Resilience through rejection
Some of us came to Whittier College with a plan, but sometimes that plan does not work out. For fourth-year Amy Kazmierski, her college experience has constantly been plan, re-plan, and plan again. Not once during those times did she let herself fall behind.
Looking back at the beginning of her college journey, Kazmierski first encountered Whittier College (WC) from a postcard the College sent to Henderson, Nev. — her hometown. Green Valley High School was a large public school, and she wanted a more academically-intimate experience for college. “I wanted [to go] somewhere where I could feel like a person and not a number — where I can really get a connection with my professor and my classmates,” said Kazmierski. When visiting Whittier, she felt WC was a “big university while being a small college at the same time.”
Though she entered college with different ideas and expectations, Kazmierski ended up receiving many lessons on self-improvement and resilience. “I didn’t expect the college experience to be as hard as it was, but, also, as easy it was at the same time,” said Kazmierski.
She did not expect to change so much in the four years of being at the College, but she found that she has. “[Whittier College] showed me how to work with other people, but also take rejection,” said Kazmierski. “Rejection can . . . close one door, but it could always open something bigger and better for you.”
Kazmierski grew up passionate about Disney music, which sparked her interest in music as a career path. Therefore, she enrolled in Whittier College with a Music major to work toward her goal of working either at Disney or other entertainment businesses. Kazmierski also enrolled with a History minor, inspired by her father.
“Growing up, [my family] would always stop at national parks or presidential libraries [on trips] . . . my dad was always into that,” said Kazmierski. Her dad entertained himself with history documentaries and books, inspiring his daughter’s love for history.
Kazmierski had the opportunity to combine her passions for music and history with the research and presentation of her capstone project: “Fantasia: A Study of Classical Music and Disney.” Kazmierski looked at the original stories behind the music in Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia and how the stories were recreated with the new approach of the animation.
Through her capstone project, Kazmierski learned that works of art continue to carry meaning, and reimaginations of those works can further carry out those meanings and messages. “You have to know the history and meaning of the story. [You have to] really care about it,” said Kazmierski. “Know what you want to say with this story, and [make it] your own version.” She learned how to revitalize old work with new approaches to carry out the overall story and meaning in a new way.
Throughout Kazmierski’s college experience, she faced many forms of rejections from job applications and positions, as well as roles and solos within the music department. She has learned that there is more value in work ethic. She would tell herself, “You’re either not suited for it, or you’re not the right fit for what they want. It could have nothing to do with who you are.”
One of Kazmierski’s greatest challenges was competing with other people, feeling that she needed to be “better” than her peers. “Especially with being a musician, it’s always like you have to be better than the person next to you if you want a certain gig or role. It’s always about competing,” said Kazmierski. “But it’s [also] about how much work you put into it at the same time.” Hard work and due diligence have always been important to Kazmierski, and she values hard work and effort over luck and chance.
“It’s okay to be lost in the moment,” said Kazmierski, when thinking about what she has learned overall in Whittier College.
Before, she felt she always needed a plan after another plan, and that she needed to have everything mapped out, but her mind has been changed. Kazmierski now believes that it is perfectly fine to take a gap year after graduation; it can help a person find who they are.
It is beneficial to “take the time to learn who you are as a person, and not what society . . . or your parents, or your community [is telling you],” said Kazmierski. Now, she is more comfortable to say if she needs help, or that she is struggling, and she can still grow as a person regardless of a fixed plan.
Her parents, particularly her dad, have been getting her through her college experience. “My dad came from a family of six children. There were a lot of money issues and medical issues in his family. His family could never afford to go to school, so he only got a high school education,” said Kazmierski. “My dad always [kept working]. He kept applying to [jobs] even though he knew he was never going to get it; he always applied in case something came up.” This persistence led him to a job in an immigration office with Homeland Security in Las Vegas. This reflects Kazmierski throughout her college experience; she never ceased trying and putting her name out there. Even her mother, who Kazmierski said, was “never the ‘smartest’ kid in class, [or] gifted” never gave up on her school work. Kazmierski’s mom excelled in sports and got a full ride to college, focusing on her strong suits in athleticism, while never abandoning the importance of her school work.
After graduation, Kazmierski plans to return to her home in Nevada and save up money to return to L.A. and work in the entertainment business. She still aims to work at Disney. If that path does not work, she feels confident that there will still be work opportunities in Las Vegas. She sees herself working in music producing, or planning events or entertainment shows, creating experiences that people will remember from entertainment industries.
When reflecting on her first-year self, she feels like she was more shy and stuck in a high school version of herself. Kazmierski said, “[There was a] side of me that [felt] like a kid. You have to have everything planned for you; you don’t talk to people; you kind of just sit there, do your own thing, and it will eventually work out for itself.” Now, she is more assertive, and, although talking to people can still be intimidating to her, she knows it is better to put herself out there to get the experiences she is looking for.
If Kazmierski could meet with her first-year self, she would tell herself, “You’re never going to regret something that you do; you’re going to regret what you don’t do.” She would want her to live her life for the moments. “You are shy; you do need your time to recuperate, and it’s okay to have that time . . . [but] if you stay all [the] time in your own little bubble, in your own world, you’re going to miss out. Nothing is going to be handed to you.”
Kazmierski knows now that she may make a million more mistakes from here on out, but she has the will and integrity to continue to move forward, no matter how many times she falls.