On College.

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So, last May, I graduated from college. I ended up graduating with the same degree I started with, B.S. Computer Engineering (not engineering technology, engineering). I took a bit of a circuitous route to get there, but I ended up getting there, a little worse for wear.

Here is a small map showing how I got to graduation.

Fall 2006: Started at Purdue University, West Lafayette in exploratory studies because I didn’t get accepted into engineering.

Summer 2007: Due to struggles with Calc 1 I had to take it in the summer. Took Com 114 and English 106 with it as well. Got all A’s. Everything was set.

Fall 2007: Tried to transfer to school of Electrical and Computer Engineering and was accepted. Things are looking up!

Spring 2008: Things are still looking up!

Fall 2008: Acquire mononucleosis. Be really sick for a while. Start slipping into depression. Fail most classes.

Spring 2009: Continue being depressed, don’t attend class, become overwhelmed, and fail all classes. Get kicked out of school. Things are not looking up.

Fall 2009: Sit out semester, because I have to due to school rules before reapplying.
Enroll in community college, but don’t go.

Spring 2010: Reapply to school. Get back in! Time to right the ship! Fuck it up! Have to sit out a year before applying to any other Purdue campus.

Fall 2010: Transfer to Trine University and switch majors to Informatics.
Spring 2011: Realize you are miserable and hate this major and feel like you gave up on your dream. Re-examine everything. Go to seminars and read books to try to get your life in order. Apply to Purdue Calumet for computer engineering.

Fall 2011: Get accepted to Purdue Calumet. Buckle. The. Fuck. Down. Get semester honors.

Spring 2012-Spring 2014: Spend almost all your waking hours studying and doing homework. Graduate!

I know this is going to sound overly dramatic, but it is one of the hardest, if not the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I couldn’t be happier that I did it as well.

It was a major test of patients and perseverance, but I would do it again, in a heartbeat.

Here is a little synopsis about how I had to change to become successful in school and beyond.

Write down everything: every assignment, every meeting, every class, everything. If you spend anytime around me you will undoubtedly hear me utter the words, “My brain is stupid.” I believe I heard it while reading Getting Things Done, but I may be mistaken. What it means is your brain is terrible at remembering things when it needs to, so don’t rely on it. Write it down. Put it somewhere reliable that you will check. A phone is fine as long as you check it regularly.

Stick to the calendar. I mean it, if the block of time says study, do it, no questions asked. Don’t modify the calendar. This might seem a tad rigid, but that is the point. We are human and will likely make the wrong call in the moment and will end up fucking it all up. Just stick to the schedule.

Study with no distractions. There was a place at the top floor of the union with individual study carrels and an enforced silence policy. It was completely isolating. It was almost never used by anyone and had sea foam green bookshelves that hadn’t been touched since Nixon was in office. I didn’t enjoy being there, but I spent countless early mornings there because it allowed me to focus on specifically what was in front of me. It allowed me to be productive and not worry about anything else.

I ended up picking up a part-time job starting in the summer before my senior year. I was a process control engineer for a company. What little free time I had left was now devoted to that. It couldn’t have been a better decision though. It gave me so much valuable experience. It allowed me to talk confidently about situations in interviews without having to resort to “well, I had a group project in school.” It wasn’t what I wanted to do long term, but don’t let that scare you off. Every employer I talked to since then has taken great interest in stuff I learned during my tenure at that job; not to mention the recommendations I picked up along with it. The concise nugget of wisdom I learned from all this is, don’t hold out for your dream job; gain experience and work towards that dream job. That job may never come without that initial push, and you might stumble into something you never knew you would like.

