Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD | 32nd President of Villanova University
“I attended a small, Catholic high school in Royal Oak, Michigan. There were 84 people in my graduating class and, for the most part, we moved from the elementary school to the high school building next door. My decision to attend Villanova University came as a surprise to many, as Philadelphia was a world away. Less than half of my graduating class planned to attend college, and only two of us were leaving the state. It was a different time, and college was not on the radar for many first-generation students like me. Attending Villanova University was a huge step forward. For the first time ever, I was going to be on my own, away from the comforts of home and the people I had grown up with.
Freshman year is a difficult transition no matter who you are or where you are from. Moving from Detroit to Philadelphia was an adjustment, to say the least. I had to adapt to the East Coast culture and to living in an institutional environment. For the first time in my life, I was uncomfortable.
I assumed classes would be the easy part, as school had always come easy for me. I was an A-B student and honestly, the Bs were few. I never remember getting anything below those grades. I anticipated that college classes would be demanding, as I had heard the stories about professors trying to intimidate freshmen. However, I didn’t think it would be a problem for me – I had a good educational background and was prepared. I soon discovered this was not necessarily the case.
Freshman English had a heavy focus on writing and the first paper I submitted came back with a big red F and an accompanying message: “Where did you go to High School and HOW did you ever get accepted?” I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I have never received anything below a B, let alone an F. Questions of self-doubt invaded my thoughts. Was coming here a big mistake? Maybe I wasn’t smart enough to fit in at this school. What if I failed again?
However, looking back, I now realize how much I needed that F. It was a wake-up call. I needed to experience the discomfort that came with adjusting to Villanova in order to grow, in order “to become what I was not yet.” That failure taught me to be resilient.
Although challenges and obstacles will come, you can push through and succeed like I did after that initial failing grade. And now look where it has taken me. “