NSights Blog

Growth: How the University helped me learn who I am

Forging lifelong friendships, finding future path are among the reasons why the last four years have been meaningful

The University has helped me learn who I am, and I would say most college experiences further your self-knowledge. That said, being in an environment where vastly different ideas are thrown into academic settings allows for the opportunity to learn more about what you truly stand for.

During my time here, I have witnessed LeBron James bring the Cavs back to win the finals from down three games to one and held multiple arguments about how Drake's the best artist of our generation after every album drop, how our country was torn apart during the 2016 election and how natural disasters have a way of bringing everyone together again.

I have also witnessed national news closer to home. A student participated in a Confederate march. A campus policeman unfairly portrayed University alum Colin Kaepernick. Personally, I had a glass bottle thrown at me and was called the n-word while sitting on the curb. Nothing helps shape your opinions more than extreme circumstances – and experiencing them while being around thousands of other people your age who possibly interpret the situation differently. Also, these instances mold your identity and give you a chance to be who you want to be.

When things happen, you either feel one way about it or the other. The beauty is nobody can force you to feel a certain way. You come up with your own reason for why something is important, and you are allowed to feel that way. Knowing what and how you believe in something so you can contribute to the marketplace of ideas and better the community is what college is about. But more important, it's about learning to not criticize what is said and listening to see if there's a possible solution to the problem.

Until this January, graduation was the last thing on my mind. Playing football, making new friends and deciding when to skip class to do an assignment for another class was mandatory. I quickly learned balance was the key to success. Knowing how to procrastinate and get a 15-page essay completed by 11:59 p.m., then getting enough sleep for practice at 6 a.m., going back to sleep right after practice was over and remembering to have fun that night because I was in college – things like this created stressful but rewarding scenarios.

Being a student athlete only added to the stresses that come with college, but it ended up being helpful. Having coaches do weekly check-ins to see if I was in class and athletic administration members checking grades made sure I remained focused. But with my father being a coach and my mother working in student conduct, I had all the motivation I needed to stay out of trouble and remain focused. If I got in trouble I knew I would be punished by my mother and father, and being raised by them gave me enough sense to not have that happen.

From more of an athletic perspective, playing football for the Pack was a dream come true. I'm originally from Florida, so I will not lie and say I knew from birth I would play for the Pack. What this experience did provide me however was a check mark on my bucket list.

Also on that list alongside playing division 1 football was winning a bowl ring and recording my first sack, both of which I accomplished. Although the win column never reached our expectations, being a part of the 2015 Arizona Bowl Championship Team was a highlight.

My largest takeaway from playing is that winning isn't everything. Obviously, in some degree it is. It is why I had two coaches in my three years here, but the memories I have made cannot be duplicated. Dancing in the locker room after a win, discovering you can start to cry involuntarily when running your 16th 110-yard sprint and goofing around on plane rides will always remain with me. Coming in freshman year and not knowing anybody to leaving three years later with a handful of teammates who have become like brothers to me was the best thing about college.

For me, the last three years have made me want to laugh at myself, cry on the phone while my mom gives me advice, get mad at parking services for ticketing me as soon as I park and now rejoice that my time is up. The University has taught me many things, but more than anything, I am thankful the University brought me lifelong relationships and a liberal arts degree that I pray to find something to do with.

Ricky Thomas Jr in cap and gown on the Quad