A senior’s reflections on what she has learned at Southern

Victoria Gaytan

It’s January, the beginning of the Spring 2020, and I have so many thoughts racing through my mind. I am worried about my senior exhibit and thesis, balancing classwork with work at The Chart.

After an hour of calculating and recalculating my GPA with my professor, I add two last-minute courses to raise it by the slightest margin.

My GPA goals for my final undergraduate semester are written on the last page of a basic drawing syllabus.

Fast forward to April.

Today, that page is taped to the wall that was painted blue when I first started at Missouri Southern, three and a half years ago.

This morning, I sit at my dad’s old college desk for the millionth time and write down the goals for my final weeks here.

Boxes of MDF litter the floor around me. My portfolio weighs several pounds, stuffed full of prints, drawings and everything I’ve stored at school in past semesters.

Clearing my lockers of these items, so much of what I’ve created, took several trips to and from the car to pack and take home.

I thought that I would be doing this in May, at the end of the semester. However, I found myself carrying everything out the weekend before Spring break, the last day the studio and the rest of campus were available to me.

That day I said goodbye to my classmates and friends for what will probably be a long time.

Because of COVID-19, we all remain home to keep us and those around us safe and healthy. I know that this is crucial and must be taken seriously.

I know there are people suffering and losing loved ones because of this virus, and my heart goes out to them. I do not want to undermine their suffering.

But at the same time, I cannot keep my own hurt feelings away. Some days, I am greatly saddened for many reasons.

During this time, I have lost the last days of my undergraduate experience, the community of my teachers, classmates, friends, time in the studio, lost loved ones in my family and kept my distance from my parents, who I love so much.

Within the past year, I conducted an interview with a student for a feature in The Chart. One of the things the student said was that he viewed assignments as a privilege, and that they are something we do not have to do, but what we get to do.

It resonated with me and has since stayed in my mind, changing the way I refer to many things I do.

This is more relevant now than ever. I miss Southern. I miss walking to classes and socializing with classmates. I miss getting to work in the studio and seeing my friends every day. I know we are distancing for a reason, but I will miss the memories we didn’t get to make this last semester.

When I started at Southern, I didn’t have much direction or any goals that were necessarily clear to me. I did not know what the next few years had in store for me, the friends I would make or the lessons I would learn.

I have learned firsthand that pursuing something you love can lead to some of the most extraordinary things. In the Spring of 2017, I talked to my advisor, seeking out any opportunity to pursue photography even further. He told me about The Chart practicum, and how I could earn a credit hour taking photos for the newspaper on campus.

The day I walked into Webster room 333, the newsroom, I was nervous and socially awkward. I was terrified to pull open those double doors and walk into the office. But I did.

The evening of April 5, 2017, I received my first assignment: cover the Spring Career Fair. The next day, I set out. Though I felt awkward knowing I would have to approach people for their information, I knew it was part of the job and that I had to. So I took a deep breath and got to work.

Soon, I settled into my place in the newsroom. My title changed from photographer to writer, managing and photo editor, to Editor-In-Chief and back to photo editor for my final academic year.

I gained a work family who made me feel right at home, starting with that April day I walked into the newsroom. From talking with Jack about anime, to making sure Chris knew not to sit in my spot, getting lost with Jack, Susannah, Trey, Faith and Bob in St. Louis at the 2018 media conference to joke page placers like the “sexy bridge headline” and “bees??????”

Joining The Chart introduced a new, more confident version of myself, with a newly ignited passion.

I not only met a new version of myself, but I learned so many lessons from people I worked with and I interviewed.

Ashley Eriksen taught me that in a world full of shouting people, if you whisper, people want to know why you are whispering. Luke Randolph reminded me not to take assignments for granted. Spencer Dawson and Tanner Munson shone light on the idea that preparation and organization are key that your experiences to be more fun.

Abbey Prewitt reminded me that in our experiences, we must trust ourselves. And in that interview, I made a new friend: a lovely, caring soul (and owner of two of the silliest cats I’ve seen in a long time).

Kaylea Hutson-Miller reminded me several times to take a deep breath and that God’s got this.

In the past three years at The Chart, I learned that I am capable of more than I thought I would be at once, juggling full time classes, being Editor-in-Chief and writing more stories at once than I probably should have (#lifeofaneditor).

While The Chart has brought me to be more in tune with my character, on the other hand, art has taught me about the workflow in life. 

My love and care have increased tenfold for what there is around me and what there is to see. I have fallen in love with the analytic process that comes with creating. Learning why something works, why it doesn’t, and how it can be improved upon. I relish in the back and forth deliberation and the workflow that comes once you know what your game plan is.

When the plan goes awry, instead of quitting, troubleshoot and learn how to adapt. Be creative, not only in your art, but your solutions to problems. I’ve learned that sometimes problems must be resolved in ways you never would have thought of.

I experienced learning in traditional and unconventional methods, becoming more attentive to detail and considering several aspects of what’s in front of me, whether it’s a piece of writing, a ceramic cylinder, or a 4’ x 8’ sheet of MDF. 

Today, there are just as many things running through my head as that first day back at school in January.

In my time here, I have created so many memories. I look back on the times walking to the library with my friends with such nostalgia, even though that was not long ago.

I cherish just spending time together in the screenprinting room and the gallery that we took for granted all those times.

I remember fondly the time on Sunday I spent listening to “Rhythm of the Night” by Corona. I regret, that in my struggle to finish my work that last weekend on campus, that I did not get to hug some of my friends goodbye again.

Hopefully my friends know how they enriched my undergraduate experience and time at Southern. I hope everyone from my interviews and features knows how their words impacted me and taught me a lesson that I will carry for a long time to come.

I am not the same person I was when I started, but a newer, better version.

I yearn to keep the lessons I’ve learned and continue growing throughout the rest of my life, no matter how hard things get, and I ask anyone who reads this to do the same.

Because growing does not stop once we pass a certain period in our life. The urge to learn and grow is instilled in our minds and hearts, and it is our duty to actively nourish that so that we may be the best version of ourselves.