The greatest lessons I learned in college

A Marquette alumna reflects on her Jesuit education

By Tess Quinlan, Marquette University ‘14

When I came to college, I immediately loved the four pillars of Marquette University: Faith, Excellence, Leadership and Service. I thought they encompassed what members of the Marquette community should strive to embody as students, alumni, faculty and members of the Marquette family. Here are my four lessons that align with them:

Faith—Questioning your faith and your beliefs is good for you.

At Jesuit schools, questioning your faith is not only accepted, but encouraged.

That happened my second semester at Marquette. My THEO 1001 professor was a Protestant with an unparalleled love for Stephen Colbert, who challenged us to explain our beliefs. Why do you believe Jesus died on the cross? Why do you believe in the Trinity? Shockingly, I couldn’t vocalize the reasoning behind my beliefs. For the first time in my life, I realized that I didn’t understand why I was Catholic.

After I finished that class, I needed some time and space away from Catholicism to discern where I wanted to go from there. I stopped going to Mass. Prayer was non-existent. I took about three months to figure it out. When I returned for my sophomore year, Mass at St. Joan of Arc Chapel and going on the Marquette Experience retreat twice got me back to being a Catholic. I remember feeling a massive sense of belonging and my faith has only gotten stronger since then. Having that encouragement to question is crucial for your spiritual well-being beyond school.

Excellence—You don’t have to be perfect to be excellent.

As an only child, there was a lot of pressure to be excellent. (For those of you who have siblings, add up all the pressure your parents put on you + your siblings. Now, put that all on you.) I always thought that excellence meant perfection.

News flash: it doesn’t.

Throughout my four years as a Marquette tour guide, I’m not sure if I’ve ever given a perfect tour. Some have been excellent, others good, and some just atrocious. It happens. I know that they weren’t perfect, but the families I had with me were just happy to experience Marquette. Not everything will be perfect. You won’t always get straight A’s or score the winning goal every intramural game. In whatever you do, you will see flaws; however, that doesn’t mean it was horrible. Learn to appreciate the imperfection and recognize the excellence in what you do.

Leadership -Hold yourself accountable for failures, but also successes.

Accountability is one of the most important components to being a leader. Own what you’ve done. Don’t shy away from it. When you fail, owning it will hurt. A lot.

In my sophomore year, I was the Sports Director for Marquette University Television (MUTV) and covered the NCAA Tournament for the station. I returned with content that was less than stellar. People let me know that my leadership and our pieces were mediocre in this situation. But I didn’t own it.

Appearing on Sports.EDU

With success, your accountability will be a key point of pride. During my junior year, I helped create a pilot for Time Warner Cable Sports from scratch called Sports.EDU. I was the executive producer and lead anchor of the program, so I had a lot of responsibility. It was a grueling, but rewarding, process. I owned the good, the bad and the ugly. In doing that, I saved a lot of angst, frustration and disappointment because I was honest with myself.

By holding yourself accountable for both failures and successes, you keep the highs and lows of life in check and show others that you can evaluate your performance realistically.

Service-Service doesn’t have to be saving the world. It can be small.

I have a lot of friends from Marquette who are incredibly passionate about service. They spent every break going to do service and literally seemed to be single-handedly saving the world.

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy, I was talking with Jack Creegan (Arts ‘13 and the guy in the blue and gold rugby shirt in the cover photo) about how his family was doing back in New York. He said they were fine, but a lot of his friends’ homes were damaged or destroyed and they were staying with his family. About ten other families were staying with the Creegans. My head whipped around and looked at him in disbelief, “Ten?!”

I’ll never forget what he did next.

He shrugged nonchalantly and said, “It’s not just the right thing, it’s the only thing to do.”

It’s those little things that make the greatest impact on someone. Be men and women for others. Go tutor when you can. Do Hunger Clean-Up. Help that elderly woman in church. Grab the door for a student on crutches. Smile.

Be the Difference in your own way.

College students think they have it all figured out. We’re finally on our own, free to make our own decisions. In this stage of our lives, lessons slip into our everyday life when we least expect it. But we have to be willing to be open to them.

Tess Quinlan graduated from Marquette University in 2014 with a degree in Broadcast and Electronic Communication. She works as a college sports digital producer for USA TODAY Sports in Washington, D.C.