illustrations by David Hollenbach
The grand experiment that USD Magazine launched last fall — to follow five students through their college careers — is well under way. In this second installment of our annual check-in on their lives, we’ve learned that no two 19-year-olds are created equal. One of them goes non-stop all day and considers it a luxury to have two free hours to watch a movie. One is already resigned to never having a 4.0 GPA. One is working to overcome dyslexia and test anxiety. One still asks permission from parents to socialize and goes home every other weekend. One needs to work out every day or risk insomnia.If there’s a constant thus far, it’s that the five of them — Brianne Butler, Carmen Gonzalez, Kendra Hoffman-Curry, Marco Martinez and Matt Rutz — are as confident as they are insecure.
In a word, they’re sophomores.
Their commonalities will be familiar to any college alum: friendships made and broken; good times sought, found and occasionally regretted; early morning classes, late-night heart-to-hearts and challenges that rise up with the regularity of pop quizzes. How they react to the latter should prove instructive to anyone who’s ever grumped about “these kids today”: The shared traits of these five students — boundless energy, unquenchable optimism and wholehearted sincerity — are downright inspiring.
So take a moment to reintroduce yourself to these members of the Class of 2008. While it may be hard to believe an entire year has passed since we first met them, for our quintet of second-years, the time has zoomed by in a dizzying blur.
There’s something so genuinely nice about Brianne Butler that you can’t help but return her dazzling smile when she aims it your way. That’s a quality that will come in handy when she serves as Resident Assistant (RA) to a group of freshman girls this year, a challenge that makes her near-giddy to contemplate.
“I’ll help them get into the swing of things when they miss home,” she says, flashing that million-dollar grin. As far as her own feelings, Brianne overcame bouts of homesickness during freshman year the old-fashioned way: by hopping on a plane for a visit every chance she got.
“First semester, I went home so often it was just ridiculous,” she confesses. “But I cut it down quite a bit. Of course, now, being an RA, I won’t be able to go back as much.” For a moment, the smile fades. “I was really surprised, because I didn’t think it would be such an issue. I mean, I love it at USD.”
Given the Washington native’s hardcore work ethic, it’s a wonder she found time to be homesick. What with carrying 18 units last semester, serving as executive liaison for the Residence Hall Association and working 15 hours a week, there wasn’t much time for frivolity.
“I go non-stop all day, nine-to-five,” she sighs. “Once I get to my room, it’s all about homework.”
If Butler has a vice, it’s not lollygagging at the beach (“I don’t have a car”), slacking off (“This year the focus is on academics”), or being scatterbrained (“I’m really planning for the future; I even have a 10-year plan”). Instead, she indulges herself in another way: “Buying plane tickets is a bad habit of mine,” she confesses. “I’ve just got to cut back.”
If the word “wise” doesn’t come to mind when you think of a 19-year-old, that’s because you haven’t met Carmen Gonzalez.
“When I first got here, I was worried about finding people with the same thoughts as me,” she recalls, eyes direct. But those worries proved groundless. Now, she’s got wisdom of her own to impart: “I’ve been hosting students for the admissions office,” Gonzalez says, explaining that she volunteered for the task, which allows prospective students to shadow a current USD freshman and find out what campus life is really like. “I’ve been telling them to be careful. Some people come here wanting to change the world, but instead they’re changing themselves.”
Tough stuff, but this past year pushed Gonzalez outside her comfort zones.
“My ‘Music for Educators’ class was great,” she says. “It’s always been hard for me to talk in front of others, and now I can actually perform. I even learned how to play the piano.” At first, she thought she might be in the wrong class. After all, having grown up in the village of Ahualulco, in Jalisco, Mexico, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” didn’t exactly resonate. But now she’s comfortable, not just with American pop culture, but with putting herself out there.
“I didn’t like participating,” she recalls. “I was too shy to raise my hand. Now, well, I know I have to.” And finally getting a hard-won ‘A’ in one class helped increase her self confidence: “Sometimes you think you’re putting out an effort, but you really have to do more.”
