots organization to begin focusing more on this issue. Important point of reference, the US comes in at #72. SaveHerSeat

Once we started working on strategies for addressing this issue in the US, I was going to be tackling how to integrate a quota system in an adaptive way, except tackling implies me having a lot more energy than I did. As dedicated as I was to finding a way to ensure women would receiving the same amount of responsibility and respect not just filling a small role to meet numbers, there was something missing to really engage me.

While sitting peacefully on a early plane ride to St. Louis and thinking far from peacefully about our approaching deadline, I started to think about how I would change this assignment if I could. I decided instead of writing a paper about our strategies, we would need to implement them on a smaller scale in our community [low key, still think that’s a great idea]. Travelling down that rabbit hole, I pictured us interviewing people on campus and talking about female leaders that inspire them, and working with local boards and governments to see how this panned out in our community.

While it was a bit late in the game to ask everyone to change directions, this gave me the idea for work that wouldn’t feel like work. Developing Save Her Seat, I planned a strategic communications plan that would communicate to the American public the changes that were being made with the new quota system.

This included research and plans for educating local and national news stations on the policies to ensure accurate reporting, educational advertisements, and a #SaveHerSeat campaign that would ask schools and community centers across the nation to submit video/written/artistic entries describing what female leaders inspire them to SaveHerSeat.gov. The entries and the leaders mentioned in the submissions would then be featured in local and sometimes national news, starting conversations in households that would not otherwise be interested.
 Raise a generation

Landing in St. Louis (most productive flight of my life) I ran the plans for Save Her Seat by a few group members, hoping for their blessing to ditch the paper portion. After many long texts, a few prayer emojis, and consulting the rest of the group, it was a go. I am so grateful that I was able to work with such brilliant women that were kind enough to take a chance on my left-field ideas and all the things I “have done in my mind” on deadline days.

The complement to trusting your ideas and recognizing your gifts, is surrounding yourself with people who will do the same. 

This isn’t the last time I’ll be given a project or task that won’t exactly thrill me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have other options. So join me, recognize what you bring to the table, why you were asked/should be considered to do [____] project, and why that will be unique as a result. We won’t always like what we’re given, but we can change how we give our time, energy, and most importantly, gifts to others.