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A Look Back and Ahead

By Sarah M. Luyengi
School of Public Service

In two weeks, I'll be wearing walking on a stage in an uncomfortable cap and gown to receive my degree. 

The sea of tassels and pointed hats in a congested auditorium will be at a standstill for three hours. It will go by fast-barely even a minute as I shake hands with various people and, suddenly, a diploma scroll will be thrust into my hands. I'll pause for flashing cameras and take a seat. But, while the presenters drone on about "success" and "achievement," will I be paying attention?

My time at DePaul University as a graduate student has gone by quickly. Only two years ago, I was at another endless ceremony, receiving my B.A. in English. Years before that, I was in my high school's football field saying goodbye to my friends. It is a surreal experience to finish school, whether high school or university. Sure, you have that melancholic feeling of things coming to an end - but also that sense of new beginnings.

When I arrived in the fall of 2014, I carried a new perspective: I would be going to school to focus on a career, while before, I felt unsure what I wanted to do. Instead of large classes with distracted professors, I found myself in smaller classes with attentive professors.

Time flew by with challenging course work and stimulating class discussions, and before I knew it, my time here was ending.

Several classes and professors made a lasting impression. Courses such as International Dimensions of Public Service (MPS 510) and International Organizations Seminar (MPS 614) and professors who featured background in nonprofit management, fundraising and international field work guided me throughout the program.

The highlights? My internships and study abroad experience. 

My internships included work as Communications Outreach Intern for Vanavevhu, a small nonprofit that assists child-headed households in Zimbabwe, and as a Program Assistant for World Chicago, a larger nonprofit that specializes in citizen diplomacy through U.S. State Department exchange programs.

I applied the theories I learned in class in real-life situations, preparing my for a career in international development and sustainability or public policy. The winter of 2015 marked a pivotal moment: I participated in SPS's study aborad program in Tanzania. While the trip only lasted for 11 days, I found myself quickly immersed in the East African culture from the language of Swahili to the dish of ugali. I became acquainted with open marketplaces as well as the greetings of "jambo" and "habari."

We visited orphanages, clinics, universities and government agencies, making public service direct and personal.

As I approach the end of my studies, I reflect on what brought me here. The ceremony may be three hours long, but I know that I and my fellow students will be thinking about the future. I would like to work for a small international non government organization (INGO) or deal with public policy, but I see the possibilities as endless.

So, with an abundance of experience packed into two years, what's next? Maybe, especially at first, I'll experience rejection and failure. I'm sure that whatever the experience, it'll make me stronger as a public servant.

If you're a student or prospective student at DePaul, I suggest: Keep your options open and remember, "One must be firm and unchanging with regard to the end but gentle and humble as to the means." - St. Vincent DePaul.

Postscript: The graduation ceremony went well. Once I received my degree, I didn't even realize that hours had gone by. It's definitely a great experience that students shouldn't miss!