5 Things UNT Gave Me

This is a post in Keeping the Flame’s “Farewell Denton” Series. This week will feature one post per day up until moving day (May 22), and will feature reflections on my undergraduate experience, posts about Denton in general, and posts about graduation!

I may be awfully hard on my alma mater sometimes. Well, really, all of the time. But it’s not UNT’s fault that I chose to stay at a school that wasn’t a perfect fit for me…

In any case, despite the many complaints I might have had about my college experience, I gained valuable experiences and insights while being here that I would not have gotten elsewhere.

I am grateful for these experiences, for these shining lights of awesome that came from my experience in Denton.


1. An Environmental Conscience

I have always loved nature. I love spending time out in Granny’s pastures, and I would always prefer to sit outside to do my work.

However, I didn’t gain insight into how much this planet means to me until coming to UNT.

Beginning with my Philosophy of Self course in the spring of 2013 and going forward to this final semester studying Food and Culture and the Philosophy of Food, I have been confronted with the environmental issues of our world.

I have been inspired to research independently into the Human-Environment Connection, deep ecology, environmental ethics, and other subgenres of environmental philosophy.

I learned that I feel the calmest when I am outside under a big tree– the bigger the better. I have become a literally tree hugger. I gained the ability to seek out nature when I’m feeling anxious, and this is one of my best coping skills to date.

Regardless of how much I don’t like Denton, it is byfar the greenest city I have ever lived in. I’m not referring to landscaping (lol) but to the fact that we recycle EVERYTHING here. I love it. I have become that person that washes out the milk jug and drives an extra 2 miles to place it in the appropriate receptacle. “Frack Free Denton” caused me to take a closer look at the oilfield practices I had accepted my entire life.

When I returned from Ghana, I spent months taking 2-gallon bucket showers because I was confronted by how much water I wasted every day at home. I became hyper-aware of the household waste I accumulated and began taking steps to reduce the bulk.

One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad in Austria was so that I could hike the alps.

Most of all, it may have taken five years, but this girl is now officially vegetarian. Yay for animal rights and saving the planet!

My environmental conscience is a huge part of who I am today. I consider this a huge personal growth achievement, and it’s one that I could never have expected.

At UNT, “we mean green”… and because I was here, now I will for the rest of my life. I have gained the power to literally make the world a better place, one tiny personal choice at a time.


2. Mental Health Awareness

While most people will say that their college years flew by, and that before they knew it they were out in the real world.

I am not most people. I feel like I have been in college for 20 years. 20 excruciatingly long years.

While many factors contributed to the difficulty of this time in my life, the most significant one may be the escalation, discovery, and attempted treatment of my mental health disorders.

Before coming to college, I had only begun to taste what profound exhaustion felt like. I didn’t yet know that my driven personality had a limit, and I had no idea what the consequences of being overworked would look like. I didn’t know what a night terror was, and I had never had cause to dread every night’s sleep.

I have since learned, and these are lessons that I have learned well.

I know now how it feels in my body and mind to be anxious. I know how to recognize the symptoms of the most severe anxiety, and I am aware of the warning signs that these moments may be coming. I didn’t have that knowledge before.

I know now how major depression manifests in my life. I know how to tell that a blobby day is coming, and I have learned that I need to forgive myself on those days. I have learned to remind myself that all emotions are only passing.

UNT may have created the perfect hell for me to work myself into the ground, feel completely isolated, and doubt everything I had ever known about myself– but this place also gave me my first two therapists, my very first coping skills, and dear friends that were experiencing some of the same things.

I know for a fact that my breaking down was coming regardless of where I ended up going to college. You can only ignore yourself for so long before things start falling to pieces in front of your eyes.

I am grateful for the experiences I have had in the past five years that have helped me survive.


3. Real Work Experiences

The overachiever in me wants you to know that I pursued these things OUTSIDE of what UNT provided, and that it was all due to my own hard work and determination that I got these positions. Sometimes, that voice needs to quiet down a little bit. Chill.

