Embrace the Experience

By Jackie Valles `19

As someone who graduated two years ago, it’s easy to look back on my experience at William & Mary with rose colored glasses, but the reality is that as a woman of color, my experience was extremely different from many of the other students I went to school with. Although it took some time to find my community, W&M provided a lot of learning lessons for the corporate world and life after. Hopefully these next few bits of my experience help you as a recent alumnus or as an incoming student.

My first takeaway is to always embrace your culture. I’m a proud Salvadoran and I make sure that everyone knows that. Embracing your culture will help you find people that are similar but also bring a unique character and perspective to campus. I was grateful to have done the PLUS program before orientation and joined Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc. which is W&M’s only Latina based sorority. My friends from PLUS and the women of SIA ended up being my soundboard and family during school (and now after graduating).  

My second takeaway would be to get out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to rely on and be with the same people all the time, but it’s not until you get out of your comfort zone that you begin to grow and find opportunities (this also applies to networking outside of your team once you join the workforce)! The scariest thing I did while being at school was join the admissions office. For a long time, I undervalued my experience and didn’t think I could give valuable insights to prospective students. Joining the team gave me the chance to see W&M through excited high school seniors and rising seniors at W&M who were involved in other areas of campus. This gave me a greater appreciation for the school! I quickly learned that so many people go W&M for different reasons (my reason was money/financial aid). Being able to leave your comfort zone will also help after graduation because you may have to build your own community. I was lucky to start at a company that had an Employee Resource Group dedicated to helping Latinx professionals, but this is not always the case.

Lastly, I would appreciate all the experiences that W&M has to offer (whether good or bad). I know many black and brown students sometimes feel like they don’t belong or are kept on the outskirts of W&M because I felt that way. But, even through those feelings, I was able to leave my mark on the school and make friends for a lifetime. Appreciate the space you are in and know that you are uniquely you, take charge to make change, and you will be looking back reminiscing with rose colored glasses as well.

Connect with Jackie on LinkedIn.