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A Work in Progress: A college student tells how he learned from his mistakes

Three years ago, I didn’t have the courage or confidence to address a room full of people.

In May, I stood on the stage in Alumni Hall at Stonehill College explaining to trustees, donors, and alumni how the William Devin Scholarship has given me the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and to become a more mature student.

Before receiving this scholarship, I was unfocused.  A young man from Boston, I had a preconceived notion of what college was and how I was going to succeed there. I told myself – attend class, do the homework, you’ll be fine.

But this was a minimal approach and it concealed the fact that I had difficulty adapting to college, making friends, and fitting in. Essentially, I wasted my first year of college and lost residence during my sophomore year. No longer living on campus, I had to commute.

Shuttling back and forth, however, I missed deadlines and meetings, skipped chances to meet other students like me, and didn’t give myself enough time for homework, readings, and assignments. Not surprisingly, my academic performance spiraled downward.

Looking back, I am now thankful for that failure as it forced me to rethink my approach to being a student.

Initially at Stonehill, I thought I was alone. I could not see the other students who were struggling to adapt just like me. And, I was too proud to seek help.

But, one of the biggest lessons I learned is that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when you are in trouble or in a bind.

Whether it was Shelly Leahy in Academic Services, Fr. Paul Pudussery in Campus Ministry, or Fr. Thomas Looney in the Mission Division, there were good people who took the time to guide, advise, and mentor me. When I finally embraced that fact, I began to see progress in my academics and my life.

Then there was Mr. and Mrs. Devin, whose scholarship gave me a chance to stop commuting, live on campus, and focus on my studies.

Another lesson I learned was that the more involved you are at college, the more you get in return. Each club, event program, or volunteer opportunity that I attended gave me the chance to meet others who are passionate about the same things as me. I began to make bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Working with the Diversity on Campus group, I expanded my understanding of diversity and found myself exploring everything from Asian culture to environmental issues. With Campus Ministry, I volunteered at a food pantry in New York City and I experienced an alternative spring break volunteer trip in Peru, which was an eye-opener for me.

Now, I am still not a straight A student, but I am someone who is growing in confidence and learning how to set priorities and to balance the demands of class, homework, social life and work.

I am finding the challenges of college more rewarding and satisfying. Now in my senior year and majoring in criminology, I am studying hard to make sure that I can pursue a career in government service when I graduate in May.

A good friend once told me that even when you’re late, at least you made the effort to get there. That is what the Devin Scholarship has done for me. Although I am a little late, the scholarship gave me a second chance, some time to mature and to learn from my mistakes.

And, that’s what gave me the confidence to stand before a packed audience at Alumni Hall earlier this year and tell my story. I’m not a success story yet, but a work in progress.

Born to Ethiopian parents, Johannes Tesfai lives in Boston. He was one of two keynote speakers at the Annual Benefactor & Student Scholarship dinner at Stonehill on April 25, 2009.