Alum: Make the most of your education

<p>Grant Union alum Jenny Willis favored the May 30 Academic Awards Ceremony audience with the keynote speech.</p>

JOHN DAY – “Never give up.”

The three words were among many thoughts of encouragement from 1990 Grant Union graduate Jenny Willis at the May 30 Grant Union Junior-Senior High School awards ceremony, speaking to an audience that filled the gym.

She grew up in a time when students doing research “went to the library and used these things called books,” she said, and her home computer was a Commodore – no such thing as the Internet, yet.

She found opportunities attending a small school: drama, small classes, sports – volleyball, basketball, and track and field – volunteering and new things to try.

Her accumulated experiences gave her the confidence to explore the world and find “there’s a bright side to everything.”

While attending Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, she injured her leg and for awhile had a tough time climbing stairs to her apartment on crutches.

That was difficult, she said, but it taught her a greater appreciation for family and friends.

She also found a blessing in disguise out of the situation, as she gained upper body strength which helped her set a college javelin record that year.

“Realize life will give you challenges, but you’ll be stronger,” Willis said.

At a time when she needed encouragement, a former teacher advised her, “You’ve already accomplished so much in life – you can do whatever you set your mind to.”

“You will live for moments like that,” she said, adding that there are many rewards in life: monetary, plaques, certificates, employee of the month, but “the best rewards will be words of confirmation.”

“Explore, explore, explore,” she said. “Find a career you love – life’s too short to be miserable.”

Her own explorations have taken Willis to Australia, where she attended Canberra University, as well as travels to Stockholm, Sweden, where she worked as an R&D project manager for a company that makes medical devices.

Coming full circle, Willis now works from John Day as a technical writer, contracting with the Stockholm company and others online through her business Just Writing, LLC.

She continued with parting words.

“What you put into life is what you get out of it,” she said. “Learn from your mistakes, they make you stronger.

You will make a difference in the lives of other people, so make it a good one.”

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