Travis says ‘Do it right’

I feel like I’m writing my own obituary.

“Mr. Gillespie was preceded in graduation by a handful of acquaintances.”

“Services to be held with family and friends.”

I’ve done obits before, so writing in the third person isn’t too bad, but writing in the first person — writing about myself — is a strange thing for me.

“Non-traditional” is the category that most often applied to me the last few years.

That’s right — I’m secretly old. I’ve even been married to the same girl since 1999. I don’t feel old — I’d prefer to just be one of the guys, thanks — but I’m probably old enough to be your dad.

My college career started in 1990 with a journalism scholarship at Butler Community College. Like most freshmen, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my degree. Journalism wasn’t something I was passionate about, but it was my free ride, so I did it. Without that passion, my first stab at college was short-lived.

I worked crappy odd jobs for years, hoping to stumble into something better. I have vocational certificates in travel and tourism, horticulture and hypnotherapy, but what I always came back to was writing.

I worked for a number of hometown newspapers. It wasn’t exactly what I loved, but I did like to write, so I stayed with it, always on the lookout for the next opportunity to better my circumstances. One such opportunity was a job doing writing grants for a nonprofit in Los Angeles. I found a great house and everything was great — until it all fell apart, leaving me scrambling to find another job to replace it.

That’s how I found myself in a regional office for Habitat for Humanity. A vice president was gracious enough to meet with me and review my résumé.

“Well, I’m not looking to hire anybody right now,” she said. “But here’s what I’m going to do for you.”

She pulled out a red pen and figuratively tore my résumé apart. Then she gave it back.

“Finish school,” she said. “Do it right.”

I bought a ticket back to Kansas and enrolled straightaway.

Coming back to school when you’ve got a family and a full-time job to worry about is rough. I felt like I was in competition with a bunch of kids who were all smarter than me, so I worked extra hard. About 20 months ago, I was invited to a networking luncheon, where I learned once again that I had it all wrong.

“What’s more valuable to you as an employer,” I asked, “someone with a high GPA or someone who’s involved in extracurricular activities?”

I learned that my focus was all wrong. Grades were important, but more important was what you did in college.

“Be involved,” they said.

If I have any advice to offer future graduates, that would be it.

Don’t worry that you haven’t found your passion or that you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Stick with it. It’s all about momentum — if you’re moving forward, it doesn’t matter that you can’t see your destination. Doing something with your life is the way opportunity will happen.

So I guess this isn’t much like an obituary after all. This is a thank you.

Thank you most of all to my wife and my parents, who supported me more than my stubborn pride would have liked. I’m thankful for grandparents who always hounded me to go to college and whose voices still drive me, even though they’ve gone.

I’m thankful for the most talented, professional people at WSU, the staff in Strategic Communications, who helped me become a sharper writer and wouldn’t treat me like an intern even when I begged them to. I’m thankful for the faculty at WSU, especially Brian Rawson, who went to heroic lengths to help me through rough times, President John Bardo, who gave me school spirit, and Eric Wilson, who went out of his way to be my friend.

Most of all, if I’m being honest, I’m thankful to be done.

It was a great ride and totally worth it, but I’m looking forward most to whatever comes next.