Making the Big Leap

By Yemurai Mangwendeza, Yale University '13

Yemurai MangwendezaWhen I arrived in New Haven, Connecticut as a freshman in August 2009, it seemed that I had already made the big leap. I'd crossed an ocean and left family and friends behind. Now, I realize that I was somewhat naive - there was much I did not know and even more I had to learn. The big leap was still ahead of me.

I was starting a new life; I could be anyone and everything. I was going to be a Biomedical Engineer and spend the rest of my days wearing a lab coat and designing prosthetics. Maybe I would even become a doctor. It was an exciting time and somehow the idea of being an engineer, 'a scientist,' propelled itself with little action on my part. With time, I recognized that engineering was a worthwhile pursuit, but one that I had lost passion for along the way. It had simply become something else I had to achieve; another notch in my belt of academic achievements.

But, what did people who weren't engineers or scientists do? During the fall semester of sophomore year, I made it my mission to find out. What could I do that would be intellectually stimulating, yet new and challenging? Through a lot of reflection and introspection, I realized that the classes in which I was constantly amazed and consistently challenged to re-examine my social interactions were the ones that I most looked forward too and attended most regularly. These classes were not the pre-requirements for engineering. They were 'random' classes. It was time to make the big leap.

Explaining to family and friends that I had made the dramatic (some would say extreme) switch from Biomedical Engineering to Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) was not a task I was looking forward to. My anxieties were not unwarranted. The most common question I got from family members after the big revelation was "What are you going to do with that?" Of course, I had no answers to that except that I enjoyed what I was doing and that we would all surely find out "what I would do with it" in good time. As a rising senior, I still don't have a clear-cut answer but I've learned a better way to respond to the question.

Passion is the key to excellence. Without passion, all our pursuits are mediocre at best. When I think back to my days in primary school and high school, I realize that the reason I did so well was that I enjoyed school. I enjoyed the variety of subjects, I enjoyed the challenge of solving math problems and getting the perfect pink in acid-base titrations. It was the variety in academics, the novelty of it, that drew me in and made me a good student. In my USAP application, I wrote that what set me apart was that I actually enjoyed learning - it was no chore for me. So, when engineering began to feel like a chore, I had to switch gears and find a subject that would reignite my passion for academics - something challenging and novel, something that would add texture and nuance to my time at Yale and beyond, something that had broader implications for today and tomorrow, something personal and political, something public. I found that in WGSS. And, one year before graduation, I still feel amazed and challenged by this subject; and I'm still learning.

As I look ahead to the next big leap from college to the 'real world', I have found that every leap seems much bigger until you take it. Once it's done, it's not as big as you imagined before you took it. That's what I think all the entrepreneurs were saying at the conference this past weekend. If you have passion for something - make the big leap. Yes it's scary, but you won't know for sure what's on the other side until you take the risk and accept the challenge of the unknown and the uncertain. According to MK Asante - "If you make an observation, you have an obligation." We all see different needs in our home countries, in ourselves. That's a good enough reason to do something about it.

I salute all the entrepreneurs, all those taking the less trodden path, those who are filled with passion for something, anything. Now is the time to make the big leap.

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