This post was written in honor of the University of Illinois’ 2018 commencement ceremony and the one-year anniversary of our own commencement from the university.
What’s your favorite memory as a student at U of I?
Ashley: My favorite memory while at U of I was definitely when Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the nonprofit organization To Write Love on Her Arms and New York Times bestselling author of If You Feel Too Much, came to campus for a lecture and book signing. He came to the student union as part of the university’s “One Book One Campus” program for the 2016-17 school year.
During the lecture, he spoke about his book, his (lack of) college experience, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, and read excerpts from his book. Afterwards, he had a book signing/meet-and-greet, and he really took the time to speak with the people who came. He didn’t just say ‘hi’ and sign books.
The TWLOHA UIUC UChapter, which I was a part of, had a table at the event, so we were at the table for most of the book signing. Fortunately, this meant we pretty much got to be the last people to meet Jamie. We gave him a gift basket filled with some of his favorite snacks, an Illinois shirt, and other goodies, and he said it was the best gift basket he had been given! Jamie also gave me, Amanda, and Carly cookies to share while we were cleaning up the UChapter table before we left the event; they may not have been the tastiest cookies we’ve ever had (they were still good, though), but because they were from Jamie, they were the best cookies ever.
Amanda: I’m 99.999% sure we all have the same favorite memory, so I’m going to talk about some other favorite memories. I got to meet Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson (and Carly’s twin brother, sort of, but that’s a story for a different day) my freshman year at a book event. As a gymnastics fanatic, that’s definitely one to remember.
I also really enjoyed when mental health activist and author Kevin Breel came to campus for a book event at the Illini Union, which our TWLOHA UIUC UChapter helped host and organize. Kevin talked about his book, Boy Meets Depression, and read parts of it. Then he did a book signing which concluded with all of us TWLOHA UChapter members hanging out and chatting with him for a bit.
Carly: I’m not a huge “favorite memory” person because I more so seek consistent things that bring me joy as opposed to putting pressure on one big event, but I do have some things that stand out. Ashley already discussed Jamie Tworkowski coming to campus, and Amanda mentioned Kevin Breel’s book tour, and while those were definitely favorites, I am going to talk about a very simple, yet very happy memory.
Going to the U of I gymnastics meets together was always something that I consistently looked forward to enjoying. I loved the ritual of walking to the meets together, chatting about our weeks, laughing about the goofy dance moves we saw gymnasts doing, or just smiling at the interesting photographs that were captured. It may not seem like a big event, but those were some of the happiest times I spent in college, and they are very much missed.
If you had to choose a different major, what would you have picked?
Ashley: If I had to major in something other than news-editorial journalism at U of I, I would’ve majored in recreation, sport and tourism with a concentration in sport management. The major wouldn’t have helped me much as a writer or journalist, but it would’ve allowed me to learn a lot more about the sports industry and the business side of sports. Such a major would have given me more experience and knowledge within sports, which would’ve helped me with my pursuit of becoming a sports media professional.
I didn’t realize I wanted to be in the RST program until it was too late—not that I wanted to change my major. But it would’ve been great to major in RST in addition to news-editorial journalism.
Amanda: I don’t mean to copy my sister, but I also would have majored in recreation, sport, and tourism with a concentration in sport management if I had to choose something other than news-editorial journalism. I would have chosen it for all of the reasons she mentioned above and more. If I were a sport management major, I probably would have known much earlier in my college career that you could work for/intern with the Illinois athletic department. I didn’t learn that until I was a junior when it was pretty much too late for me to try to work with the media relations department.
I actually took one RST sport management class, Intro to Sport Management, and enjoyed it. It taught me a little bit about everything sport management has to offer, from media relations and event planning to public relations and even law. That class showed me there’s a lot you can do with a degree in sport management.
Carly: This is a tough one. I would probably choose nutrition/dietetics so that I could counsel people with eating disorders. I am very passionate about the eating disorder field and would love to use my own experience to help others. The only problem would be all of the math and science involved; I’m not sure if I could pass those courses. Overall I’m very happy that I chose English because I love discussing literature, reading, and writing. My dream is to one day combine my communication skills with my ambition to serve the mental health community, specifically to help those with eating disorders.
