Personal Reflections of a Student Athlete

by Sam Thompson

Recently, I was selected as the College of Arts and Humanities commencement speaker. I felt a wave of emotion after learning I won the audition. Since then, I’ve taken time to personally reflect on my journey here at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Starting on my speech the very next day, I was greeted by a severe case of writer’s block. I wanted a speech full of wit and wisdom, but nothing surfaced. How do I condense four years of life into a message that connects with a half-awake crowd of peers? I began to jot ideas down. I started to make changes…after changes…after changes. I rehearsed it, but something wasn’t working. I read the words, but they weren’t coming from the heart.

Shortly after feeling hopeless I received an email from my grandfather. He told me, “Keep it brief. If the speech achieves anything at all, tell the folks and the students what you would like to hear if you were seated in the audience.” Wisdom always comes in short form. Taking his advice, I listened for the voice behind my college journey. Here is my reflection:

Never forget my past as I work to improve my present so I can mold my future.


Nothing prepares you for your college journey. If you hear otherwise, it is a flat-out lie. Looking back, I am glad that I was not prepared. That lack of preparation has taught me how to fail, how to learn and how to become me.

I also found how to order Topperstix at 2 a.m. in Gage and how to navigate the blustery Minnesota winters.

As a student athlete, I have learned so many things over the past four years. I’m not trying to gain pity points from you, but college life is a little different – perhaps more difficult — for athletes. Unlike most students, I had to represent the name on the front of my jersey during all hours of the day. I not only represented my family and my hometown but I represented you, the students. .

In the process, I’ve learned how to respect authority, how to be on time for a class or meeting, how to get my school work done on time, how to say I’m wrong, how to say I’m sorry and how to be me.

And I was damn proud to claim my role as student athlete. Having that experience expanded my life lesson, That knowledge will stay with me until the day I die.

You know, a couple years back, my teammates were put in a difficult situation when our head coach was thrust into national news. As you may have heard recently, he has decided to regain the helm of the football program.

As an athlete, I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone. But I don’t regret being put in the situation with the men I called teammates and coaches. It taught me the importance of loyalty and of being focused on a dream. Most teams put in the situation would have crumbled. My teammates rose to the occasion. We won two conference championships, a regional championship, and were one game away from the national championship. We will continue to succeed.

While many may see me as a football player, in my mind I am still a pimply-faced teenager trying to navigate this unfamiliar terrain called life. I was a normal person facing real-life struggles.

College was hard.

I had plenty of long nights studying for tests or writing papers for classes. I had a serious relationship wilt. I missed my family. I missed my hometown. The struggle was there and it was real.

But college shaped me.

From it, I learned how to live by myself. I gained real-world knowledge. I found people who I wanted in my circle and in my corner. I was a part of many religious and academic groups on campus. I explored the city and the state. I became friends with my professors. I became friends with some awesome dudes and gals. I found me.


Are you who you want to be? That is the question I ask myself every morning. Is the present me who I want the future me to be. If not, then I need to change. This is something that has taken me three years to understand since my journey started in Mankato.

One of the lessons that has stuck with me in my time at MSU is that of failure. I have learned to fall in love with the process of failing, because I get to wake up each morning knowing that I am human, that I am not perfect and that I need to evolve with the world around me. If I decided to fall in love with the process of succeeding, then I would become complacent in my relationships with others, how I work and how I treat those around me.

Every once in a while we need to be critical of ourselves. If not, then we will never become better. We will never become who we dream of becoming. Everyone messes up. It’s called being human. Be willing to adapt to the world while maintaining your values. Personal evolution is good.

Most importantly, embrace the moment you are in. Whether that be positive or negative, it will shape you,. Learn from your mistakes and relish in your successes. One thing that we all continually need to do is appreciate those who touch our lives. Tell those around you, “I’m really glad your here.” I dare you! See what happens. For life is too short to be hung up on being hateful and upset…quoting Elsa in FROZEN…”let it go.”


If I could make you understand one thing about your future it would be this: you decided what it will be yesterday.

This might be a little philosophical, but hear me out. The past helps to shape our future. If you decided in your past to be involved with a lot of groups on campus, be social on the weekends and have a diverse group of friends, you are creating connections with a multitude of people that can help support and shape your future. If you decide to be caught up in drama, drugs and dumb stuff, your future will be filled with failure and what you have consumed in your past. You will surely “regurgitate” what your body, mind and soul consume.

So where’s the hope in this? The hope is in today. Today will be tomorrow’s yesterday. Each day when we wake up we have a chance to change our future. If our yesterdays have been filled with unhealthy decisions, you can fix that. And it starts with today. We can always change the outcome of our future, but only if we allow ourselves to take that step.