One experience that stood out during her freshman year was a visit to a Tijuana orphanage. “We played, read and told stories,” she recalls. “Then we ate lunch and then it was time to leave. One of the little girls came and held my hand, and said, ‘Take me in your car.’” She pauses, collecting herself. “I couldn’t think of any words to make her understand. But I just wanted to cry so bad.”
While that experience reinforced Gonzalez’ determination to teach, in some ways it’s made her rethink her goals. “Before, money wasn’t an issue,” she says. “I mean, I still want to teach. But I want to make sure that my income is enough to help my dad out. I have two little brothers and I really want them to go to college. I want them to experience what I did.”
Not that her college experience — at least thus far — includes much carousing. “Actually, I still ask my parents before I go out,” she confesses with a laugh.
There’s no limit to the heights Marco Martinez intends to reach. When he nailed a 3.8 GPA his first semester, he took it as incentive to aim higher. When he wanted to get involved on campus, he ran for — and was elected as — one of two Associated Students freshman senators.
To win that position, he had to do some legwork. “I went around to all of the freshmen residential areas and introduced myself to pretty much the whole freshman class.” he recalls. “It took a lot of time, but it was a lot of fun. The best part of the whole job is how many people I’ve gotten to know.” While his decision to run was off-the-cuff, it’s sparked an abiding interest in campus politics.
“I decided to go for secretary of student organizations,” he says, flashing a grin. “I’ll be working with the organizations around campus, to get them together to do events.”
Martinez’ sunny disposition hasn’t dampened a bit in the past year. He loved living in a triple in Maher Hall (“the best part is getting to know all the people on my floor”), but he’s just as excited at the prospect of sharing a house with four friends in Pacific Beach this semester (“great guys”) and with the possibility of learning to surf.
But it’s his newfound love for politics that’s made the biggest impact on Martinez. “One quality I developed last year was learning people’s names. Through campaigning, I learned not just their names, but who they were, regardless of whether they were voting for me or not.”
And in the future? “Politics are a definite possibility. It’s a definite way to make a difference in society.” As far as fun goes, Martinez knows he’ll find it wherever he goes. If not, he’ll just make his own. Of course, his idea of fun is hardly bacchanalian.
“I have to work out or play a sport every day,” he confesses, almost sheepish. “Otherwise, I can’t go to sleep at night.”
There’s a vice that even a politician could take pride in.
It’s hard to imagine Kendra Hoffman-Curry as being anything other than supremely self-possessed. Tall and eloquent, fashionable and down-to-earth, the confident Hoffman-Curry shudders when she thinks back on her first few weeks as a freshman.
“When I came here, I was nervous about knowing the campus and worried that I’d walk into the wrong class. It’s pretty terrifying getting used to everything,” she recalls. “But now getting around is a whiz. It’s really funny how fast that changes.”
Beyond learning the ropes, she had some academic challenges to overcome. “First semester I had a hard time adjusting,” she admits. “I have dyslexia, test anxiety and ADD.” But by April she was able to obtain the necessary documentation that allowed her concessions such as not being graded on spelling, and taking tests and finals separately from other students.
Without hesitation, Hoffman-Curry points to joining her sorority, Gamma Phi, as the highlight of her year. “As a freshman, it’s hard to meet upper classmen, but I’ve met so many girls,” she says, laughing. “I don’t think of it as buying friends; I think of it as an opportunity to meet a lot of people so you can make friends.”
Her pragmatism is direct, to-the-point and refreshing. “This year the focus was on getting good grades and realizing I needed to be comfortable in this new life,” she says. “It was an assimilation process.”
Now that she’s adapted to campus life, Hoffman-Curry vows to keep it real: “I don’t want to lose sight of what’s important and get too wrapped up in fun.”
Determined to do more than just study and socialize, she got involved in a club called Just Cause that aims to make sure that corporations USD partners with have fair working practices. She also worked at Abercrombie in Fashion Valley for several months during her first semester, and juggled two part-time jobs when she went home this summer: inputting checks for one company and delivering dogs for her mom’s pet grooming business.
No biggie. “Hey, I have a single mom who owns her own business. I need to show her how much I appreciate and respect the fact that she sent me here.”
Determined? Check. Focused? Check. Hard-working? Check. One suspects that when Matt Rutz decides he wants something, Matt Rutz gets it.
