By: STEPHEN SALISBURY
Happy new year! I know we’re halfway through January, but this is the first chance I’ve had to greet many of you with this annual exhortation. I hope your new year and new semester are starting out strong.
I don’t know about you, but 2016 was not one of my favorite years. My family experienced some very deep personal losses to disease, I stumbled through two of my worst semesters academically and the political landscape changed in a way that I didn’t think was even possible.
However, I did experience some triumphs last year. I had the chance this past summer to spend 10 weeks as a student at that large Catholic university to our north, which was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
My son, whom my wife and I had hoped to conceive for more than 10 years, celebrated his first birthday. And, I had the opportunity to become the President of the Student Body and Student Government Association here at IU South Bend, which is like the circle of life repeating itself since I did the exact same thing at my high school my junior year back in the late 1980s.
As we look ahead to the weeks before us, the word I’d like to focus on is “progress.” When we started classes last Monday, Jan. 9, we had exactly four months until Commencement which will take place Tuesday, May 9. For me, I will be completing a task that I began 28 years ago. Getting my bachelor’s degree from college is something that I have been trying to accomplish since I graduated high school in 1989. The reason I’m sharing this story is because I want to encourage you to never give up on your dream. Never stop trying to make progress in your life.
I tried to go to college right out of high school, but life got in the way, and as is the case for many of us, I made some bad choices along the way. The key is to not let those challenges and mistakes define how you should live the rest of your life. I learned this lesson this past year from my little niece (my younger brother’s daughter).
A few weeks shy of her seventeenth birthday, in the first semester of her Junior year in high school, she learned that she had a very rare form of bone and tissue cancer known as Aveolar Rhabdymyosarcoma. The doctors told her that she had about a year to live.
Rather than drop out of school and give up her world, she chose to fight. She stayed caught up with her studies as best she could while she underwent nine months of intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She was voted homecoming queen. She went on college visits. In other words, she didn’t let this devastating challenge define how she was going to live her life.
After nine months, she completed her treatments and was told she was in remission. She started her Senior Year of high school, chose to apply to IU Bloomington to become a pediatric nurse, no doubt inspired by the many who had served her and her family at Riley Children’s Hospital, and almost a year after her initial diagnosis, was told that the cancer had returned. She died the week after Thanksgiving, two weeks after her eighteenth birthday.
A week after her funeral, her acceptance letter to IU Bloomington came in the mail. I share all this not to depress you or to garner your sympathy, but to encourage you that no matter what you are facing in your life, don’t let the circumstances you think are meant to hinder you keep you from making progress.
My niece chose to fight. She had been given a year to live, she lived 13 months. When she had been given 24 hours at one point, she fought for another week. It didn’t matter to her that she’d been told she was fighting a losing battle. It was the fact that she chose to keep fighting that made her an inspiration. While the body she lived in may have weakened, her spirit remained strong.
As we move forward together toward our goals this semester, let’s make it a point to encourage one another. While there may be those in positions of power over us who would like to stifle the progress we’ve made, we mustn’t let them keep us from fighting for that progress. I’m looking forward to a much better year in 2017. I hope you are, too!