I had to include this, as it was such a huge part of college for me. This section really deserves its own post, which it might get at a later date. It didn’t occur until I started at Trine University. I started an improv comedy group with my friends called Ad Liberation. I was some of the most fun I had in my entire life and taught me skills I couldn’t pick up in engineering school. It was the ultimate release for what was a very analytical, math and code filled week. It allowed me to engage the other half of my brain, which was oft neglected. I had never done improv before this, nor anything even remotely related to theater. I came into contact with improv through an ex-girlfriend and through her I met some of the closest friends I’ve had, Tim and Mike. (Tim is the same one from the world famous Tim and Matt Play). They had been doing improv for a while at this point. Both did improv in college and as semi-newly minted grads were looking to continue the comedy magic. I expressed interest and we started practicing out of Tim’s garage. Shortly after my best friend, Katie, joined the mix and this was the real start of Ad Liberation. I learned to think on my feet, and to never be nervous talking to anyone. I can public speak with little to no preparation if need be. It remains some of my most cherished memories (luckily, past Matt archived 95% of the shows). We faced an audience that had never heard of us and we did a style of improv, long form, that isn’t the biggest audience pleaser. Still, we ended up doing it, and some of it was damn good. I, sadly, had to leave my final semester as senior design was devouring all my time. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. I miss it like crazy, and I hope to continue it in some fashion soon. My life would have been amazingly uneventful without this, and I thank all the members past and present.

Another conscious decision I had to make was that for about two and half years, while I finished my degree, I was, for all intents and purposes, on a media blackout. I did the math, literally. I added up all the hours and cut out all the time I had for sleeping, school, work, and other obligations. There was no time. My one salvo, to make sure I didn’t come out the other side like Robin Williams in Jumanji, was podcasts. It took me roughly forty minutes to drive to school or work (they were conveniently very close to each other), which left me plenty of time for a bevy of podcasts. Movies, comics, books, TV shows, and video games were all off the table. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it didn’t suck. It sucked badly, but I did get used to it. I just knew I wasn’t going to be the guy to discuss the new hotness with. The video game one hit me the hardest, but I was able to live vicariously through some other people thanks to the aforementioned podcasts. It does free an amazing amount of time up not consuming so much. It’s been over six months since graduating and I’m still not caught up on everything I missed (I’m looking at you DC universe), but for most of it, I don’t need it. It’s non-essential, and I probably will never go back to the way it was before then. I’m not saying this in a “Oh, TV, I don’t own a TV sort of way” I just have other activities I’ve found a little more satisfying on a personal level.

My final paragraph addresses a mindset I’d like to challenge. The idea that if someone is inclined toward one thing or another it’s super easy, or if you are on the losing side, then it’s not attainable at all. Of course I am merely speaking from personal experience. I did not start college in engineering because I was “the math guy” in high school. I loved computers. I was really good at IT (and even that was because I spend hundreds if not thousands of hours with computers growing up). I was bad at math. I barely made it through pre-calculus in high school. I started in Calc 1 in college and I failed miserably. It was overwhelming. Can I calculate a Fourier transform now? Heck yes. You know the difference, six years. Six years, hundred of homework problems, more problems that weren’t homework, and many nerve-wracking, headache-inducing nights. This is not a brag, or humble brag. This is to say this isn’t some natural talent bestowed upon me by a benevolent creator. This was work, and everyone can do it. It’s just a matter of how much you want it. I couldn’t see myself without that degree. I envisioned graduation day in my mind just about every day. If you want something, go for it, and if it’s hard, go for it harder. There is a quote I heard from Scrubs of all things, “nothing in this world worth having comes easy” and while I’m not naïve enough to think that applies to absolutely everything I think the sentiment holds for a whole heck of a lot.

I’m incredibly proud of what I did, but I didn’t do it alone. I want to thank everyone who helped me along the way, providing monetary and/or emotional support. While I would have liked to learn some lessons earlier I wouldn’t change the whole narrative, and would absolutely endure it all over again. I learned an incredible amount. It was even fun sometimes.

I had to post this here because it is the culmination of all my efforts. I will post a full post-mortem on the project sometime, but for now:

On Failure, Rejection, and Redemption (A Personal Tale)

The year is 2006 and a starry-eyed freshman has just moved to college. Everything is fantastic. He’s got a girlfriend, he is rooming with his best friend from high school, and he is shooting for the stars by majoring in computer engineering. Guess happens. REALITY HAPPENS. I hate it when reality happens. That plucky little guy and his girlfriend broke up, there was tension building between him and his roommate, and worst of all for the first time in his life school was not coming to him with the greatest of ease. I bet you couldn’t see through my clever ruse, but that boy was/is me. Perhaps the worst part of that story is that it isn’t the worst part of the story.

