“What do you hope to get out of the next four years?”

I remember reading this question four years ago and thinking, “What do they want me to say? How can I sound like I know what I’m doing?” The truth was, I couldn’t possibly fathom the worth of four years at The Ohio State University at that time.

When I was a senior in high school, I thought I was going to go to a top university to obtain a degree in international studies. I was in the National Honor Society, played varsity field hockey, was editor-in-chief of the yearbook, had a full AP schedule, blah blah blah … I had worked hard and planned it all out to graduate, get a great job and make lots of money. The end.

But I loved math. I was enamored with magazines. I wrote poetry in my spare time. And I was obsessed with clothes. In reality, I had no real idea what I wanted to do or what I wanted to get out of higher education. I knew there was this thing called “the college experience” that couldn’t be missed, and I was told that a degree was imperative for acceptable employment.  So I applied. And I wrote with generic b——- terms like “personal growth,” “marketable skills,” “long-lasting connections” and “memorable experiences.” I still don’t really know what those things mean.

And yet I was accepted … to most places. But not to Brown. And I simply laughed at the idea of graduating from NYU with a quarter million dollars in debt. I thought I’d take an offer for a full ride to Ole Miss, but I hated everything about it the second I actually stepped foot on campus for a visit. So that left good ol’ OSU. The school literally down the street that I thought I knew like the back of my hand. The school smack dab in the middle of boring Ohio, right next to my mother. It was my second-to-last choice (the last being Miami of Ohio).

I grossly underestimated this place.

At first, its physical size and enormous student body was daunting. It took a few months for my legs to stop being constantly sore, and I still have to check the map on a regular basis to find buildings. As a freshman, it also felt like if I didn’t get someone’s name, number, mailing address and set a date to meet, I could count on never seeing them again. It was really difficult to make connections that first semester, and that amplified my general lack of enthusiasm for being here.

Eventually I started figuring it out. I asked for a job at a boutique in the Short North. I started writing for a campus fashion magazine. I changed my major a few times. And I joined a sorority. I attribute most of the strength and inspiration I found to pursue new opportunities and satiate my passions to the people I met at this time — my mentors, my friends, my professors. I wrote in my applications about wanting to make long-lasting connections, but I couldn’t have imagined that I would meet people who would redefine my idea of personal success. People who would motivate me to keep setting my bar higher, and who would encourage me as I grew into a better person than I ever thought I could become. A stronger, kinder, smarter, more compassionate, more confident person. A better friend, daughter, employee, leader, student. I didn’t know that’s what I wanted from college when I was 17 years old. I didn’t know I was allowed to want that much from just four years.

At OSU, I was given a wide open track to run. Here, you can do anything you’ve ever dreamed of and countless things you’ve never imagined. You would be remiss if you didn’t try to take advantage of all the opportunities this university has to offer. Sure, I fell and skinned my knees a few times. I failed Calculus 3 … twice (my tenure as a math major ended shortly thereafter). I dropped out of the Honors Program. I didn’t discover the group fitness classes at the RPAC until junior year. You live and you learn.

But really, in college I learned how to not only recover from complete failure (I’m talking almost-failed-out-of-school failure) but to thrive. Falling on your ass has a way of leading you to adjust your perspective, your priorities, to be much more productive and thoughtful. It would have been odd, though, to write in my application essays that I hoped to fail in college. But here’s a secret: failing is one of the best learning experiences you can get.

I grew a lot over the last four years. I would say I’m not even the same person I was at 17, but I think I just grew more into myself. I have been gifted with unparalleled opportunities, unwavering support and unlimited inspiration. I am forever grateful to this place, this time and the people in both for that.

OSU is, quite simply, the greatest place on the face of the earth. Not only is she stunning and challenging and wildly fun. Not only does she have strong tradition and amazing professors and national champions. Not only is she the heartbeat of the city I love. But she has provided me the greatest gift I never knew to ask for, all of these things in aggregate. It is for this reason that the diploma I’ll receive on May 8 will be — far and away — my most valuable belonging, representing my proudest achievement. I couldn’t have hoped for more out of these past four years.

Bess Reis

Strategic communication, Class of 2016