MAKING AN IMPACT

Dr. Amanda Staiano shares lessons she learned from LSU's Honors College

Released: Friday, May 12, 2017

It's now been ten years since Dr. Amanda Staiano graduated from LSU's Honors College, and in that time she has put to work the valuable lessons she learned during her time as an undergraduate.

She was honored to serve as this year's Honors College commencement speaker, where she helped students celebrate their accomplishments and reminded them of her top eight life lessons learned at LSU that she's carried with her along the way.

Excerpt from Staiano's speech:

  • First, the Honors College helped me find my passion. Through the Chancellor's Future Leaders in Research Program, and an internship at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, I discovered the excitement and cool factor of doing scientific research. I discovered my passion for children's health. And I discovered I could impact a larger population by doing scientific research that can be shared with parents, teachers, and policymakers. Now maybe you're sitting there thinking – well, I haven't found my passion yet. And maybe some your parents are thinking that too. That's ok. Life's a journey. But don't be afraid to pursue a direction: chase your curiosity – figure out what you're good at, what makes you happy, and how your talents can contribute to our society.
  • At the same time, I learned to embrace serendipity – life almost never follows a straight and narrow path. I attempted an honors thesis but did not pull it off. Yet through the Honors College, I authored my first scientific publications. This got me into graduate school at Georgetown University, where I earned my PhD, paving the way to my becoming a faculty member at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. There was no way I could have predicted where I would be now at 31 years old, and I'd bet the plans you're making today will change, too. My advice? Even if you're not certain where you want to go in life, identify a path and go down it. If you find that path is not right for you, you will have still gained invaluable skills, experiences and contacts that will shape your future.
  • In the Honors College, I realized I am the architect of my life. As I pored over the course catalogue each semester, picking electives and honors courses, I was in charge of my own destiny. This activity taught me independence. I learned that we must make sure that our everyday choices along the way reflect our long-term goals. We must ask, Does what I'm doing today fit into the bigger picture?
  • The Honors College provided me the chance to flex and develop my leadership and communication skills. As an officer in the Honors College Council, I had the opportunity to present at my first professional conference. I also presented to peers, parents, and faculty members. In nearly every job – if you can write well and communicate well, that alone will take you far. Even if it makes you nervous, don't turn down an opportunity to present or to lead.
  • In college, I was fortunate to spend a summer studying abroad in Ireland and travelling around Europe, and it completely shifted my worldview. I hope you've had an opportunity to study abroad. But, if not, find a way to travel as soon as possible, whether it's to another state or around the world. Travelling introduces you to the rich diversity of humanity while also showing you how much we have in common. Travelling will transform you into a global citizen. At the same time, learn how to be a tourist in your own city. As officers in the Honors College Council, we created newsletters each week about what was going on around the city of Baton Rouge. Now… this was before Facebook and Snapchat and before smartphones – so (believe it or not) we actually printed out the newsletters on paper and taped them onto doors in the Lavilles. We encouraged students to go hear live music, check out the museums downtown, and experience our community beyond the gates of campus. No matter where you end up, culture lives in surprising corners and can deeply enrich your life.
  • I learned to identify mentors. My professors offered advice on courses to take and grad schools to apply to, opportunities to take advantage of and those to turn down. I also learned how to be a mentor myself – and I continue to mentor students to this day. Your mentors will remind you about your talents, dreams and goals when it seems like you've lost direction along the way. As you build your careers, pay it forward and invest in people – I guarantee that the reward is worth the investment.
  • I learned to develop a thick skin. In Honors seminar courses, I wasn't smartest or the best student in the room – there were many voices that were louder, stronger, and better informed than mine. Yet that pushed me to read more, think more, and really dig into what interested me. You're going to get knocked down – there will be rejections, but resilience is key to your success. The strong people aren't those who always succeed—they are the people who learn to stay positive, build on their failures and get back up after they're knocked down.
  • Along the way, I figured out some stress management strategies… I can't emphasize how important this is! I tend to run myself ragged – and at the end of the day, I'm exhausted. So now at night I put away my phone and email – sit down with my husband for dinner, take our dog for a walk, and give my brain a break. These moments to escape are so important for my health.  This theater is filled with high achievers. You must figure out how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally so you don't burn out. Eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep. Lean on your friends and family – take a look at who's sitting near you today. These are the members of your fan club.

Now you are at a turning point in your life. You survived, and excelled, as a tiger cub in high school. You were nurtured, pampered, and fed.

Now you've survived, and excelled, as a Tiger in college. A bigger space, more people, but like Mike the Tiger, you were given this rich habitat with people to guide you and help you find success. These past few years, you've proven that you're smart, creative and capable of great things!

Next up is the big leagues. Now you may not get a big paycheck at your first job or your second job,but the investment you make into continued learning and developing skills will pay off for you – not only financially, but also in personal meaning.

When you walk out of here today as new graduates, the world will be at your fingertips. Take with you the spirit of courage and tenacity that Mike the Tiger embodies.

You are the best and brightest of Louisiana, and wherever you go, you represent this flagship university and our great state. Carry this Ogden Honors College distinction and your LSU heritage with you wherever you go.

And when you hear the new roar of Mike the Seventh this year and in the years to come,
I hope it'll serve as a reminder of the pride that you should feel for all you've accomplished here at LSU—and all you will accomplish in the real world.

Congratulations, graduates!  Go get 'em, Tigers!