I entered Purdue University in the undergraduate studies program (read undecided) even though I was decided. I had a GPA just below the minimum required so they couldn’t take me into the engineering program right out of high school. Whatever, I love a challenge. The USP allowed me to take all the engineering and math classes that a first-year would take so there was no problem. The plan was that I would do well then I would CODO (transfer) into the ECE (Electrical and Computer Engineering) school. I had never been a math person. I took all AP classes except math. Why? WAY back in 4th grade they made us take a test. If we scored well we were placed on the fast track, if not we were put on normal track. This followed me all the way through to high school and thus not really prepared for the onslaught of math that engineering, especially electrical or computer, needs.

So, I am taking MA 161 which is Calc 1 for engineers and math majors (probably a few others thrown in, too). This is all stuff I have never seen and I struggled with it. I struggled badly. I ended up failing the class. This is the first time, EVER, I had failed a class. It felt just terrible, and yet it was just the tip of the very large iceberg. I took the class again in the following semester with the same results. Was I just too stupid for this kind of stuff? This is Calc 1 and I still have so much more to go. The one good or bad quality, depending on how it’s applied, I have is bullheadedness. It was a puzzle I needed to solve. Why was I not doing well? I ended up getting tutoring over spring break, which helped for when I took it in the summer. I ended up getting a B+ in the summer (even though pluses didn’t count then in terms of GPA). I even got a 100% on one of my exams. OK, it wasn’t because I was stupid. I think I’ve established that. It was how I approached work. This is actually something that plagues me all the way until the end of my story.

I’m not a lazy person, not at all; I just don’t like doing stuff that doesn’t grab me right away. For example, when I had a video project I would edit for hours and hours without interruption often times not finishing up until 4 AM. This being one example, if I was passionate about the work, then I would keep at it. It’s how I have almost all my IT knowledge. It was passion for understanding this magic box and making it work to my specifications. Although, when something didn’t hold my attention it was like trying to move a Snorlax without the whistle (remember Pokemon, guys?). This was a major character flaw. Engineering requires extreme diligence and will not take kindly to those who are not disciplined.

My generation, whatever clever name they are calling it these days, is the first generation with a real instant gratification complex. I mean one that really permeates through the whole of the masses. This of course only refers to the American middle-class side of things, as we have had the money and the means to have this culture based on instant gratification. Think about what we (read I) had growing up. Food was instantaneous. Fast food just became food. You had ready to eat, hot food minutes after you ordered. No other time in human history has that sort of thing been possible. Think about our communication. I didn’t have internet my whole life, I’m not that young, but I had access as early as 4th grade, even if it was not at home. I had an email address at age nine.* I was sending world wide communications that would be answered in a day instead of two weeks. As I mentioned we were middle-class. Upper middle-class if we want to be technical (and I do). This meant that while I didn’t get everything I wanted, I got a fair amount. I didn’t have to save much. I didn’t have to wait for a long time for something. A period of months was a long time for me, almost unbearable. This sort of wanting everything without sacrifice made a big appearance during the recent housing crisis. It nearly tanked the world economy and it was because people wanted more than they could afford. Buying without the prerequisite of saving. To tie it back into my personal narrative, it is ingrained in our culture, and it’s not a good thing. It’s a scourge that has set us back.

So, the summer after my freshman year was an amazing success (I should write more about this one day because it really was a transformative experience in my life). I had gotten two A’s and one B(+). I had conquered all my demons and everything was gravy. Hah! If only. Enter Fall 2007. I am now living with my best dude friend, Aaron Faulstich. It was great! That was until a girl played into the mix. I won’t regale you with the story (because it’s none ya business!), but either way I ended up with my second major girlfriend of college. So, knowing what you now know about me, spend time with a pretty girl who is into you, or do lots of math. What do you think won out most of the time? So, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, BUT I did post some decent grades. I successfully CODO’d into the ECE program at one of the best engineering schools in the country. I was elated. Seriously, I still have the acceptance letter. It was a big deal for me. The problem is that engineering doesn’t get easier as time goes on, no quite the opposite actually. I still had a girlfriend and school just stepped up it’s game. Guess who didn’t? So, I didn’t do great that following semester. My girlfriend broke up with me somewhere in between the semester, which didn’t help. I failed some classes. SOME classes now. Jesus. This is becoming regular now? I took summer school following the semester to retake linear circuits 1 and calc 3. I passed calc 3. I passed them both, but not enough in circuits to warrant me not taking the class again (you need a C or higher).

