Editor’s Note: Jean-Pierre Jacob (SEBS ’19) is an Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources major and Sociology minor.
Hello graduates, family, friends and distinguished faculty.
My name is Jean-Pierre Jacob. I am a graduating senior and I majored in Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources with a minor in Sociology. Here’s a little bit about me. While at Rutgers, I worked with various non-profit organizations, student government, a mentoring program, and I am a brother of the SEBS honors service fraternity, Alpha Zeta. Soon after graduation, I will be going to Mexico with the Peace Corps to work in Environmental Education. I am up here today to share my Rutgers journey and the life lessons I’ve learned along the way.
One of the most impactful lessons I learned came from the Knight’s Call. For the family and friends in the crowd and for any graduating seniors that never bothered to learn it, the Knight’s Call is comprised of six value statements: I am Authentic, I am Inclusive, I am Responsible, I am Resilient, I am Engaged, I am a Scarlet Knight. The Knight’s Call was created as a standard of values for which all Rutgers students should strive to embody. This was initially rolled out at the Student Leader Welcome Back event at the beginning of Fall 2017. At this point, I wasn’t really interested in the new initiative; I mean, who needs another Rutgers thing in their life at this point! But I was asked to repeat a part of the Knight Call and I was like “whatever.” I stood up and said “I Am Resilient,” and that was it. For many – and for me up to that moment – those words would have meant nothing but while sitting there, I kept repeating the phrase to myself. I AM RESILIENT became my mantra for the semester. Up until then, my Rutgers journey had been far from a smooth ride.
I started as a Biomedical engineering student in the new Honors College with my tuition covered. I thought I was set, all I had to do was maintain a decent GPA. Well….things did not go as planned. After three semesters at Rutgers, I had a GPA of 2.62, I failed two courses, I lost my scholarship and I was dismissed from the Honors College. I had already switched to SEBS to be a biotech major and was starting to realize that my passions were not in the hard sciences. I was at a point where I felt that I wasn’t even smart enough to succeed in college and I seriously considered dropping out. I decided to just finish up my core requirements during the following semester and figure out what I would do with my life later. Now I’m a senior delivering a convocation speech, so clearly some things have changed. Over the following two years, I made the dean’s list three times, I grew as a person, learned from my failures and discovered passions in life.
The first lesson I learned was that to be successful, you need to be invested in your goals. This sounds simple but it’s important to keep in mind. I was pursuing my major initially because my mom wanted me to be an engineer – mostly to make an engineer’s salary. I quickly realized I had no desire to be an engineer and switched to Biotechnology. During the start of my Junior year, I recognized that I wouldn’t be successful without devoting time and effort to coursework that I wasn’t passionate about. I then switched to Ecology and that was one of the best decisions I’ve made at Rutgers. As we go out to grad school, jobs and other programs, think hard about the path you are starting to walk. Be emotionally invested in your career choices so you can give 100%. Above all, make sure you are pursuing your career goals for yourself and no one else, not your parents’ nor society’s expectations.
The second lesson I learned was “I AM Resilient,” as reinforced by the Knight’s Call. Now standing here, I want to stress that all of us are resilient, more so than we may think. Throughout our college career, we have had to overcome countless obstacles, from just getting to class on time to figuring out how to study for three exams in two days. I know my story is not unique and many of us had to struggle and have fallen along our journey. But as we stumbled, we picked ourselves up and moved forward. At the end of the day, we persevered and succeeded, and that’s why we are all here today. It was not easy to get to this moment but we all finally made it through our toil and tears. As we go out into the word and life after graduation, remember that no matter what was thrown at you, you were Resilient.
The third lesson I learned was that there are times in your life where you have to fight for what you want. I lost my scholarship at the end of my freshman year and was told I had until I started my junior year to get above a 3.0. After the summer of my sophomore year, I was just short of the 3.0 and was initially told by Financial Aid that it was not possible to regain the scholarship. I was done accepting things as they come and promised myself I would continue to fight. For those who know me, this is very much out of character. I am a laid-back person and I just go with the flow. But with a chance to redeem myself, I pushed against the flow. The process took about two months but, in the end, I was successful because of the help of the academic standing committee. Little did I know it then, but his fight was the start for me changing how I operated in life. I learned that no one can help if you don’t first help yourself; and that to be truly successful, you need to operate outside your comfort zone.
I’d love to stand here and say I was able to turn it all around and be able to graduate with Honors, but it wasn’t in the cards. However, because of the lessons I’ve learned here, I gained so much that I would never trade. Please, if you listen to nothing else, listen to this. Do not regret the failures of the past but use them to reach higher, because they shape who you are. I grew so much as a person because I was forced to deal with the challenges in front of me.
Without my experiences, I would have never found my passion for public service and protecting the environment or the strength to leave everything I know and live abroad for two years. I choose to do the Peace Corps because I wanted to expand on the leadership skills I learned here at Rutgers, spend some time doing service and work on a project where I can learn to better connect people to the environment. My road is leading towards environmental activism and politics, and I would have never found it had I not had challenges along the way. Rutgers encouraged me to explore and connect different fields, gave me the tools to become a future leader and prompted me to figure out who I am. I will always be grateful for all of my experiences at Rutgers, the good and the bad. Because if I never learned to pick myself up, I would have never discovered inner strength, I would have never tried to go against the grain, I would have never thought I was good enough to finish my degree, and I would have never met every wonderful person in my life.
The last thing I have to say to you all is to remember to thank those who helped us along the way. None of us made it here alone. We are here today because we had people in our lives who guided us and supported us along the way, either our family or our friends, or both. We are here today because people around us gave a shoulder to cry on, made us laugh when we were stressed and just were calming forces in a turbulent world. We are here today because someone, somewhere, inspired us to pursue a career in Environmental and Biological Sciences. We are here today because our advisors worked with us to get us to graduate. We are here today because our professors and mentors showed us career possibilities and started us down our current paths. And most importantly, we are here today because you all had a goal and worked so hard to reach it. The last several years were tough, but you all pushed forward. Don’t forget to celebrate this moment because this is it, you made it!
Congratulations to the SEBS Class of 2019!