There are many great aspects to the Northwestern experience. I think for me, though, what Northwestern has allowed me to do is transform. Obviously I’ve gotten older and have matured in many ways. But, I also think that fundamentally, Northwestern has provided me an environment to grow.

First off, coming from Long Island, I grew up in a relatively homogeneous community. It was definitely a great place to live, but I think back home, I wasn’t encouraged to talk about things. It was either that we were ignorant or just didn’t care enough, but there were many important things that we never discussed as a community. So, when I came to Northwestern, it was somewhat shocking to learn about a lot of issues that, unbeknownst to me, were affecting others. I learned about microaggressions, privilege, and that it was important to have sustained dialogue. These were phrases that I had never considered before. It got to a point in the beginning of my time here that I almost found the emphasis on these things in conversation to be annoying. But, quickly that changed.

During my time in college, many things have happened in the world, good and bad. As I’ve been confronted with these world events, I’ve been forced to truly think about them with my peers. Whether it’s a friend posting a link on Facebook or having a tough discussion in one of my classes, here at Northwestern I’ve learned how important it is to have an opinion. In life, there’s no neutral. You can’t just ignore something; that is a choice in itself. What I’ve learned instead is how to talk about things. Northwestern definitely has provided a safe environment for that. Therefore, I came to appreciate the amount of dialogue that occurs on campus.

I also think what I’ve learned here is that you’re not going to agree with everyone else on every issue. At Northwestern, I’ve met so many different types of people who come from tons of backgrounds, different from my own. I think having friends from all around the U.S. and world has allowed me to begin to understand other people’s experiences. It has made me change my mind about certain things, but also see areas in which I may not agree with someone. These differences shouldn’t divide us, though. By having dialogue and engaging with people who have different opinions or different upbringings from yourself, you become a more whole and informed person. That has definitely been the case for me.

Northwestern has not only provided an environment for me to form my opinions, but it’s allowed me to find myself. Since coming here, I’ve learned about the many ways I can have a career in theatre, not only through performing. I’m grateful to my teachers for that. I’ve also learned that it’s totally fine to ask for help. Whether I’m going through something emotional in my life or am working really hard on a project, here at Northwestern I’ve really learned to source help in others. For example, as a co-chair for The Waa-Mu Show next year, I’ve seen that it’s much better to collaborate with others than to struggle on my own.

Overall, I really feel like Northwestern has created a new Justin in the best possible way. I don’t think I understood how much I would change in coming here, but I’m so glad to be in a community that allows for me to do so with support and love.

–Justin Tepper

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