Failure has defined my Georgetown experience. Sure, things have turned out fine for me in the end. I have amazing friends. I am privileged to be able to continue my education at the school of my dreams. I am gainfully employed. But underneath this layer of success lie events and experiences that have gone quite poorly.
This wouldn’t be an op-ed if I did not make at least one sweeping generalization. I would contend that Georgetown students are primed to think about our experiences in terms of our successes. The raison d’etre is to continuously crush the work we do and put on a happy face while doing it. We aim to become the chair of Georgetown College Democrats or Republicans, land that dope job at McKinsey & Company, beat the curve in Principles of Microeconomics and so on. Seeing the wild success of our peers is simultaneously awesome and terrifying.
How can I ever measure up to these people? What the heck am I working so hard for? Is college supposed to be this lonely? Will I have a job? Will I fail? These are all questions that I’ve had since day one at Georgetown. As I’ve (hopefully) grown older and wiser than my 18-year-old self, I have come to realize one thing: failure is what has pushed me to succeed.
In my experience, I have dealt with three types of failure: professional, social and personal. The first type of failure is one that is not readily apparent at Georgetown. I am at this school because someone else read my application and said, “This person is going to do big things.” But for me, that person’s expectations have not consistently been aligned with reality. I have gone zero for 25 during not one but two internship application seasons. I even messed up the one job I did land.
The second type of failure has been social. There were times when I was not there for friends when they most needed someone to talk to. I have let relationships with friends and significant others fall by the wayside because I could not find a healthy balance between work and life.
Perhaps most importantly, however, I have failed personally. I lost sight of my punk roots and that it is not just about my personal liberation; rather, it’s about our liberation from oppressive systems. I have failed to fiercely stand beside sexual assault survivors at Georgetown even though I too experienced that tragedy. I have not stood in solidarity with the LGBTQ community at Georgetown despite realizing my queer identity. I have failed to embrace my heritage, customs and culture. I have failed to know who I really am.
So, yes, my Georgetown experience has been marked with a lot of failure. But you know what? These failures only push me to prove everyone as well as myself wrong. I will become an authority on international relations even though I got a B on that one paper. I am going to reply all with a rejection letter of my own to an internship rejection email because I know I deserve something better. When a friend texts me asking if I’m free, I am going to put down whatever I’m doing and go grab a beer with the people I love. I’m not going to give up on the communities that matter to me even when times get rough. I am going to embrace my multiple identities and not care what others think about them.
When we first came to Georgetown as freshman and transfers, we sat in McDonough Arena and were told to “go forth and set the world on fire.” Throughout our time at Georgetown, we were all finding that spark that was going to help us “set the world on fire” and do monumental things. For some, perhaps the success stories are the fuel for their fire.
But for those of you who have also failed quite a bit like me, I think we can find currency in failure as well. Maybe my story is not the traditional #georgetownstory, but I firmly believe that it is my failures that have stoked that fire inside of me.
This Saturday during commencement, we will be celebrating our individual and collective successes as we rightly should. But we would all be remiss if we did not embrace the failures that we have faced on our way to this moment. When we all run to The Tombs for potentially the last time in a while, let’s toast to our failures a whole lot more. I know I will.