Aaron graduated the semester before (he is older than I am) and moved to Portland (Oregon). I am now living alone in an apartment. I am taking some classes that interest me (as well as more math – kids engineering is tons of math, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise), but something happens. Something I still can’t describe. I have another girlfriend, but we never do much and that ends fairly quickly. That isn’t the problem. The problem is I can’t seem to get myself to do anything. I mean like get out of bed. I manage to contract mono during this time, too, which, if you know the symptoms, makes you very tired. This is not the brightest moment in Matt Gyure’s life. The semester passes by quickly and I get a letter telling me I am on probation. I did terrible. Really terrible. This was a new wave of despair for me. How in the world did I go so far off the rails? I was going to become one of those guys I used to make jokes about. Fail out of college. Really?

Are you depressed enough, yet?  Well, hold onto your butts, because we are going to plunge a little deeper. Next semester is worse. I don’t leave my apartment for days and when I do it’s not to go to class. This is inexplicable to me. I exhibited the signs of depression, but, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel depressed. I was living the hermit life though; coming out for food and little else. As the semester drew to a close I feel it like a noose tightening around my neck. I was about to be kicked out of school. Even typing that now is tough. I try a 9th inning rally (sports metaphors are an underutilized literary device in depressing accounts), but it’s too little too late.

I try to ignore it. I get the letter from Purdue and a wave of cold shot down my spine. I put it on my desk and I can’t open it for weeks. It takes that long to muster up the confidence to even open the thing, even though I know what’s lurking beneath the flaps (stop snickering, this is no time for double entendre, I’m bearing my soul here). As I open the thing and read the letter on how I am not to continue the following semester. My stomach fell into my butt. The worlds made it feel permanent. There was no avoiding this. I had failed out of college. What the hell am I going to do? There was never a contingency plan. I never needed one. It took me a couple more weeks to tell my parents, who, to their credit, didn’t freak out.

I have been beating myself up pretty bad during this story (kind of the point, honesty), but I did/do have one good quality that had/has served me well. Instead of giving up and rationalizing that I was not able to do this, that I wasn’t “cut out” to be an engineer, I vowed that I would. This was something I wanted more than anything else. Now the question was, how am I going to do it? I just got booted from school. This begins my journey (albeit a bumpy one) of redemption.

This probably goes without saying, but this was not my finest hour. I was really beside myself. Much of the time I was trying to ignore it even happened. Yes, running away from your problems always fixes them. The situation with school was I was going to have to sit out a semester before re-applying to Purdue. This proved problematic. I was afraid if I weren’t in school I would start forgetting information and when I did get back to school I would not be able to remember what I had been taught. The other problem was that I needed to remain a student to be on my parents insurance. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, and I have not really needed it for anything major, but knowing what had happened I would probably have broken all my bones the day after the insurance expired. I didn’t do much that summer; I was, for all intents and purposes, in shock. Around the corner August was peaking it’s head out and I hadn’t come up with a plan. I looked around to school and found the only one that would take me. Ivy Tech.

All the people I had no respect for, the people I looked down on, this was the school they ended up at. Now, I was there. That classes I was enrolled it wouldn’t count either. I was too far along in my curriculum for the classes they offered. That whole semester I spent driving to Purdue to visit my girlfriend. It also was full of lies I would tell people to avoid having them find out about my darker past. It made me feel less than dirt and unintelligent. I told so many different people so many different things that I don’t even remember what I was “doing” at the time. I am pretty decent at lying to people, too, which didn’t help (Thank my overly strict parents for the development of that skill).

That break, having accomplished nothing, but for a series of potentially interesting side-lives I had created, it was time to re-apply to Purdue. I applied to Purdue Calumet and Purdue West Lafayette. I was trying for West Lafayette to try to slip right back into the groove. After several (read: way to many) calls between the universities and myself, I was back into WL. I was ecstatic, after a days long battle with my parents to let me go back down there. It was settled. Come January I would be going and living in Hawkins Hall.

I had done a little research on keeping organized and staying focused, went to some organizational classes even. I had fooled myself into thinking this was enough. It takes a fundamental shift in thinking to really apply all those principles and this was something that I had not done. I made some great friends (still my friends now) that semester and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The thing I would tweak was my work ethic. I had spent far too much time with my new friends and girlfriend and not enough time hitting the books.

