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Graduating seniors’ advice to students

If there is one thing I have learned since I’ve come to FGCU, it is that here, like in the “real world,” we have the opportunity to become who we want to be.

Whoever we become will eventually shape our experiences and our lives.

Now, in my junior year, I have realized that the experiences I chose to put on my resume have ended up shaping me, not only as a prospective employee or student at FGCU, but as who I want to be.

Getting to this point has not been easy. I have one year left of my undergraduate degree, and many things can change in a year.

However, because I am not yet at the end of my collegiate career, I spoke with a couple seniors who are much closer to leaving FGCU than I am.

These are the stories of how they got to where they are now and how their experiences have changed their lives and the lives of others.

Evelyn Philistin, a senior majoring in Criminal Justice, is rarely seen without a playful sparkle in her eyes and her signature smile.

Senior Advice

Evelyn Philistin. (Photo courtesy of Evelyn Philistin)

This may not come as a surprise to many readers who know Philistin as a former Orientation Leader, Resident Assistant and Director of Civic Engagement for Student Government, to name a few of her past positions.

However, many may not know that Philistin was not always as outgoing as she is now. In fact, she told me that in one class in high school, she refused to present in front of her classmates, instead accepting a D in the class because she could not speak to a group without shaking.

That changed when she came to college. As a first generation student, Philistin was the first in her family to graduate from high school, and this Fall, she will be the first to graduate from college.

The proud daughter of a mother from Haiti, Philistin’s motivation is to succeed for her five younger siblings, to show them that if she can do it, so can they.

“Deep down I knew that I had the potential to do things,” Philistin said. “After high school, it was just a matter of trying and wanting to do things.”

When she arrived at FGCU, she felt as though she had come too far to quit now. With each step of the way, she continued to fight that voice in the back of her mind that told her “No, you can’t do this,” and “Who are you kidding?”

Finding her niches in the Office of Multicultural and Leadership Development, New Student Programs and Resident Housing Association helped her to build connections with people who would build her up, mentor and support her.

Pushing forward to accomplish her goals, she had the opportunity to create opportunities for others, all while laughing and smiling — her personal symbols of resilience. When asked what advice she would offer to students like her, Philistin says that keeping a reminder of her “why” is “so important.” “Remember why you’re doing it.”

Post-graduation, Evelyn will work to continue her dream of creating opportunities for others with children in Miami.

Ryan Ghandour, a senior majoring in Computer Information Systems, is also graduating this December. I met Ghandour in March on a trip to Tallahassee with Student Government, where our group lobbied state politicians for funding for FGCU.

When he is not mingling with politicians, Ghandour — who aspires to serve as a pilot in the United States Air Force in the near future — advocates for students back home.

Senior advice

Ryan Ghandour. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Ghandour)

Specifically, for the past couple of years Ghandour has served as a member of the Undergraduate Student Advisory Board for the Lutgert College of Business. The Advisory Board was instrumental in the recent revision of the university’s mission statement.

When asked what made him eligible for such a position, Ghandour replied that the selection committee and Dean Robert Beatty, under whose supervision the board works, wanted “well-rounded students.” In his application, he included examples of his leadership and open-mindedness or sense of adventure.

Already a certified karate instructor, at the time of his application, Ghandour listed that he hoped someday to study abroad.

Since then, he has fulfilled that dream, having studied in Japan for two and a half months.

“Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t just go to a place where the culture is familiar and the language is the same as yours,” Ghandour said. “Take a chance… There was always the possibility I wouldn’t like Tokyo, but it turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”

He wasn’t lying. Ghandour will return to Japan this summer.

With vastly different experiences on campus, both Philistin and Ghandour have achieved incredible things and will undoubtedly leave impressive legacies on campus.

Despite their differences, their advice is almost identical. Make connections that will not only help you professionally, but also support you when the going gets tough. Take the time to reflect on things. Remember why you want to achieve whatever you’re reaching for.

Philistin left me with some final words on resilience.

“You don’t always have to be the smartest, richest, whatever…You don’t even have to look the best. You do have to try the best. Try your hardest for what you want,” Philistin said.

You are the only one who can make it happen — a nice reminder for finals week.

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