Which class do you wish you had the chance to take?
Ashley: I would have liked to take ARTD 217: Graphic Design for Non-Majors, because I’ve never really had any formal graphic design lessons. I took one art class that touched upon graphic design a little bit, but, besides that, just about everything I know and can do graphic design-wise is from experimentation and Googling techniques. I’m very much so a self-taught graphic designer, so getting to learn more about the field and from those who specialize in it would have been cool and allowed me to grow more as a graphic designer.
I also would have liked to take all of the other courses related to the Philippines and Filipinos that I didn’t get to take because of time conflicts or requirements I didn’t have.
Amanda: I wish I could have taken ENGL 460: Filipino American Literature, a class my sister took, and the other Philippine related classes that were offered only once or twice while I was at Illinois.
Throughout my 16 years of education, I hardly learned anything about my family’s native country despite the important place the Philippines has held in American history. Whenever I found classes that focused on my culture and my family’s country, I could never get in them or they didn’t fit into my schedule around the classes I needed to take. I’m honestly surprised there wasn’t at least one class in Asian American Studies about the Philippines or Filipinos/Filipino-Americans that remained in the course catalog because there’s a wealth of Filipino-Americans at Illinois.
Carly: I am fortunate in that I got to take almost all of the classes I wanted to take, especially within my major. But I do wish that I would have had the opportunity to study abroad. That is one regret I have about my college experience. If I could have gone anywhere, I would have chosen somewhere in the United Kingdom.
What do you miss about being a student there?
Ashley: I really miss the freedom of being a college student away from home. Now that I’ve been living back at home for a couple of months, I don’t have as much freedom concerning various aspects of my life. I can’t just go wherever I want or eat whatever I’d like when I want. Before, I just had to consider Amanda and how what I wanted affected her, but now, I need to think about her and my parents and what they need/want. This isn’t to say having to consider others is bad, but it’s definitely more difficult to revert to having less freedom when you’ve spent so much time with the create your own schedule and make your own decisions.
I miss living near my best friend, being within walking distance of where she lives, and getting to hang out often. Being away at college presents you with the opportunity of making friends with those you live amongst, and, unfortunately, adulthood isn’t like that.
Amanda: While I definitely don’t miss going to class, homework, or tests, I do miss several things about being a student at Illinois. I miss being able to easily see my friends because they were just a short walk away. I miss being able to easily go to sporting events like football games and especially gymnastics meets because all I had to do was walk there. Sure, I can go to the sporting events as an alum, but it’s so much harder when you’re two hours away.
Speaking of sporting events, I miss sitting in the student section at football games and being in the midst of a bunch of fellow Illini, supporting our team. I also just miss the freedom of being a college student in being on your own (but not like a full-on adult) as well as there always being something do. Even if I didn’t have class or any assignments to do for school or extra-curriculars―a rare occasion―there was still something on or around campus that I could do to entertain myself and enjoy my time.
Carly: I miss the freedom that comes with being a student and having control over your schedule. I also loved being in close proximity to a lot of activities, resources and friends. Something else I miss is being able to talk to a group of other people about complex issues, like in class discussions. It was always nice to have a safe space to explore ideas, hear different perspectives, and connect with like-minded people.
Which extracurricular activity was your favorite to do?
Ashley: This one’s a bit difficult, but, if I had to choose just one, I’d say my favorite extracurricular activity was being on the staff of U of I’s official yearbook, Illio. Coming into college, I wouldn’t have thought this despite being ridiculously excited about getting to continue doing yearbook. But I loved how yearbook encompassed multiple interests of mine in writing, photography, and design, so getting to employ the skills I had in each of those areas left me feeling fulfilled personally and professionally. If I could do yearbook for the rest of my life, I would.
