It's official. I am an alumna. How strange to claim my new status as a collegiate graduate! After all, I was convinced this day would never really happen, because who really believes they'll leave the places they've come to call home? And who would think it would come so soon? I'm sure this is not news to anyone, but time is surely flying increasingly quicker into the past. That's certainly what these past four years at Pepperdine have felt like.
I remember the excitement I had upon arriving at Pepperdine for New Student Orientation on August 24, 2011. This is clearly evidenced in my composite photo on my ID card (wide-eyed, raring to go freshman Leigh was quite in the NSO spirit). As I drove the loop of Dorm Road to arrive at House 12 - Knott Hall - I was bursting with excitement. I was at college! I was free! Independent! Invincible! And I had an ocean view after 18 years living in the desert! Yet at the time, I had no idea what my experience at Pepperdine would mean to me four years down the road.
I will admit, freshman year was all sorts of crazy. Looking back, I believe this was my time to shake out my naïve beliefs and practices in order to learn from the many mistakes I made along the way. Though I look back upon my freshman self with a sense of embarrassment (did I really think fountain hopping was a good idea?), I am able to acknowledge that today I would have the maturity to run into the Pacific for a midnight swim with good friends instead. Yes, my example may be silly, but I think the naïveté I entered Pepperdine with serves as a baseline for measuring how much I've grown in the four years since 2011. For one, I am much more self-aware than I was as a first-year. I am able to notice critically the components of self and personality that need tweaking and to conceptualize how I might go about smoothing out my rougher edges. I was basically unable to recognize my weaknesses freshman year, and didn't really care much to strive for greatness, simply because I was having fun with my college experience, living "young and wild and free" to quote philosopher Wiz Khalifa in one of the top songs of 2012 (I jest).
Sophomore year I embarked upon my grand European adventure as I studied abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland. Like many other Pepperdine sophomores, I experienced huge personal transformation not only in my independence, but also in my faith. When I first arrived in Switzerland, I didn't want to be there. I was so envious of my friends' posts in and photos of Malibu that I didn't allow myself to consider the potential richness of the journey I was about to take across cities, countries, time zones, and languages. It wasn't until spring semester when I began branching out and creating deeper relationships that I finally felt comfortable abroad. It took a considerable amount of courage to be vulnerable with others, but just a few weeks later, my dividends returned twofold and my overall experience abroad became much more enjoyable with quality friends by my side. I also enjoyed the perks of dedicating time to my introverted side by exploring the city on my own and creating sun-soaked memories walking along Lac Léman. Of all the travels I had abroad, my solitary walks on the lake probably take the cake. It was there I learned the necessity of solitude and the creativity bounding within my mind, and it was there I cultivated my fondest memories of Lausanne.
Abroad was also an enriching experience for my faith. By leaning into the discomfort I felt living in a foreign country with just 67 other students and learning to turn to God for help when I felt unenthusiastic to be there. Whereas my first year and a half of college was spent repressing my Christian background, sophomore spring revived my acknowledgement of God's love in my life. Thankfully I had the help of a few good friends and Tuesday night girls' bible study to encourage me to continue growing. More than anything, living amongst the awesome, mountainous Swiss landscape reminded me of how I connect with my Creator. And so I left my year abroad in a better place than I'd arrived.
Junior year was a tough transition back to Malibu. I felt disconnected from the majority of the Pepperdine community, and did not know how to spend my time. Thankfully, I was able to take on the leadership position of Chaplain within my sorority, create deep and intentional relationships, and begin my major studies. All three facets of my junior year opened up opportunities for me to consider what relationship and intentionality look like, even though I was just beginning to exercise that muscle. Along the way, I found out that I'm somehow awesome at cranking out 32 pages of writing in just a few days when that means I won't have to do any coursework over Thanksgiving or dead week (it's my specialty!). That and I really enjoy Paradise Cove's 7-layer chocolate cake that comes free on your birthday, especially when it's consumed for breakfast every day for the next week (I don't want to know how many calories I've consumed from these cakes - they're bigger than my head!). These cakes have created a life's worth of laughter and memories, so I would be foolish to leave them out of the picture.
More seriously, I consider junior year to be the foundation of my understanding of healthy, intentional relationships.
Though the first three years of my undergrad experience were life-changing, my senior year was a huge period of transformation. I think this past year served as a season of honing and strengthening the skills I'd been discovering throughout my time at Pepperdine. I had the wonderful opportunity of interning with the Relationship IQ program with two of my peers, where I learned all about healthy relationships and gave tools to my peers to navigate their own relationships. I also took two of the most impactful courses of my Pepperdine career in the fall of '14: Communication and Leadership and Women in Film. These classes helped me think more about my vocation to empower and lead others, especially women, to be the greatest that they can be. (I could write a novel about this, so I'll spare you all the time...for now!) All things considered, this past year sticks out as the best by far (although perhaps I am a little to shortsighted and just had a wonderful time as a senior).
As I look back upon the years since I graduated high school, several themes stick out to me. The first is intentional relationships. In high school, many of my friendships were built out of convenience because I didn't quite know who I was, what I valued, or what meaningful relationships looked like. Moving away from the comfort of home to California and Switzerland helped me consider what I value and how and with whom I want to spend my time. As the years passed by at Pepperdine, I noticed that my pool of friends grew smaller and smaller, but my intimacy with these friends grew exponentially larger as time passed. Whereas freshman year I would have been distressed to only consider a few people close friends, I now consider it a blessing to have spent intentional time with my closest, best friends, getting to know them and pour into their lives as much as I could for the remaining time we had together in college. Because of my determination to lean in closer with these friends, I have left Pepperdine with a handful of friends I can contact at any time and know that we will pick up exactly where we left off. And that feels amazing.
Our first assignment upon entering Pepperdine was to read Gary Selby's piece on vocation and write a paper for our first year seminar discussing our personal vocation. I'll spare you the details on what I wrote about, but will share a tidbit about what I have discovered within the second theme at Pepperdine: my vocation. I think it's fitting that Pepperdine's mission is preparing students for lives of purpose, service, and leadership (the Pepperdine PSL), as those three words describe the basis of my vocation perfectly. While cleaning my room this morning, I came across an early assignment from a class I took my junior year, asking me what my "doughnut plan" and personal mission statement are. At that point, I realized that my purpose is to serve others and work to the best of my ability to create a more hospitable world for people. Adding in my experiences in my Women in Film course, my mission is: To educate, support, and empower all women who feel incomplete and experience societal limitations to discover their fullest potential and indispensable role in society. Though it took me four years to figure this out, all of my experiences to date have aided in the formation of what I hope to be my life's work.
More than anything, I am thankful for the life-changing experiences I have had at Pepperdine, and all that comes with the diploma I will receive authenticating my completion of my Bachelor's degree in Interpersonal Communication. It has taken more than just the coursework, including many tear-fraught nights of writing papers on all too much caffeine, memories of beach sunsets with my best friend, genuine expressions of faith and doubt at bible studies, discussions with professors about what the heck I'm doing with my life after graduation, hikes atop the ridges of Malibu's hills, last-minute travel plans, and so much more in between. All of this has culminated to create the Spring 2015 version of Leigh Kolb, the one I'm proud to declare is an official alumna of Pepperdine University. AYO WAVES!