Best of Scene

3 years later

By: Steve Hansen Photos By: Jordan Hartman
In the Summer 2004 editionof Scene, we followed six freshmen students as they progressed through their first year. Nearly three years later, they are now about to graduate – in fact, two of them received their diplomas this past December, after three and a half years of study. We thought we’d check back with them to see what they’ve learned and how they’ve changed, now that they have completed – or nearly completed – their college careers. To read the original story in Scene, visit here.

A lot can change in three years. That's particularly true if, during those three years, you went from being a college freshman to a college graduate. The six students who were profiled as freshmen in the Summer 2004 edition of Scene would certainly agree with that.

But despite those changes, there are definite similarities. All six will graduate, or have graduated. Most changed their majors at least once. Most are friends with, but not close to, their freshman-year roommates. Most, but not all, said they participated in an “all-nighter” – although most of those all-nighters had more to do with something other than cramming for an exam or finishing a paper.

All of the students participated in at least one study-away course – all told, the group made it to five of the seven continents (they only missed Africa and Australia). They all found the experience formative, although not for the same reasons. “I spent all my time in Japan thinking about Iraq,” said Ronan Rooney. “I thought about how we were once at war with this country and, still, they treat us so well. I kept wondering if it would ever be that way in Iraq.”

Aaron Ledesma said his opportunity to study for a semester in Oaxaca, Mexico, with Associate Professor of Spanish Tamara Williams, was one of the most pivotal moments in his academic career. For Ledesma – who, as a freshman, considered himself shy and even thought about transferring to another college – it is clear the experience, particularly the people he met and lived with, had an indelible impact on his life. In fact, as we discussed the current political unrest that was taking place in Mexico’s southern state, he smiled and said: “I wish I was there now.”

Ronan Rooney, a triple-major in history, religion and psychology, plans to enter graduate school and then return to a small town like Wrangell, Alaska, his hometown. “I learned that I’m better off in a small town,” he said.

Kristina Ufer, who came from just across town to study biology, found that she was most intellectually stimulated in her philosophy classes. She majored in both disciplines, and plans to get her master’s in teaching secondary science.

J.P. Kemmick will receive his degree in English writing with the hope of launching a writing career. After graduation, he wants to ride his bike to Mexico – after that, he asks: “Who knows?” Whatever it is, it will likely happen in Portland or Seattle, far from his Billings, Mont., hometown.

Asha Ajmani finished her French and biology degrees a semester early – pretty good for someone who, as a freshman, said her majors “changed weekly.” From Los Gatos, Calif., she isn’t sure what the future holds – but sooner or later, it will probably include graduate school, most likely in medicine.

Aaron LedesmA considered transferring to another school, but he’s glad he stuck it out – he will double-major in history and Spanish – and counts his Oaxaca, Mexico, study-away experience as among the best in his life. He plans to go back to his hometown of Brewster, Wash., and teach high school.

Do Han Song, from Spanaway, Wash., earned a degree in business administration, something he knew he wanted to do since entering PLU. He graduated a semester early with an emphasis in marketing management, skills he has been using as business sales manager at Best Buy in Puyallup, Wash.

Asha Ajmani, who traveled to Antarctica, Chile and Argentina on one trip, and to Martinique for another, sums it up simply: “I wouldn’t trade my study abroad experiences for anything.”

For the most part, the students were equally involved here on campus.

Ajmani, who originally figured she’d be studying at PLU as prep for medical school, found herself following other pursuits, including photography, ultimate Frisbee and French.

Kristina Ufer playfully sighs in what might be a “what-was-I-thinking?” moment as she describes choosing to be a resident assistant – during her senior year. “Sometimes it is hard to relate to the problems of my residents,” she said, smiling. “It is hard to relate to the freshman mentality.”

But even as she said this, it is clear she does enjoy the experience. She likes the community – she was hall president the previous year in Hinderlie – and that was something she felt she could bring to her current students.

As a freshman, Do Han Song spoke of “being a real estate tycoon,” and driving home “to one of my several estates around the country.” That enthusiasm – and drive – enabled him to work sometimes as much as 30 hours a week during school. Now, Song thinks he’ll ultimately teach college-level business – something he attributes, in part, to many PLU professors who made an impact on him. “I definitely learned at PLU and in life that you have to be proactive to a point,” said Song, “but also be reactive to take advantage of opportunities.”

J.P. Kemmick was like most students during his freshman year, digging into just about every activity he could find. For Kemmick, that hasn’t changed. He still plays on his ultimate Frisbee team, wrote for and staffed Saxifrage, PLU’s literary magazine, and was active with the club Students for Peace. His senior year, he was president of the student environmental club, and for his efforts he spent his days elbow deep in discarded food in the U.C. as part of a “food audit.”

“I’m all about the extra-curricular activities.” Kemmick paused, and made an important distinction between class-learning and the higher-learning experience in general. “I’m all about college – not necessarily school.”

This type of sentiment is similar with the seniors. In many ways, they’ve progressed through the learning curve of university classes and through the meat grinder of activities, friend-making and dorm life that is an essential part of every student’s education. They’ve progressed beyond the first stage of discovering themselves and, once identified, they have moved on to nourishing that newfound self.

Which is where, at the end of their undergraduate careers, you’d expect them to be – once embracing university life, they are now deconstructing it.

Rooney entered PLU thinking he’d be a psychology major, and saw university life as an opportunity “to take a bite out of everything and see what I like,” as he said back then. Now that he has taken those bites, his opinion has changed. “I finally got over being involved in extra-curricular activities,” he said.

Now Rooney is much more interested in pursuing a life of the mind. “Psychology didn’t fill the appetite, so I looked into some other disciplines,” he said, noting that he plans to triple major in psychology, religion and history. “I love academics. In academics, it isn’t important that a question doesn’t always get answered – just that it is asked. I just like asking the questions.”

The desire to pursue graduate education seems to be a common interest. Ajmani, Rooney, Ledesma, Ufer and Song all have plans to enroll at the graduate level. Ufer is somewhat philosophical about that. “It took me a long time at PLU to find someone that actually didn’t want to go to grad school,” she recalled. “This person said to me ‘I’m done with school. I’m going to get a job.’ In some ways, I envy that so much.”

The group is relatively philosophical about their time at PLU, as well. Two of the six said, if they had to do it again, they might have attended a different university. It doesn’t seem like regret so much as a grass-is-greener reflex – now that they have lived their lives here and had the requisite good and bad experiences, they’ve peered beyond the veil of the sometimes sunny characterizations of university life. All seem eager to take the next step, whatever that may be. And despite what’s next, all seem grateful for what they received here – particularly the connections they made.

“We got our degree here,” adds Ledesma, “but it is the people I’ll really remember.”