I knew I didn’t do well, and when I got my grades my grades in the mail I actually took that envelope and put it under a stack of papers. It would sit there for over a month. When I did finally find the testicular fortitude to open it my suspicions were confirmed. One semester and I was gone again, this time for a year, minimum. Ok, what are we now on, Plan C? My options were running out. My dreams seemed out of reach at this point. After frantically trying to figure out what to do now, I landed on a small university several people in my family attended. Trine University.

The fact that Trine University admitted me at all is a surprise to me, especially with my track record. They did not, however, admit me to the Engineering program. I was in something called informatics. Think IT with a little different twist. This caused me to question if I wanted to do engineering. It was giving me all this grief and IT stuff came easy to me. I knew it and was/am extremely good at it.  I was putting myself through hell when I could end up with a high paying job, probably comparable to an engineering job pay-wise, with relative ease. I still was going to try to admit myself to the engineering program there, but surprise, surprise I didn’t have the grades. It was decided for me that I would continue on in informatics. This whole situation was not helped by my trouble I was having with my girlfriend at the time.

This actually caused some physiological changes for me. Every dream I had was a nightmare. There was major cognitive dissonance going on and my body would not sit until it had been resolved. About the middle of my second semester at Trine I realized that this informatics things, this settling thing, was not going to work. It was from that point that I turned my attention back to engineering, back to Purdue.

That whole year I was trying to take a step back and trying to evaluate myself from an impersonal standpoint, a more objective standpoint. I realized I was being childish. I made some hard realizations about myself and about the world at large.

Life is not fair, and nor should it be. This is a cold place and the only way we have been able to tame it is hard work. Our ancestors and their ancestors busted their ass to make what we have today. Everyone has dreams and it is my belief that anything is attainable. The one barrier is hard work. One of my favorite quotes sums it up better than I can:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The one technique I learned is that being an adult, a true transformation from adolescence to adulthood, is that there are things that need doing and despite every reason you can come up with or excuse you can give, you have to just do it. Not everything in life is fun; it’s about balance. Sacrifice is the name of the game. Can you do the work now to have the fun later? The universe acts in a way that brings everything to equilibrium, a universal karma if you will. If you avoid doing something that needs to be done, it will catch up with you later in some way. In that same way, making sacrifices now will result in a more pleasurable tomorrow. Back to my point from earlier, it’s not instant either. It takes time, and real effort.

This brings me to where I am today. I am, for the first time in much too long, doing well in school, in engineering at Purdue Calumet. I am on back to where I need to be and I have a set plan. I have worked hard and have not been able to do many of the things I would have liked to ensure my success in school. I have had to radically change my views on work and time management. Honestly, there is a lot to be said for the phrase, just do it. All the motivational books in the work won’t change that hard and fast truth. It needs doing, so just do it.

In total, my screw-ups are costing me two-years. Two-years that are lost and I’m not getting them back. The one good thing is that I have learned from those mistakes, many don’t. I don’t think this story will inspire anyone, or cause anyone to avoid the mistakes I made, but it is good to have it all out there. My official graduation date is Fall 2013 and that is not changing. You know what though. I am going to be graduating with the degree I want. I didn’t take the easy way out and I didn’t give up. When I actually do get that diploma I know all this headache, heartache, and several stomachaches will have all been worth it. Failure is inevitable. How you deal with it is the important part.

Honestly, thanks so much to my parents who have and are putting up with me through all this. I know many, many others would not and I can’t thank them enough for letting me work through my breakdowns, changes, realizations, and adolescence. I can’t possibly make it up to them, but I am going to try for the rest of my life.

*This is a perfect example of what I am talking about. I was thinking about how old a 4th grader is and instead of doing the simple calculation I tried to look it up online and then stopped myself. We have seemingly infinite knowledge at our fingertips so engaging the brain is something we don’t have to do anymore, to our detriment.

On My Most Influential Year in School.

Campus and Snow

I have milked this one to death. Honestly, I have written so much about this one life changing moment in my life that if I write anything more about it the meaning will start to recede. Just to know what I am referencing it is when my girlfriend broke up with me during freshman year of college. It caused the largest overall change to myself and my personality. In essence it thrust me into adulthood. You will find PLENTY of posts about this either directly or tangentially. I do encourage you to check them out.