Art by Sacha Irick
I remember feeling like one of those seedling plants that you could pick up at a hardware or grocery store and take home with you in the hopes that it will take root and flourish in your backyard. I felt new and green and full of life, but also vulnerable and highly sensitive to the environment around me. I grew up in a little planter-pot called Hawaii, on the east side of the island of Oahu. I was accustomed to my environment — the landscape, my neighborhood, the weather — and comfortable with everything about my surroundings. I felt secure and happy with no desire to leave, but my roots were running out of room to expand, and I knew if I stayed there I would never reach my full potential.
Transferring to Pepperdine — or “transplanting,” as I like to call it — was one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken. I had never visited the campus, had no idea how I could afford the crazy numbers I saw on the website and had never lived away from home on my own before.
My first couple days on Southern Californian soil were rough.
I missed my rain-soaked volcanic island, and the dry chaparral of Malibu felt unsustainable for both my body and my spirit. But I was stubborn, and maybe that makes me more of a weed than a flower. I chose to send my roots down deeper and spread them wider until I discovered the nourishment I was seeking.
Through New Student Orientation and the special events set aside for transfer students, I built foundations for relationships that became life-giving and imperative to my success as a transfer junior.
We went on excursions to the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade. We had our own transfer group for Project Serve and most of us were situated in the same housing complex. There were prior transfer students set up as mentors and they were there to personally address the problems we were experiencing specifically as transfers.
I knew that all the other students my age at Pepperdine had already built firm friendships with one another and the thought of trying to penetrate such a dense web of roots was daunting. Being surrounded by a lot of other people in the same situation made all the difference. Sure, we were all being transplanted from very different places, but we would all have to adjust to the same, new environment. As transfers, we found that as we faced this new landscape, we were able to lean on one another and keep each other climbing upwards.
Planter-pots can be good and are necessary for those early stages of life, but if you plan on reaching great heights and exploring vast depths in this world, you’ve got to get out of your protective shell and give yourself a chance to stretch and grow. Risk the uncertain elements and storms of life, and you may find that when you meet them, the wind and rain just make you stronger.
I’m so thankful for my experience as a fall transfer student, and it makes me sad knowing that not everyone who comes in as a new student experiences the same careful cultivation as I did. My hope is that those whose experiences were less desirable than they expected will sit tight and dig deep until they find the nourishment they need to thrive. Sometimes, it lies just a little further beneath the surface.
Whether you are a redwood tree, firmly grounded and immobile, or a succulent cactus, able to go anywhere with minimum care, embrace your surroundings fully and make the most of whatever environment you find yourself in.
The world is not a greenhouse, and our environments are rarely ideal, but your experience is what you make of it.
I hope the soil you brought with you — clinging to your bare roots from wherever you were pulled up from — will be enough to successfully transplant you into the soil here at Pepperdine.
Regardless of your initial experience, I pray that you will take hold of and take root in whatever has been set before you and that if it has not caused you to immediately thrive, it will nonetheless make you stronger.
Follow Akela Newman on Twitter: @AkelaRenae