Student-to-Student Advice by Alicia DeColli

August 29, 2012

President Cregan, Faculty, Alumni, members of the platform party and fellow students: welcome back to the Hill for the start of the 2012-2013 school year! 

Today I have the honor of introducing the 2012 Convocation speaker, Professor Magdalena James-Pederson but first I'd like to offer a few pieces of advice I've learned to follow myself over the past three years.

First: Do what you love. Plain and simple, but you'd be surprised how often these seemingly easy words of advice are overlooked. I've had that message hanging above my desk since my first day at Stonehill yet about halfway during my freshman year I found myself forgetting them. I was debating whether or not to minor in dance and asked my chemistry TA if he thought it was feasible to do both biochemistry and dance. He told me that a minor in dance was worthless, and if I even had time for a minor, I should pursue something that would impress people. 

I was upset at his response, but I listened to him anyway. Before I completely gave the idea up however, I decided to get one last opinion from my faculty advisor. She simply told me "do what you love." So I did, and I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without the stress reliever and artistic outlet dance has been for me.


That is why I am telling you now, pursue something you are passionate about. If you love your major, your job, your research, whatever you are doing, you will find that life becomes sweeter. Your days will become more fulfilling and your nights more peaceful.

For those of us who are moving on from Stonehill, we might not be able to do exactly what we love right away but don't ever stop searching for a way to do what you are passionate about. Once you are given the chance to do the thing you love, then do it. If it's important to you and you love it then it's worth it, even if it doesn't make you a rich or famous. 

For those of you who are just beginning at Stonehill, this is the optimal time to determine what you love and to start doing it. Don't let someone tell you that your passion won't get you somewhere in life and don't be afraid to have multiple passions, even if they are very different. Wherever you are in life, wear your passion and do what you love.

Overcoming Disappointment

The second piece of advice I have for you is less simply stated. Over the past four years I have faced the obstacles of rejection and disappointment. But that's part of life; everyone faces discouragement. The real problem that we encounter is that we often don't chose to cope with it in a positive way. Again, wherever you are in your journey, I challenge you to learn to get up and move on when you've been pushed down. I've learned from experience that success comes more easily when you work hard to find it.

Don't wait for an opportunity to come around, be proactive and go get it for yourself. Be clever, make connections, take initiative, and get outside your comfort zone when searching for an opportunity. Once you're finally earned your opportunity, feel accomplished by the hard work and courage you put into overcoming your disappointment, but don't stop putting in the effort once you've obtained your spot. Increase your intensity and learn as much as you can. Be curious, creative, enthusiastic and never stop looking for new chances.

Have faith in the fact that when things don't work out as you have originally planned, something better is waiting for you around the corner; you just have to go the extra mile to find it. Pick yourself up, be positive, and have the ambition to go find that something better.

Get to Know Your Professors

My last piece of advice is mainly for the incoming freshman. I was given this advice my first year and I want to pass it on to you: Get to know your professors. Stonehill has amazing faculty in every department. All of the professors I've had at Stonehill, from day one, have had a hand in making me who I am today. That didn't just come from being another face in their class. It came from interacting with them both in and out of class.

While across the board the faculty here are wonderful, I have to give a huge shout out to the science faculty.  Because they are so invested in their work and extremely enthusiastic and passionate about what they do, my love and passion for science has gotten absolutely out of hand. I'll admit it, I am addicted to science but I blame the science faculty for releasing my inner nerd and fueling my addiction.

For instance, I was originally planning on making a bunch of science jokes, I was just afraid I would get no reaction. So I asked the opinion of some of the science professors who told me to take all of my lame chemistry jokes and barium. Clearly I didn't follow their advice, but I encourage the Class of 2016 to follow mine.

Go to your professors' offices and introduce yourself. You can bet that 75% of the time the faculty are in their offices, they are bored. Give them something to chat about. It doesn't just have to be academic, some of the best life talks I've had, have been with my friends, in professors offices. Be curious in class, professors like questions- it gives them a chance to take a breath and shows them that you are invested in learning.

Your professors are not just the people who teach and test you; if you give them the chance to, they can and want become your mentors and friends. I am urging you to give them that opportunity and I promise you will not regret the relationships that grow over your four years here.

Introducing Professor Pederson

One faulty member I am especially glad I got to know well is Professor Pederson a.k.a: Magda, Peds, Maggie-dee, or M-Dawg. Professor Pederson is a huge part of the reason why I can stand here and share with you my previous words of advice. She has continually supported me in doing what I love, even when dance had to come before biochemistry; she has been there for me several times to help me turn disappointment into something positive even when it included Facebook stalking alumni; and of course, she has never failed to be in her office when I needed a twix fix and someone to laugh with.

Professor Pederson is one of the most influential and inspiring people I have ever met. She works extremely hard as the chair of the biology department, as a teacher in class, as a researcher in lab, as a mother and wife at home, and as a mentor and friend to so many. She is extremely intelligent and even more humble.

As a professor, her passion and enthusiasm for biology and chemistry makes it worth waking up at 8:30 in the morning for her lecture or staying in the science center until 9:00 at night for her lab. I've never heard anyone say they haven't enjoyed a class with her, even though she is definitely a tough Professor. Her classes are far from easy. Not because she doesn't want her students to find success but because she wants us to work hard to appreciate the beauty and elegance of the molecular side of life.

For instance, when I had her for biochemistry, the grades on our first exam were awful and she knew that most of the class hadn't started studying for the exam until the night before. Professor Pederson was not happy with us, but she didn't reprimand us or blatantly blame our lack of effort for the lousy outcome on the exams. At that point she could have cared less about the grades because it was obvious we had only tried to memorize the material to get a good grade. She was more hurt by the fact that we didn't put the effort into fully understanding the intricate yet amazing details life has to offer on a biochemical level. 

Her disappointment became very clear to me when she said this to me: "Biochemical pathways exhibit a high level of sophistication that deserve long periods of appreciation and focus. The beauty of these reactions are breathtaking and reserving such little time studying them is simply a crime."

She was genuinely upset by our disrespect for the field she cares so dearly about which made us all work so much harder.

Professor Pederson, thank you for those reminders that science is something to be loved and not just learned, and for demanding from us the determination and effort it takes to form that love.

Know that in doing so you have cultivated an undying passion and dedication to biochemistry in me and all of your students. You have been an integral part of our education at Stonehill, and have provided us with the tools and knowledge we need to succeed in the classroom, lab, and in life.

On behalf of all of your students, MUCHAS GRACIAS! Professor Pederson, please know that as a teacher you have made a difference in so many lives and we are greatly indebted to you for your support, mentorship, and friendship.

It is now my great honor to introduce to you the well deserved winner of the 2011 Louise Hegarty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Professor Magdalena James-Pederson. 


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