The truth of the matter is, being at UNT caused me to meet the people that gave me my first jobs. I would never have met them and had these work experiences if I were not here in Denton studying music.

I am forever grateful to the music director at my campus ministry who heard me sing one time and offered me my first church job on the spot.

That position led to a whole string of others, which included directing children’s choirs and youth choirs, assistant directing music ministry, leading worship, accompanying, and teaching private music lessons to students ages 4 to 73.

It’s actually pretty amazing to look at that list and realize how much I learned about teaching music while on the job– while actually teaching.

My music education classes at UNT were helpful in providing practical strategies. I learned how to lesson plan, how to program music, how to build an organization, and how to connect with classes across grade levels. But it was my church jobs that gave me a space to try these strategies for myself with real students.

These jobs also kept me in the church and surrounded me with the love and care of countless lovely Methodist adults. For that, I am most grateful.


4. Identity as a Professional Musician

Yes, I do consider myself a professional musician now.

I did not when I first auditioned at UNT– back then, music was something I felt very skilled at, but I was hesitant to give myself any identity with it. I didn’t know how I would “stack up” against the other millions of us out there.

However, five years of constant performances, millions of hours spent in practice rooms and lesson studios, and countless opportunities for musical growth have convinced me of my rightful place in the music world.

UNT has solidified in me the knowledge of music history, theory, listening, and performance that make me feel confident in my credentials as a musician.

Through participating in various ensembles, giving my own recital, and performing solo more times than I can begin to count, I have grown deeply familiar with my abilities and my struggles.

I have studied difficult repertoire, performed masterworks, observed great musicians, and learned from observing master music teachers.

I know now, walking into a music job, what I am qualified to do. And I have the knowledge that I am incredibly qualified. I have gained the skillset of a professional.

I am confident in my expert ability to rehearse, perform, study, and discuss music with others and on my own.

This is exactly what I hoped to gain from attending any music school. I am grateful.

me kpesu

5. Global Travel Experience

Goodness gracious, where to even start?

My first study abroad to Ghana could never have begun anywhere but here. Traveling in a small group with a practically-native professor gave me the experience of a lifetime that I can’t even attempt to repeat.

In Ghana I studied deeply complex concepts in music, culture, and art– all while gaining valuable experience being in a place drastically different from home.

Seeing that poster in the music building and deciding to go on the trip is still one of my proudest personal successes. My first thought was that “Mandi would NEVER do that.” And I responded with: “Fine. I’m DOING IT.”

Later, I was encouraged to take a semester to study abroad in Europe (somewhere). I chose Austria, and embarked on the experience of a lifetime.

I traveled to 8 different countries, experienced traveling alone, made lifelong friends, fell in love, and learned to trust myself.

This study abroad also brought me to begin my personal blog, which has been deeply helpful as an outlet for me ever since.

Back home, courses in anthropology helped me understand and interpret my experiences abroad and fueled my passion for cultural awareness, tolerance, and enlightenment through travel.

I sought out cultural events on campus and in the metroplex, read countless travel accounts and ethnographies, and eagerly got to know the stories of multicultural friends.

If I weren’t at UNT, I would not have had these life-changing experiences. I am so thankful.

In case you’re wondering (because so many people have already asked), no I will not miss UNT. I will not miss Denton. I will not miss this time in my life.

At least, right now I won’t. Ask me in a year (or five) and I might tell a different tale.

Yet, the fact that I can’t wait to leave and start a whole new adventure does not diminish the gratitude I feel for the memories, experiences, lessons, and people that have changed my life.

I knew in the beginning that I may not have wanted to be here but that I was meant to be here. Looking back, if these are the only fruits of that labor, I am satisfied.

I definitely wouldn’t do it again, but these things made it all worth it.

“Il ne faut pas touours tourner la page, il faut parfois changer de livre.” –Unknown