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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

View From The Top: Destiny Desiree Aquino

Published: May 19, 2012
Section: Opinions

My road to Brandeis was one of sheer fate. I applied because multiple “What college is best for you?” quizzes had placed Brandeis in the top three. There were no additional steps other than the handy common app and on the very last night, in the very last hour before it was due. I figured I had nothing to lose. It was the best last minute decision of my life thus far. Unless you count the last minute decision, on the last day the deposit was due, to come to Brandeis. My decision came down to one simple revelation. Brandeis felt like home.

During the last three and a half years, I have had the privilege to work with so many wonderful students, faculty and staff. While I have fond memories of many projects—from the Haiti Relief Benefit I helped throw sophomore year to creating the journalism department Undergraduate Department Representative (UDR) position when I realized we didn’t have one—my most treasured moments are attached to the piece of paper you hold in your hand. Being a part of The Brandeis Hoot and watching it become both the amazing (yet sometimes dysfunctional) family and phenomenal work of journalism it now is has allowed me to transform into the writer, friend and individual that I am proud to be today. I could not have done it without my fellow editors, our staff or our vibrant and diverse campus life that has allowed us to fill the pages for you. I thank all of you for all the hours and love you put into your Brandeis life.

While I have written and edited numerous articles over the years, this has been the most difficult to complete. I decided it was best to seek inspiration from another extra curricular that has been dear to my heart, being your senior representative to the university Alumni Board. I have been able to be both a voice for all of our needs and have been introduced to the importance of keeping Brandeis in our lives forever. I know many of you also feel that Brandeis is home because it’s where your chosen family is. So I decided to write a letter to my senior class family as we graduate, the alumni who have graduated before us, and all the classes to come; please remember these things always, and stay in touch with your family.

Dear Family,

We’ve all experienced the two reactions that you get when you tell someone you’ve just met that you go to Brandeis. There’s the “Oh that’s nice, what are you studying?” This is when it becomes clear that they have no idea what Brandeis is. I must say you never get this response in New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts and you rarely get it in Florida. You absolutely never get it in a synagogue. Response two goes something like this, “Wow. You must be really, really smart! Are you Jewish?” There also are the times when the person automatically assumes you’re Jewish and will say “Mazal tov! That’s amazing!” Nonetheless both of these are very similar responses. Most people think they know two things about our home: First, you must be gifted, talented, bright, exceptional or any other of your favorite synonyms for special, and secondly that you must somehow be related to the Jewish community.

Well they are right … but we know there is so much more about our home then those two things. I know that we all know that in fact we are a non-sectarian Jewish-sponsored university. So yes they are right, we are all connected to the Jewish community—they made this possible for us—but even for those of us that are Jewish, be that religiously or culturally (because again I hope we’ve all learned in our time here that there is in fact a difference) or not, Judaism has very little to do with being a Brandeisian.

Being a Brandeisian is to be special, original, unique, honest and a bit awkward. Many of my friends that don’t go to Brandeis love to ask, “So what is Brandeis like?” I tell them to picture every awkward, but interesting person they knew in high school, and then every overachieving, overly involved, popular, yet secretly nerdy person they also knew in high school. Then multiply that to several hundred times and imagine that suddenly all of those people ended up in one place. Then, like the awesome social experiment that college is, everyone just stood around and watched what happened.

What happened is what we’ve all come to call home. It has been the last four years of the seniors’ lives and will continue on for all classes to come. Some will tell us that these have or will be the best years of our entire lives, but I know we’ll all go on to do even more amazing things than we have while here.

To be a Brandeisian is to have varied interests; be that our majors, our minors, our jobs, our extracurriculars, our internships or all of the above and then some. To be one of us is to be so passionate about those interests that, often times, our club meetings happen in the campus center at 11 p.m. and our sleep is forgone to accomplish everything on our very full plates. And while we all complained during those all-nighters with friends, writing a 15-page paper or lab report that was due in the morning, when we look back we will see that our academic learning was then at the forefront of our Brandeis experience.