“When I was a little kid, I’d always get 100 percent for science on those standardized tests,” the square-jawed Rutz recalls. Now he’s charging full-speed ahead up the pre-med path and intends to wind up as a physician for the NFL or an orthopedic surgeon. “Anything with sports. I love the physiology of the human body.”
Rutz came a long way in a year. As a campus newbie, he had to call his mom long-distance to get the lowdown on whether one should wash whites in cold or hot water. Now he’s got it down. “I am awesome at laundry,” he says with pride. “I also cook.”
Though it irks him that he didn’t know that an “A-minus” counts for less in his GPA than an “A,” and he wound up with a 3.76 for his first semester, Rutz is resolute. “Medical schools don’t look at pluses and minuses. So in their eyes, at least, I still have a 4.0.” Still, it rankles. “My high school GPA was 5.18.” He shrugs, trying to let it go.
This is a young man who most definitely knows what he wants. Although he ran cross country in high school, he opted not to go out for the team at USD. “Science majors have to work really hard to keep the grades up,” he says. “Running cross country won’t make me $100,000 a year, but academics will.“
Still, there’s time for fun, at least on the weekends (“During the week, I wake up, go to the gym and go to class”). Then, he and his roommates go camping, head to the beach, go snorkeling, whatever. On the road one weekend, he and his friends witnessed a car accident.
“This woman’s wrist was split to the bone from the wrist to the elbow. Even though I’d never seen an open wound, it didn’t make me queasy,” he says proudly. Luckily, a passing doctor helped take care of the victim until an ambulance arrived. Rutz did what he could to help out and came away more sure than ever that he’s on the right path.
“Nothing freaked me out,” he recalls with a smile. “I was solid.”
Just Three Questions
As readers with long memories may recall, last year we asked each of our then-freshmen three questions inspired by the infamous “Proust Questionnaire” in an effort to provide an unvarnished glimpse into their psyches. Following are the answers our Fab Five came up with this time around.
Q: What quality do you most like in men?
A: Honesty and faithfulness. Physically it’s the smile. That’s the first thing I notice.
Q: Who is your favorite idol?
A: Audrey Hepburn. She had a unique look and personality, and stood out to the whole world.
Q: What is it you most dislike?
A: I don’t like people who can’t be themselves.
Q: What quality do you most like in women?
A: Strength. The strength within us that we don’t always take into consideration.
Q: What is your most significant character flaw?
A: I’ve very indecisive. I think too much. When I’m taking a test, if I have extra time, I’ll go back and look at my answers and change them.
Q: What is your favorite television show?
A: I watch “Otro Rollo” every Tuesday. It’s a variety show. The title means “Something Else.”
Q: What is your present state of mind?
A: Anxious. I’m anxious to find out how everything will turn out.
Q: What is your dream of happiness?
A: To fulfill my goals: to become a teacher, to leave college very educated and with a good state of mind, and to have a job in my field.
Q: Who are your heroes in real life?
A: My mom is definitely a hero of mine; she’s endured so much for me. Also my cousin Tim, who had cancer. They told him to say his goodbyes and he came through it. He’s an amazing person.
Q: What natural gift would you like to possess?
A: I believe in setting a goal and achieving it. If I want to attain an ability, by working hard for it there’s always a possibility to attain it.
Q: What historical figure do you most despise?
A: Hernán Cortez. He conquered Mexico for Spain; he battled the Aztecs. I think he brought a culture of getting ahead by extortion to Mexico.
Q: How would you like to die?
A: I wish my death could count for something. I’ve always wanted to be a martyr, to die for my faith. Hopefully, my death could change someone.
Q: Who is your favorite musician?
A: Linkin Park. It’s the music I listen to at the gym. It sticks with me and gives me extra energy when I need it.
Q: In what city would you like to live next?
A: Dallas. It’s a huge fashion city; they have the hottest everything. It’s so materialistic, but it would be so cool to see.
Q: What is your most marked characteristic?
A: My track coach said I was the guy who would never give up. Until he said it, I never thought about it, but it’s true. The harder the workout, the harder the class, the more I take it upon myself to do well.