Valerie A. (Cooperider) Mockus ‘94
Major: Women's Studies
Title: President, Apple Pi Consulting
A letter to myself from a first generation student:
Dear Younger Self,
Don’t spend one more minute debating your options. Your high school teachers are right. You need to apply to college. You don’t know it now, but your future has but one path: right through the heart of Denison’s campus.
Your first day on campus will feel overwhelming. There will be as many students as the population of your hometown. You will see your new classmates unload accoutrements from their beautiful new cars with labels you don’t recognize and quality you’ve never experienced. You will meet people who are different from you in ways you can’t imagine. You will share a residence hall with perfect strangers who over the years will become perfect friends.
Don’t be intimated. Be open. Introduce yourself and let your relationships begin.
Your experience will be intense. In addition to classes, you will have a work-study job and eventually become a head resident because you need the money. You will serve as a leader in Outlook and Women’s Emphasis even though you have no prior leadership skills. You will be forced to speak against social injustice when no one else is able to but not be armed with any sense of how to politic or smooth over the feathers you ruffle. You will get involved in Big Sisters to mentor a Little Sister but feel you failed when you can’t save her. You will repeatedly go to D.C. to march for rights everyone should have but will not see results for decades.
Don’t delay. Engage with your supervisors, other leaders, peers, and challengers. Let the opportunities for your growth and service commence.
You will struggle academically. You won’t feel like the smartest student in the class as you did in high school. You will be faced with the fact you never even learned how to study before arriving at college. You will be embarrassed by some of your grades. You will be unceremoniously teased by your family for using longer words than you used to use and, at the same time, challenged on what you choose as your major because “you can’t find a job” with that degree.
You will worry their fears are valid when you switch from the most rigid of physical sciences to the most liberal of social sciences. You will meet successful alumni, but you won’t understand their paths to success because of the towering obstacles in your own immediate vision.
Don’t give up. Seek those who have already met or are currently accepting the same academic challenge. There will be guideposts in the form of professors, your academic advisor, the registrar, Denison alumni, and friends to show you the way.
You will worry about making ends meet. Your grandma will secretly give you money to pay for your admissions application knowing your mother thinks college is a waste of time. You will take theater instead of an art class because of the cost of the supplies. You will be uncertain about housing during most holiday breaks. You will house sit and babysit for more than a few faculty and staff. You will be forever thankful to have someone in your life who saves all their quarters to help you pay for laundry.
College isn’t cheap. Not going is even more expensive. Talk to your financial aid counselor, friends, your work-study supervisors, your academic and student life advisors, and your closest professors. Let them help you identify and work through your options when times are tough.
You don’t know it now, but this journey is about the people who help you and who you help along the way. They will be the ones alongside you as you craft the future you: the female CEO and owner of a company in the same industry as your work study job, the business leader who is getting her doctorate, the loving partner who has enjoyed a happy relationship for over 20 years, the compassionate connector who still calls her college classmates, supervisors, previous graduates, and professors when she has joys or challenges.
Valerie A. (Cooperider) Mockus ’94