My Keystone Journey
My name is Mairead Novak and I am a junior double majoring in Russian and Political Science. I am one of seven children, raised by two devoted parents. Despite its size, my family is extremely close, and my connection to them is extraordinarily important to me. We fostered and adopted three of my siblings, and a huge part of my life was spent helping to raise my adopted brothers. Although I loved my home life, I always knew that I wanted to pursue my education after high school; beyond that, I knew I wanted to serve my country, I just wasn’t sure how. My parents were more than supportive, but unfortunately had no college experience to lean on in order to help me pursue my education. Junior year of high school, my parents and I signed up for a tour of Virginia Tech; it was the one and only college tour I went on. Almost immediately, I fell in love with the school. As I stood with my parents at the Pylons, I saw a cadet crossing the Drillfield; I didn’t know what the Corps was, but as I watched him proudly walking in his uniform, I knew I wanted to be part of it. From there, the thought of joining the military became almost logical, and I decided Air Force was the branch for me.
As a freshmen, I knew without a doubt that Virginia Tech – and even the Corps – was the place for me. No matter how difficult it was, I always felt a sense of purpose that motivated me through the hardest of times. In many ways, my dreams began at Virginia Tech. After I took the Keystone Strengths assessment as a freshmen, I learned that my top five strengths are Focus, Discipline, Achiever, Analytical, and Restorative. Honestly, I didn’t relate to all of my strengths freshmen year. It wasn’t until sophomore and junior year, when I began to focus on developing my leadership style, that I took a serious look at my strengths. Ultimately, I was trying to discover how my strengths played out in my life, and how they effected my interactions with others. After some self-reflection, my strengths began to make more and more sense. Focus, Discipline, Achiever – these are apparent in the way I tackle work on a day to day basis. I find satisfaction in setting and reaching goals, predictability, order, and achievement. Analytical and Restorative, however… these were more difficult for me to understand. Eventually, I realized that my logical, thorough approach to many areas of life was what defined my Analytical strength. Restorative manifests itself in the way I solve problems – when I come across an issue, I become focused on troubleshooting and ultimately finding a solution. With an understanding of my strengths also came an understanding of my weaknesses. I know that I can be critical, have a hard time being satisfied with my accomplishments, and become overly stressed. This journey with Keystone has not only helped me to identify these weaknesses, but has also helped me determine my next steps moving forward with this knowledge. Keystone has also helped me understand that focusing on weaknesses will not spur growth – but focusing on my strengths will. I am confident that this life lesson will serve me far beyond college. I cannot wait to share the experiences I have had, and the ones I have not been through yet, with others. Having the tools to understand, analyze, and apply your experiences is rare; fortunately, the faculty and staff at Virginia Tech equips us to do all three. I know I will leave Virginia Tech with a deeper understanding of myself and will continue to use this knowledge as I dive into a life of service to others. I hope to be recognized as a Keystone Fellow because I fully believe in this unique approach to deeper understanding and I hope to help other students enrich their life with Keystone too.
A Life of Service
“Life is much more worthwhile when you’re living it for others.” I still remember seeing this phrase stretched across the back of my new Key Club t-shirt during freshmen year of high school. I also remember going home and asking my mom what she thought about it – to my surprise, she wholeheartedly believed the statement to be true. I laugh at how young and naïve I was… but it gives me satisfaction to see how far I’ve come since then.
At this point in my life, I truly do believe that a life lived for others is more worthwhile. Our society has become so overwhelmingly focused on self that we are losing a beautiful concept that brings life, joy, and connectivity to this world. The more of an inward focus we possess, the more we lose sight of how widespread our impact can be. Serving others can be a profound source of joy and fulfillment. What will you remember 10 years from now: the time you sat in your room doing homework, or the time you got up, grabbed your keys, and gave your friend a ride? I guarantee, you’ll remember the smile on their face, the thankfulness on their lips and the conversations you had. Yes, you gave up 30 minutes of homework time, but work will always be there; people won’t. A lot of the time, service requires personal sacrifice – but that’s why it makes a lasting impact. Once someone sees that you’ve gone out of your way for them, with no prospect of personal gain, the experience automatically sticks out to them. People don’t expect it, so it is important to not underestimate how impactful even a small act of service can be. I can say that I have had experiences with all of the Aspirations for Student Learning in my time here at Virginia Tech, but embracing Ut Prosim has stood out above the rest. I quickly realized that the concept of Ut Prosim isn’t something I can just decide to live out during the Big Event or Relay for Life, but had instead adopted it as a way of life on this campus. That was something I wanted to be a part of before I became a Hokie, but had not actually understood what it meant. Whether it’s planning a service project for my Air Force flight, scoring at a track meet, loading boxes during a job fair, volunteering at the local elementary school, directing runners at the Veterans 5k, or just driving a friend, I have done my best to be intentional about living out this aspiration.
Five words, scrawled across a sticky note, are my reminder every day to change my focus from myself to others. Five words have change my attitude, which has changed my actions, which has changed my habits, which has changed my character. Five words that I believe many people on this campus have been transformed by, and that many people see the results of. Five words that I believe can change the world, if only we are brave enough to start in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Who can I serve today?