As if on the verge of jumping off a diving board, I was heightened by the anticipation of becoming a student leader. I was ready. This was something I wanted to be and knew I could be. I can be a leader. I looked at my college career as a time that I desperately wanted to experience—to live, learn, seek all the possible opportunities that waited for me. I was not going to let myself pass it all by and not be engaged. To use a phrase I would later learn from Jon Vroman, I wanted to “live life in the front row.” To do that, I would need to take risks, like attending a Student Leadership event with my friend from class. I didn’t know what to expect, as it was the first non-mandatory event I would be attending at Suffolk Community College. But the only way to learn more would be to jump right in. 1, 2, 3: splash!
“I want to be a doctor!”
“I want to be an ambassador for the United Nations!”
Students jumped out of their seats when Jon Vroman invited us to exclaim what we wanted to be and what wanted to do in our lives. Despite the audience of hundreds of my peers watching, I stood up and exclaimed, “I want to be an author!” This is the most vivid memory I have from Jon Vroman’s whole talk. As my favorite Maya Angelou quote goes, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” All who were there that day in the theatre, we were in this together. We were listening to and engaged with each others’ dreams; we supported each other in the belief that our dreams can become our reality.
In the fall of 2013, Jon Vroman, co-founder of Front Row Foundation and motivational speaker, invigorated and intensified the flame of my dreams when he came to speak at the Grant Campus of Suffolk County Community College. He also reinforced the direction that I wanted to take my life: living life to the fullest.
Jon began his talk by sharing his experience at a Jason Mraz concert. Sitting in the nosebleed section, Jon observed those who had front row seats and realized the two sections had completely different experiences. After the concert, Jon found himself truly sick and tired of living a mediocre life. As he describes in his book, Living College Life in the Front Row, Jon witnessed those sitting in the front row and thought, “I’ll bet the people who have those tickets are proactive and focused on getting them… [T]hey made a decision to get in the front row, and they did something about it. They created their own reality… [T]hey make decisions and take action in other areas of their life also…” Jon is passionate about making the changes to live life every day like he is in the front row of a concert. Honing his ability to make the most out of life was a transformative experience. Jon spoke to us about how we can apply the same approach to our college lives, and, beyond that, to our lives in the world.
Some people treat college as a cushion period, saying it’s not yet “real life.” But I think that approach misses a big opportunity. College is a springboard into life. It’s the time to explore and discover all aspects of ourselves, educationally and personally. To make the most out of our college life, Jon expressed the 5 C’s—Connecting, Creating, Changing, Committing, Contributing—as actions to living college life in the front row.
Making Connections allow us to share this life together. We have the power to choose to be with those who lift us up rather than bring us down. Jon writes in his book, “If you connect to a powerful source of energy, you’ll get charged, but if you plug into something (or someone) who takes energy away, you’ll end up drained.” He continues, “We become like our environment, so choosing who we build relationships with is the single most important decision we’ll ever make in our life.” At the time, I was surrounded by those in the Honors Program—students like me who cared about school and valued educations—and students who were involved in leadership positions. I valued my connections with my peers, professors, and administrators.
We have the power and ability to Create our own success. We are the writers and artist of our lives. We can mold and shape them to the vision we have for ourselves. As for someone who used to just envision what her life could be, I began to believe, “Maybe the person that I want to be is the person that I am meant to be.” During my time at SCCC, I was becoming that person—a creative, passionate woman. I learned that in difficult times, we should not give up, but rather make the most of every situation. We should ask, “What am I learning here?” Jon writes, “[C]hallenges we face in our lives create opportunities for us.” The question here is, how can we create the most of our situations? What opportunities can we create? Taking initiative and action help students become great leaders.
When Jon spoke about Change, it resonated with me. “One thing in life that is constant is change.” I did not realize that before. Jon writes in his book, “If you want to progress…you’ll need to be open to change.” Change, to this day, is very difficult for me; being open to change is an ongoing process in my life. However, Jon gave me a different way to think about this process: “When you make small changes each day, over the course of time, they make for BIG changes in your life, and the lives of other.” For some, it will never be an easy process. Jon shared with us the story of when his first son tasted plain yogurt for the first time. He showed us the picture of his son’s puckered-up face. Jon kept feeding it to him because it was good for him. The lesson of Jon’s story was: “[T]here are always going to be new things (plain yogurt), that are tough to deal with at first, but if we believe they are good for us, we must embrace change.”
For Commitment, Jon spoke about how we must be persistent. “Be committed to your goals and never let anything stand in your way.” In college, I was committed to earning my degree, in addition to other personal goals. Jon spoke and wrote that we need to take one step at at time. College is a process, a marathon, as Jon described it. It is not a sprint. I have found that commitment is inextricably linked to discipline and focus. It is the act of never giving up. If one way is not working, then we can find an alternative to get to where we want to go in life. As long as we are committed to our goal, then as the saying goes, if there is a will, there is a way.
To introduce Contributing, Jon told a story about the Super Fantastic tollbooth lady. When Jon was traveling, he came to a tollbooth. The tollbooth woman asked him how he was. Jon responded energetically, “I’m excellent.” Unexpectedly, she pointed at Jon and sharply said, “NO!” We laughed along with Jon. Then Jon went to say that she then said, “You…are…SUPER FANTASTIC!!!” This woman changed Jon’s life, as this woman’s remark made a difference to Jon’s day. Jon writes in his book, “I was reminded that regardless of your circumstances, we find unique ways to give.” Jon spoke about the “butterfly effect”—one action leads to another and then to another. “We can make a lasting impression and perhaps even change the direction of somebody’s life.” The tollbooth lady did just exactly that. The one thing in life I truly wanted to do was make contributions and leave an impact in the world. By the end of Jon’s talk my friends and I were telling each other, “You are Super Fantastic!”
Megan, Proximity is Power! JV 2013.
Jon Vroman signed in my copy of his book, Living College Life In The Front Row
Splash. When I took the jump, I sent ripples through the water in every direction. One action, decision, and single burning desire led to other amazing experiences, all because I took the jump. I saw my peers and professors as those who are living life in the front row, and I was inspired to tell the story of the SCCC community. For an honors project for my interpersonal communication class, I created a video featuring interviews with student leaders, administrators, and professors to show all of the ways one can fully engage in life at college and afterwards. My college life was thriving. No matter what seat we have in life, we can set our sights on the front row—the seat we truly want—and work hard to get there.