First Person Singular:


Rosaelena O’Neil, associate director and program counselor, Landegger Program in International Business Diplomacy, Georgetown University. (Andre Chung/For The Washington Post)
February 20

Everything I do in education centers on my mom and dad’s decision to leave Argentina. It wasn’t about finding a better life. It was about coming to the United States, knowing there would be more opportunity for consistent, uninterrupted education. All my papi’s 13 years of work as a civil engineer were unrecognized here. He had to start completely over. When your parents give up a beautiful, bucolic life — we lived on a vineyard — for a two-room flat in
West New York, New Jersey, that’s a sacrifice you don’t forget. Basically my whole life growing up was about being educated and taking every opportunity possible.

One major part of my job is to sit down with students to articulate their curricular experience. I will look at a student and say, “Now that you’ve accomplished your general education requirements, now that you’re moving into a major: Why? What compels you about this choice?” I’m often the first person to ask them why they’re doing what they’re doing. The worst answer I ever got, and I still get chills thinking about, is: “Because my parents told me so.” My college roommate had a similar experience, and I still remember her sobbing when her parents told her they’d stop paying her tuition if she switched majors. When they say that to me when they’re seniors, I say, “Tick, tick. You’re about to be an adult. This is about your life. You better start owning it now.” I don’t want you to walk across that graduation stage and not know what you’re going to do next because you’ve never thought strategically.

I can help you if you’re willing to own your experience, make hard choices and take risks. I’m never going to counsel you just to get the certificate. I will always tell you to do what you love. Always. It’s going to be rough and you’re going to have ups and downs, so you better love what you’re working toward. You better love that legacy. We always say that my office is Vegas. What they share in my office stays in my office. It builds trust. It gives them the freedom to tell me what’s bothering them, to be honest about what they truly want out of their lives, to cry. Many times, when we’re working on an academic choice connected to a career choice, I’ll say: “Hold on. Let’s talk to someone who is actually doing this [job] right now.” This just happened on Friday. I e-mailed an alum who got back in five minutes with, “Sure, send him my way. I’m happy to help.” [Students] see the immediacy and value of the relationship with me and with alum. They know they have to be there for future students. We tell students that our program is a bit like Hotel California: You can check out, but you can never leave.

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