But we can all also acknowledge that it is the learning that happens outside the classroom, when we put down our textbooks, that forever changes the way we think about the world around us and the ways in which we choose to approach our lives as we continue on. It is that coffee date with a professor that forever changed your mind about what truly sparks your curiosity, it is the 4 a.m. conversation with a suitemate about politics that made you realize just how blind you were to the other side, it is the community service you did with Waltham Group that opened your eyes to a world you may not have realized needs you so badly, or the many other things we did on and off this campus that embody being a Brandeisian.

To be Brandeisian is to give everything and anything we do 150 percent. Because we graduate does not mean that we stop learning, that we stop being us, or that anything but our geographical location and our daily routine changes. At the heart of all of our lives will still be our passions; they’re what got us to Brandeis. They flourished here and they are what will lead us to our chosen paths.

Brandeis teaches us that we can combine all of our interests to make our academics individually suited to each of us. We’ve even created our own classes through the experiential learning program and explored the globe through study abroad. Brandeis has shown me it is possible to make our own paths where all of our passions meet, where we don’t have to be like any other college students who fit into certain, neat boxes because to be Brandeisian is to be anything but typical.

My favorite thing to proclaim this year has been. “I have such impressive friends!” It’s the truest statement I could speak. I have multiple friends who are Fulbright scholars, joining the Peace Corps, going to PhD programs and going to the top graduate schools in the country. If you can think of any exceptional, exciting, original and impressive choice for a career I promise one of the 800 graduating seniors is doing it.

President Lawrence loves to say “You don’t go to college, you go to Brandeis.” And he’s never been more right. We chose a school founded on social justice, we sat in thought-provoking classes, we made and lost friends and loves—we grew up here. Within the walls of Brown, Gerstenzang, Lown, Sherman and shiny, new Mandel we became even more exceptional people than we were when we got here, and its because we all went here together. It is the people that a place like Brandeis attracts that made us who we are.

Our parents and our families gave us all the ingredients to become jewels—for that we thank them, but it is Brandeis faculty and staff that gave us the pressure, the support and the careful handling that created us into the magnificent collection of gems that we are. We need to remember on this day and every day forward that we are going to change this world with the things we do.

It is the Brandeisian passion that makes this possible. I went abroad to Copenhagen, Denmark, in the fall of 2010. I learned many new things there, but my biggest realization as I was sitting at a potluck dinner table with friends from schools that most people would claim are better or higher ranked than we, is that, while I genuinely enjoyed their company and I’m glad I know them, they were nothing compared to the people I knew at Brandeis. They were lacking that eagerness and enthusiasm for the things they were doing in their lives outside the classroom and the things they were learning inside of them. It was here I realized that we truly deserve the gasp that some people give when they hear we go to Brandeis—the gasp that signifies we are exceptional.

We all know that Brandies is a young university, and there is nothing like the day the new U.S. News and World Report Rankings come out and we’ve moved up on the list, but it is up to us to make sure we continue to move up. I ask you today to make Brandeis one of your passions. In that collection of things we all give so much of ourselves to, I beg you to give yourself to Brandeis.

Brandeis is forever a part of our identity and as we cultivate and embrace every part of who we are, it is our job to continue to give our time, energy and devotion to making sure Brandeis succeeds and becomes more well-known for the people who went here, the students it attracts and the research it accomplishes.

Now I’m sure some of you are wondering: “Is it our job to make sure people know about Brandeis? Even if it is, how do we do this?” I can hear some of you thinking, “You’re asking a lot.” I know I am, but I also know that once Brandeisians set their minds to something—there’s nothing that can get in their way. So I ask you to start by giving back whatever you can to our university. It’s not about how much you can give back, it’s about the culture of giving back. If you received any aid or scholarships or know anyone who did, then your Brandeis experience has been changed by alumni donations. Brandeis will not be the same place it was for us for future classes if we cannot continue to commit to need-blind admissions, and that requires every single one of us to help.

In 10 days I will be clear across the country in the Mississippi Delta participating in Institute for Teach For America. As I am already prone to teacher tendencies and I will soon be one, I decided it was appropriate to give you an acronym for how I hope and pray we will all live our lives. Live it in true Brandeis Fashion. Be Bold, Ready, Admirable, Noble, Determined, Enlightened, Inspiring and Sincere in all that you do. Be Brandeis.