If you take one thing away from this, here it is: Live life like a kid. Laugh when you get the chance to laugh. Dance when you get the chance to dance (but no twerking after you are 26, that’s pushing it). Give someone a high-five when they do something awesome. Be vulnerable to cry when your heart hurts. Forgive one another of their mess-ups. And love all, because love is always louder, no matter what, even if hate has a blow horn. LOVE WILL ALWAYS BE LOUDER.

How To Finish The Semester Strong

Perspective from a Seasoned Veteran


I’ve been there and done it all. In a couple of weeks I will be completing my undergraduate studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Though the senior slump has set in for me and my senior counterparts, there is still work to be done before the conclusion of the semester. I wanted to hand down my experiences to you on how to finish the semester strong like a torn hand-me-down shirt from your older sibling…


Don’t wait until the week before finals to begin that 20-page research paper or start studying for that test worth 33 percent of your grade. It’s just not worth it, and quite frankly, it AIN’T cool. Start the process of studying and researching now. This doesn’t mean you have to do it all at once, but make a dent now compared to later.

I have found that if I work incrementally on my large assignments, I become more productive, have a higher quality of work and have less stress in my life once I am done. Give it a try. Start the process now and continue to work on it day-by-day instead of the night before. You will have more free time to enjoy you favorite activities and will have less stress coming up to finals week.


If you haven’t introduced yourself to your teacher yet this far into the semester or haven’t gone into his or her office to ask a question, go now. It doesn’t matter if it’s an obvious (stupid) question, the fact that you are going to an instructor’s office to advance your understanding of the course is huge.

Teachers greatly appreciate a student who makes the effort to come in to ask questions or seek help on an assignment. It shows your commitment to absorbing and understanding the knowledge they offered

Another reason it is beneficial to stop by and say hi is that it gives them a face and a name to remember. You aren’t the most important person in their world (sorry to break the news to you). By making a concerted effort to go in multiple times to just say hi or to ask for help, you form a relationship. I have done this with every instructor I have had since I was freshman.

As my senior year is coming to an end, I am seeing the rewards. By working to be more than just a face in the crowd , I have received great letters of recommendations from teachers, a grade boost if I’m on the edge and a lifelong relationship with some brilliant individuals.


Frequently it feels as if all your teachers have collaborated to stockpile big projects and tests towards the end of the semester. OK, so life’s not always fair. This is where organization becomes key in successfully dominating the end of the semester.

With all of these assignments being due around the same time, you need to organize your notes, work and time accordingly.

Most important of these three is time. We all have a calendar on our phone or computer, so use it. Set aside time each night of the week, time permitting, to tackle assignments.

This not only helps you visually realize the time restraints you have in completing your assignment, but it is also a vehicle to keep you accountable in doing your school work.

Next, organizing your work is important. Create note cards, retype your notes in a word document, get colorful pens or whatever makes your organizational heart flutter.

Using these type of organization tools will take some time, but will be beneficial in the heat of studying. It will allow you to quickly find what you are looking for.

No one likes to have jumbled heap of papers on a table at the library. Instead, be that cool, calm and organized person when studying. I think the saying goes, “If you organize your study material good, you feel good.”


The last couple of weeks in the semester can be daunting. I can attest to this. The library and studying constantly can soon consume life like Joey Chestnut throwing down hot dogs at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

It happens really fast and it seems impossible to escape the confines of the depressing library. And this is why this next step is the most important to do….

We all need to get out.

College students all over the Midwest – and especially in Minnesota – have subtle signs of seasonal-depression. This winter has been horrifying.

When you have a chance to get out go to the volleyball courts by Carkoski Commons, play frisbee on the football practice fields, go run around the trails or head down Stadium hill to Rasmussen Park. We have amazing outdoor complexes at this university. Taking advantage of them is essential to having a successful semester.

Go out and do what makes you happy and then get your butt back to studying.


I’ve been through a lot during my four years here and have met a lot of amazing people. I have also learned a couple of life lessons that I would like to end with.

The greatest lessons I have learned here involve failure and love.

I started college at a sports management major intent on becoming an athletic director. That dream failed when the field of public relations grabbed my interest and I became a mass media major. Again, the dream failed when I realized being a lawyer was my path in life. I applied, was accepted and am attending law school in the fall (let’s hope this dream doesn’t fail because it will be a very expensive failure).

You see, we all fail. Whether that be in our dreams, our relationships with loved ones, in a paper or in an entire course. We have all had minor and major failures in our life. How we face failure helps shape our character.

Here’s how I see failure. I have learned to fall in love with the process of failing, because I get to wake up each morning knowing that I am human, that I am not perfect and that I need to evolve with the world.

I chose this way of thinking because if I learned to fall in love with the process of succeeding I would become complacent in my relationships with others, my work and how I treat those around me.

I hope you all finish the semester strong. Start the process now, stick your head in your professor’s office, organize your material and get out. Finally, know that the course in each of our lives rests in our reaction — and our resolve — in the face of failure.