Virgie Sandford – University of South Dakota
When I sat through an information meeting about the Southwestern Advantage summer internship 16 years ago as a freshman at the University of South Dakota, I almost chickened out… It was sooo different, so NOT me. Sales?!?! Business?!?! A hundred questions went through my head, “I THINK I can work that hard…but can I really?” “I THINK I can handle being that independent, that far from home…but I’ve never actually done it…” “I THINK I can learn to establish trust with total strangers, face rejection and let it roll off me…but can I really?!?!?!”
And so I sat there, waffling, as I waited for my turn to interview… and right then I made a 5-second decision that literally changed the course of my life. I decided to jump. To go for it. To take a leap into something where I really didn’t know if I’d be successful. Where I’d probably fail. Often. Without my parents or siblings or friends or roommates to pick me back up. Where I’d face the things that I most feared—failure, loneliness, rejection—every day. Like most students who are selected for Southwestern, I’d excelled in a lot of things prior to Southwestern: I went to college on a full-ride academic scholarship, had done well in music and debate…but I had intentionally only done things where I KNEW I would succeed…and with this, there were so many unknowns.
Even though I was committed to doing the program after my interview and had promised my team and manager they could count on me, I was still pretty scared and had zero support from my family and closest friends. I actually didn’t have complete peace about doing Southwestern until just a couple weeks before we left for the summer when I finally decided that, even if I only made enough money to just pay my summer expenses, it would be totally worth it…and that if I didn’t do it, I’d always wonder “What if”…. So, I decided that I would work my hardest, do everything I was taught, finish the summer no matter what and leave the rest to God. That’s when I finally had peace.
And it was sooo much more than I expected! Was it hard? Yes! Especially my first week. I was homesick, I cried, I took the no’s personally, I cried some more, I felt awkward and uncomfortable and tired and lost and even locked my keys in my 3 (3!) times my first day…but I kept working. And then I was completely surprised by the awesome moms and cool families and kind strangers and the fact that I actually started to really enjoy it!
All those little sayings we’ve grown up hearing, like “People are as happy as they choose to be”…ok, sure, whatever…I finally understand it not just on an intellectual level…I understood it at the very core of my being. That no matter what the weather was like, no matter how many sales I’d had or not had that day, no matter what mood someone else happens to be in—I choose my attitude!! I understood the importance of integrity, initially from seeing how much I lacked it, and I became comfortable talking to anyone in any circumstance. I learned to just keep going, to push through frustration and fatigue and despair. To make decisions based on my commitments verses based on how I felt in the moment or what was comfortable.
My whole life I’d been told I could do whatever I set my mind to do. I finally KNEW I really could.
Coming back from that summer I took 18 credits in the honors program and got a 4.0, became a student ambassador, ran for President of the Residence Hall Council and won AND got to work in Southwestern’s internship program as a student manager during the school year, sharing what I’d learned with others. I had a whole new level of time management skills, self-discipline, maturity, confidence, people skills…that then opened so many more doors. Those character traits and skills became HABITS through many long days alone on the “bookfield”… and those habits have given me the life I enjoy today.
At some of the later Southwestern leadership seminars, I learned about how to save and invest the money I’d made so by the time I was 24, I’d bought and renovated my home, put $40,000 aside for retirement, paid for a new car, traveled to places like Egypt, Europe and Central America, got to pursue a full-time career that I love working with college students at Southwestern, and many of my closest friends to this day are the people I met through Southwestern. And now, 16 years later, I’m still growing and being challenged in the Southwestern family…
But it first started with a little 5-second decision to face my fears and take a leap into the unknown.