James Wykowski, Class of 2013

My name is James Wykowski and I am a senior here at USD. I came to USD all the way from Portland, Oregon, where I attended Westview High School. It’s an honor to be here with all of you this afternoon. As the youngest of three children, I went on my first college visit at the age of 10. Thus, by the time I had begin looking at colleges for myself I thought I had it all figured out. Unfortunately, this was far from the case. I honestly don’t know when or how USD became added to my list of colleges. I applied to a few other Catholic colleges at some point, and so if I had to guess I’d say that the College Board website I knew so well suggested it as a school similar to University of San Francisco and Loyola Marymount.

I visited USD with a similar level of uncertainty—but this soon changed. I fell in love from the first moments of being here. Older friends had advised me to try and picture myself on each campus I visited and ask if I could see myself going to class, living in the residence halls and eating in the cafeteria. I immediately found this to be true of USD. Many things impressed me about this school, including their study abroad statistics and the fact that University Ministry had connections in Tijuana—but more on that later.

Ultimately, my decision came down to four schools: Seattle University, University of San Diego, Northwestern University, and University of Oregon. Truthfully, all that stood in USD’s way was the intimidating pricetag. I knew my whole life that I would be paying for my own degree, and so decades of student loan debt were hardly attractive. I’ll never forget the day I received my financial aid package online. My mom started crying on the phone, and soon I received a flood of calls from family members around the country. I met with my parents that night, and by the morning my decision card was on its way to San Diego.

If I could point to one defining activity during my time at USD, it would be my decision to go on the Tijuana Spring Breakthrough Trip my during my freshman year Spring Break. I didn’t know anyone else applying, but knew that this was one of the things that drew me initially to USD. The trip challenged what my understanding of faith in action meant, and caused me to question my own place in the world. I returned with more questions than answers, but also knowing that my life had forever been changed. I saw true poverty in the world, and knew that it was my path in life to work for justice.

It was these same questions that led me to study abroad on Semester at Sea in the fall of my junior year. This is a semester long study abroad program located on a ship. During the semester we traveled to twelve countries and circumnavigated the earth. While in Ghana, some of my questions began to be answered. I had spent a long time trying to figure out how I was called to serve, and medicine had been an interest of mine since childhood. However, I moved away from it when I came to USD and instead pursued a career in theatre. However, while in Ghana the pieces of my story came together and I realized that I was called to pursue a career as a doctor.

I recognize that a degree in Theatre Arts makes me a less than conventional medical school applicant. To be honest, there are times when I think that if I could take it all back and start my time at USD again I would have a totally different major. However, I also know that I take lessons away from a life in theatre that I could not have learned anywhere else. Theater taught me to work for excellence, not for specific results, or for specific grades. In theatre we work for the opportunity to create something larger than myself with the power to move, challenge, and call audiences to action. Theatre also taught me how to be vulnerable and the true meaning of the word interdependence. It only takes forgetting a line on stage once to know that it is not enough just to trust your peers. You have to be comfortable placing your entire success in their plans, committed to working together to make something incredible.

Finally, theatre taught me what it means to bring your whole self to a cause. As an actor or director, you bring the sum of your life experience to each show you work on. This includes past plays, but also childhood lessons from your parents, pain and grief from a lost loved one, and the joy of laughter shared with friends and family. Theater taught me that while we may not always see it, each person is the sum of thousands of experiences. We may not always see the whole picture, but if I’ve learned anything from my time at USD it is that each person is entitled to be treaty with dignity and respect.

I take all of these lessons and more with me as I look towards graduation and medical school applications. I will be taking two years off after graduation, and would like to use this time to better understand how I can use my gifts to serve the world. USD has been instrumental in forming the person standing before you know. I am incredibly grateful for all of the donors and friends of the university who have made my education possible. Graduation is intimidating for many reasons, including the reality that student loan payments will have to begin sooner or later. Receiving this scholarship has been a big help in alleviating that anxiety and helping me focus on my education. Thank you for the opportunity to learn, to grow, to be challenged, and to begin understanding my place in the world. I am grateful for all of your generosity—USD truly is a better place because of the involvement of community members such as yourselves.