Amanda: I wasn’t in many extracurriculars at U of I―I literally have two options for this answer, but my favorite was also being on the Illio Yearbook staff. (That’s not to say I didn’t absolutely love being a member of the TWLOHA UIUC UChapter, because I did. It’s just hard to compare when I was in TWLOHA for two years while I was with Illio for all four.)
When I found out Illinois had a yearbook (not many universities do), I was absolutely ecstatic and knew I had to be on staff, all four years. And I was. Not only was Illio something I wanted to be part of because I had an interest in yearbook and wanted to be around others who also did, but Illio was something that helped me grow professionally in college outside of my classes. It was actually a more valuable experience than most, if not all, of my classes. Illio allowed me to grow as a writer, designer, photographer, and editor. And while being co-editor-in-chief my senior year wasn’t somewhere my freshman self thought I’d be and was a lot of work and stress, it was the most rewarding position I’d ever been in.
Carly: At U of I, I loved being a part of the TWLOHA UChapter. I first served as the group’s treasurer and, later on, vice president and met some pretty amazing people. It was great to talk about important mental health topics and raise awareness about such an important issue. Our social events were pretty fun, too!
What place(s) did you like to spend time at on campus?
Ashley: I’m very much so a homebody, so I really want to say my bedroom for freshman and sophomore years and my apartment for the last two years. But that wouldn’t be fun and is such a boring answer considering all I did in those places was eat, sleep, watch TV, do homework, and write articles. Not very exciting.
Instead, I’ll say I liked spending time at Kenney Gym, the gymnastics practice facility, and Huff Hall, the venue the gymnastics teams competed in. Covering the Illinois women’s gymnastics team was a highlight of my time at U of I, and those were two places I not only spent a lot of time in but became very comfortable in—which can be difficult for me. Honestly, I would start going to Kenney Gym to do interviews with the gymnasts so often that the place started feeling like another home on that campus.
I also liked spending time in the Illio office—definitely my second home on campus—despite the small space I was in. It was in the corner of the Illini Media space and away from the side with The Daily Illini, meaning it was often quiet and chill on that side, so I enjoyed that.
Amanda: While I definitely enjoyed spending time at my apartment on my campus my junior and senior years, that’s not a very interesting answer. Like Ashley, I also enjoyed spending time at Kenney Gym and Huff Hall. I covered the Illinois women’s gymnastics team all four years I was at Illinois, so Kenney and Huff ended up becoming my second or third home. I went to Kenney at least once a week during the spring semester every year while it was gymnastics season, and I loved getting to interview the gymnasts there. I even stayed for entire practices to film Workout Wednesday features.
Huff Hall may not be the biggest or fanciest of the Illinois sports venues, but it was great to watch gymnastics there. I loved being down on the floor, in the midst of all the action, during meets filming routines.
If I wasn’t out there filming, I was probably in the stands taking photos and enjoying the athletic display I got to witness. And as one of the only NCAA Division I schools with a varsity men’s gymnastics program, I absolutely loved that Huff was one of the few places in the country where you could watch NCAA men’s gymnastics. I could not pass that opportunity up and went to as many gymnastics meets (men’s and women’s) as I could, even if that meant I had to go alone and sit in the stands by myself.
I also liked spending time in the Illio office (except maybe when we were in there for way too long and were getting very hungry from too much work and not enough food). Some people wouldn’t like having their office in the corner of the building, but I did because sometimes people didn’t even know we were there and it was away from everything and most everyone else. As an introvert, I appreciated the isolation the office sort of provided.
Carly: I have a few favorite spots on campus, as I tended to get attached to a new place every semester. I spent countless hours at Grainger Library, the university’s Engineering Library, because it was a close walk from a former apartment of mine and provided a good studying environment. I have a special love for the third floor, which was quiet, cozy and had a beautiful view of the campus. They also had a cute cafe on the first floor, where I would buy myself a hot chocolate or a cookie to fuel a night of studying. One of my other favorite spots was the running trail on the east side of campus; I loved running through the arboretum, past the dairy farm, and down the lonely road on the edge of town.