Nicole Puza ’08
Nicole Puza is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honors society, Women’s Center Associate Board, Equestrian Team, Pre-Veterinary Club, Biosphere, and Gettysburg College-Community Orchestra. She is also a swing dance choreographer and instructor in the dance ensemble. While at Gettysburg, Puza volunteered at the East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue and was a student teaching assistant for the biology department. She was awarded a Mellon Grant for student-faculty summer research in 2006 and her independent research took her to Nicaragua where she analyzed DNA of tropical marine snails. Puza has also worked as a technician’s assistant at Emmitsburg Veterinary Hospital. After graduation, she will attend the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
Four years ago we sat in these chairs staring up at the class of 2008 flag with flooding emotions of excitement, sadness, fear, and relief at the opening convocation of our first year: excitement of new beginnings, sadness that many of us had left home for the first time with no idea when we would get the chance to go back. We were afraid of the intense college curriculum that we were jumping into, afraid that we wouldn't get along with our roommates, and wondering if the life-changing decision we had made to come to Gettysburg would turn out to be the right one. We were relieved that we figured out what the Beachem portico was, and that although we did have to cross Stine Lake to get there, it was not a lake, and we did not actually have to swim.
We sit in these chairs today staring up at the class of 2008 flag for the first time since then with these same emotions overtaking our thoughts. Some of us are excited to move on and begin our careers and futures, others are sad that later tonight we will have to pack up our lives, drive away from Gettysburg for the last time, and part ways with our roommates and friends. Many of us are shaking in our seats wondering if we'll get that internship, land that perfect job, or survive graduate school. One thing is for sure, all of us are relieved that we made it to this day and survived the past four years. Congratulations.
Whatever emotion you are experiencing today, it does not change the inevitable truth that our time at Gettysburg has come to a close, and we are all about to embark on the oh-so-cliché "next chapter of our lives." Many of us will become first year students all over again this fall. Others of us head on to the "real world," or what others refer to simply as "the after life." Yet still, there's limbo, where many of us will wander until we figure things out (don't worry guys, you still have time).
Wherever we go, there are certain parts of Gettysburg we will all miss. We won't get all-knowing e-mails from the enigmatic Hayden, our lawns won't always be perfectly manicured for us, James won't make us blizzards at Servo every Wednesday, Bill Lafferty won't be there to let us know when it's safe to park our cars where or how to stay safe and use proper sun protection on vacation. Health Services won't send out global e-mail warnings and care instructions when there's a minor "plague" running through our future schools and offices, Glatfelter won't ring to let us know that it's already 3am and we still haven't finished that paper. We'll have to remember how to change our own lightbulbs again, and remind ourselves that unlike Gettysburg mailboxes, most combination locks get turned right first. I guarantee at least one of us will write and sign the Honor Code on our first graduate school exam, but more than anything, we'll notice that not everything will be orange and blue anymore, not even the flowers.
These memories are little gems of Gettysburg that we'll have with us forever. But I hope that we all take a lot more from this place than that. We have all had the opportunity at Gettysburg to experience something we never have before. Many of these experiences have taught us some of the greatest life lessons without our realizing it. I've picked a countdown of what I think are the top five goals to strive for in life based on the lessons we've all learned here at Gettysburg:
Number five: Travel
See the world. There's only one, and despite what you may think, it's not that difficult to do. Don't do it all at once, but if the opportunity arises to see a new place, do it. Many people live their entire lives without leaving their home countries. A great majority of us began this endeavor during our time at Gettysburg. If you haven't yet, it's never too late, and if you did get the opportunity to study abroad, never forget it, build on it, and do it again. The experiences you gain through traveling to different countries, experiencing other cultures, and meeting new people will teach lessons that can't be learned in any other way. In your future lives, remember take advantage of what is at your fingertips, branch out, be open to new things, just as you did while at Gettysburg.
Number four: Teach a child something new
Public service and community outreach has undoubtedly touched every person on this campus at some point. In the past years, many of us had the opportunity to reach out to, tutor, or simply spend some time with a child in need. If you have, you know that the spark in the eye of a child that has been reached out to is unforgettable. They remind us that there is always something more to see beyond the sadness, and they show us hope when we have often forgotten there is any. As you leave Gettysburg, remember the hope you planted within a child, and continue to seek hope in what seem like hopeless situations.
Number three: Learn to juggle
Ok, so there's the obvious literal advantage of learning how to juggle. It's fun, not many people can do it, and it's always a great talent to bring out at parties. But when I say learn to juggle, I'm not only talking about juggling tennis balls; I'm talking about juggling life. Think about the times when classes and activities have gotten out of control and you thought you might drop the ball. Like juggling, once you've figured out the rhythm, you can get things back in order more easily. As we move on in life, remember the life skills you learned here, and if you get thrown a fourth ball, learn to juggle that one too.
Number two: Rock climb
Even if you haven't taken advantage of a GRAB rock climbing experience while at Gettysburg, you've still learned how to rock climb. Whether you've actually pressed your face against the cold hard rock, or felt like you couldn't climb the metaphorical wall built in front of you, Gettysburg has taught you to climb. Rock climbing reminds you that you can't get to the top without challenging yourself, screwing up a few times, and continuing the fight to reach the top. In life you'll face a lot of stone walls, literal or not, take the tools you've gotten here and conquer them.
Number one is different for everyone, and who am I to tell you what your number one life goal should be? The number one thing you should do with your life is up to you. May I just suggest that you do everything and anything you want. Don't live by others' rules or feel you have to fit into a mold. Be yourself. Live YOUR life.
This past February, Chris Re, class of 1978 said to a group of seniors what I will now share with all of you: "As Gettysburg graduates, you WILL be great. No one can come out of Gettysburg and not achieve greatness at some point in their lives." We all leave Gettysburg with a great deal more academic knowledge than we entered with, but most importantly, we leave with priceless life knowledge and experience. I challenge you all to carry these lessons into the rest of your lives. In whatever you do after this day, always remember that you came from Gettysburg, and because of that, you can achieve greatness.
I would now like to introduce the co-chairs of the Senior Class Gift Committee: Lauren Craley and Joe Guerreri