Written by Ann Desrochers, who is graduating from Michigan State University this spring as a member of the Honors College and with a B.A. in Experience Architecture and a B.A. in Psychology
I feel a gratitude for the past four years that is deep and strong. Words can’t begin to describe how thankful I am for all the opportunities afforded to me by the College of Arts & Letters and the Experience Architecture (XA) program. Looking back across all of my experiences, it is clear that this wonderful place has played a huge role in guiding me to become the person I am today.
As someone with an insatiable desire to learn, I’m graduating with two majors and two minors. Deciding on my academic path wasn’t easy — I had received the Alumni Distinguished Scholarship and knew I wanted to attend MSU, but I had no idea which major to start with. By a stroke of luck, I wound up on the website for the XA program and knew I wanted to learn more about its interdisciplinary approach to technology. In addition to my studies, I also presented at the Accessible Learning Conference, was president of XA Club, spoke on panels for the College of Arts & Letters and the Honors College, and won first place at Startup Weekend!
My general busyness also carried through to my internship experiences — some semesters I had three jobs at once and, consequently, lived off Uncrustables from Sparty’s. I was fortunate enough to enter many industries across my experiences. I worked in higher ed administration, a virtual reality research lab, the financial technology industry, and an accessibility education nonprofit. As a reflection of my accomplishments, I was recently honored with the XA Outstanding Senior Award. Post-graduation, my next move takes me to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to work at General Mills’ world headquarters!
Despite my list of accomplishments, this reflection would be missing a critical piece if I didn’t tell you what a mess I was my first year. I was anxious, unsure, and lonely — and I was absolutely convinced that I was the only person feeling this messy cocktail of embarrassing emotions. My perspective was narrow, and I struggled to feel that I belonged. I attempted to convince myself that once I was perfect, I would be happy. Once I could manage to keep my dorm clean, eat three perfectly timed meals a day, exercise regularly, find a job, do all my coursework, look amazing, and have a full social calendar — then I could enjoy my life.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen! I am proud to report that I am both happy and imperfect. Learning to let go of my insurmountable expectations of myself has been a long and difficult process, but I know now that encouragement is much stronger than punishment. Becoming who I am was not always easy — there were two burnt-out weeks I spent under a weighted blanket with XA alumna (and angel) Joey Dearing bringing me rice and applesauce, and more than a few teary phone calls to my mom. Learning to ask for help and rely on my community were valuable lessons that I needed to grow. These experiences might not have been pleasant, but they are certainly valuable. Through my struggles, I have grown into a compassionate, confident, and creative adult.
The feeling I most want to emphasize, however, is joy. Experiencing the past four years surrounded by friends, classmates, coworkers, and mentors has opened my eyes to new ways of living. More specifically, I would like to thank Professors Liza Potts and Casey McArdle, mentors Kate Sonka and Dr. Robby Ratan, and peers Caroline Johnson and George McNeill. I have also found happiness in the Lansing area, like belting Wagon Wheel at Crunchy’s karaoke, discovering the bliss of a coffee and donut from Strange Matter, and adopting a cat from the Constellation Cat Cafe. My process of moving away from perfectionism didn’t happen all at once, but through the gradual encouragement of my environment, I was able to open up towards a world of expansive possibilities.
Speaking of environment, a recent course (WRA401: Rhetoric, Leadership, and Innovation) had me read former MSU Professor Beronda Montgomery’s book, Lessons from Plants. This text encouraged me to think critically about what it is in my environment that allows me to flourish. Her insight helps me to think less about individuals in isolation and more about the interconnectedness of life — thinking about myself in context with my environment helps me to be more compassionate and make better choices. The narrow, individualistic thinking that was so hard for me to overcome when I was younger appears very infrequently now, and I enjoy feeling content and present much more often.
Creativity also plays a crucial role in my growth. Growing up, my house had a designated craft room, so I have always known the importance of giving yourself space to create. As I began to feel more comfortable, I started to find inspiration in everything. Now, I consider myself a maker and I work with techniques like crochet, sewing, painting, and collaging to bring my creative visions to life. The connections between my personal creativity and my professional or academic pursuits are strong; I use the color theory I learned in graphic design to match earrings to my outfit and to check that my websites have high enough color contrast. My creativity helps me to avoid becoming stagnant — I use it to approach familiar problems in novel ways.
Even though my experiences have helped me to approach uncertainty with more curiosity than fear, the unknown is still a scary place. My future career and my “real adult life” get closer and closer every day, and all I can do is be ready to take a leap of faith when the time comes. There is a quote from Audre Lorde in the Gender and Sexuality Center that says, “when I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” These words come to me often — they remind me that I know my strength and can see my vision. With the encouragement of the experiences I carry with me, I know that I can find my way through uncertainty despite my fear; I can dare to be powerful.