01/03/2013 11:56 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2013

Facing Challenges in College and Beyond

I was recently asked to speak to our chapter of the Communication Honor Society, Lambda Pi Eta, as part of their induction ceremony. These students are the highest achieving in our major, and it was a pleasure to speak to them. I am posting an excerpt of that speech here as we embark on a new year and new challenges. Happy New Year!

I'd like to thank the Lambda Pi Eta members for inviting me to speak tonight. It is an honor to celebrate this great accomplishment with you.

Tonight I'm going to talk to you about my own path. My journey wasn't always direct, and there were lots of bumps along the way. But even when things weren't going well, I can see now that those experiences taught me so much about myself, my limitations, and the many possibilities in my life. But what got me there was a simple bumper-sticker statement my high school friends often quoted: "Question authority." In whatever way you want to define that, I hope that you will take the same sentiment with you tonight.

As a kid, I was always the one eagerly raising my hand in class to answer every question. In middle school, I went to archaeology camp -- voluntarily -- two summers in a row. In high school and college, I was an honors student. I worked in advertising before getting my Masters and Ph.D. And, since at the University of Delaware, I've had the pleasure of working with world-class scholars, meeting renowned political figures like Joe Biden and Robert Gibbs, and guiding students through their first presidential election. The joy I get from my job never ceases to amaze me. I'm one of those people who is doing what she loves, and I relish every minute of it.

But that's not my whole story. As a teenager, I was rebellious -- you know, the kind who wears too much black eyeliner and a leather jacket, dyes her hair blue and listens to punk rock. (At least that was what we called "alternative" in the '90s.) I spent most of my time hanging out with people my parents didn't approve of -- they had tattoos and mohawks and we all spent too much time at the local mall. But one mantra among the group was, "Question authority." We were suspicious of our parents, our teachers... mall cops. The statement can certainly be interpreted in many ways but for me, it means that there are no absolute truths in the social world, and we must constantly survey our environment -- including the media -- to make sure we don't get misguided. It means having a healthy skepticism about the world around us. As I often tell my students, there is no absolute social reality -- we perceive reality differently based on who and what surrounds us. And my reality may not always match yours.

Each of you has a tapestry of such life stories that make your goals, skills, and futures unique. You will also each have your own mistakes and missteps along that journey. Own those mistakes. Make them part of who you are. Don't judge the path; learn from the bumps along the way. Because often the best way you can learn is by doing. And that path may lead you in many directions and places you never thought you would be, but that's part of your story.

Do you remember that moment when as a kid you realized that grown-ups don't necessarily know everything? Well you're about to be one of those grown-ups, and it's important to actively reflect on your own reasoning as well as those around you. We become a better society the more we accept ourselves and accept that every human being is flawed. You will make mistakes -- you can't be expected to be perfect. No one is. But the drive, the commitment, and the dedication you have demonstrated in these college years suggest that you have many discoveries ahead.

Your experiences here have enabled you to not only state platitudes, but also explore the nuances and multiple meanings behind them. What is authority? What does it mean to question something? What will stand in your way? What questions will you ask next? The curiosity and skills you have gained, along with your drive to learn more, will very likely take you down a path of discovery and enlightenment. Even if you get a job you hate. Whether your suffer or thrive. Because your dedication to your academic endeavors has proven that you have the ability to ask the important questions, even if you don't always know the answers. Embrace that your path will lead you in many directions and always be open to learning from the people around you.

Challenges will come -- there is no doubt about that -- but you will learn and grow from them. At times it may seem like you don't know your own path, or which direction to go. I have been there myself, as have many of your peers and mentors. It might feel kind of like that Dr. Seuss book, Oh, the Places You'll Go. As Dr. Seuss reminds us, we have brains in our head and feet in our shoes, and we can steer ourselves any direction we choose. But I'd like to add that a good dose of skepticism and an openness to lifelong learning will help you move mountains. "And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)."