Samuel, a freshman in Gies College of Business and a triple jumper on Illinois Track and Field, is one of the first recipients of Illinois Commitment. We sat down to talk about what the scholarship means to him, how his first semester at Illinois is going, and the advice he has for future Illini.
Why did you apply to Illinois?
“I applied initially because my brother went here. He just graduated last year. I knew it was a great school, but it was never really on my radar because I was trying to apply for other schools, really trying to go out of state. But one of my counselors at my high school, she really pushed state schools. And this one just so happened to have the best opportunities where I could enjoy my sport and enjoy the best business program around.”
How did you feel when you found out you received Illinois Commitment?
“When I got Illinois Commitment, I was ecstatic. … I was like, ‘You know, I’m going to go to school for free, so that’s decent!’ Yeah, I was really excited—me, the whole family, we’re really excited that I’ll be going to school and I won’t have any debt to pay when I’m done.”
What opportunities has Illinois Commitment opened up for you?
“I’ve been exposed to way more opportunities than if I didn’t come to the University of Illinois through Illinois Commitment. Like classes, the people I’ve met, the organizations that I’ve joined—just the overall experience. I’ve done a lot of growing up in the time I’ve been here. I’ve been here for two months, and I feel like I’ve been here way longer than I’ve actually been here.”
How has the rest of your Illinois experience been so far?
“I went to a decent-sized high school, but it’s way different. Like the amount of people that are here, the different kinds of people that are here. The classes are much more rigorous than high school, to say the least.
“I try to look at it through a lens of not learning what’s in the books but learning more about yourself, more about other people around you, more about the world. Not every class you take is going to be for your major; it’s just learning more about yourself, really trying to become a better person. I feel like Illinois does a great job of that.”
You’re also on the track and field team here. What do you compete in?
“Oh, I’m a horizontal jumper—so I’m a triple jumper. I did that in high school for three years, and then I came here to do it.”
How do you balance track with school?
“That’s a great question. Because there’s much more to being at the university than just track and school. There’s school, then there’s track—like, there’s practice twice a day. Then there’s trying to be involved in other organizations, trying to get your homework done, trying to actually get good grades because you can’t just come here for no reason. You’re a student athlete, but the main reason you’re here is because of the student part.
“Balancing it is definitely hard. … You get a lot of nights where a lot of people would think the best option is to not sleep just to get your work done. That’s actually not true. I’ve gone the route of ‘If you’re tired, go to sleep,’ because you’re not going to do your best work when you’re tired. I’ve learned that doing my work right after morning lifts is the best idea for me because I’m up, awake. But you have to find something that works for your schedule, and everyone’s different.”
What else do you think high school students should know about college life?
“Most of the stuff you don’t really learn just by going on the admissions website, I guess. … It really is a learning experience, just learning as you go. That’s what college is like. People are going to come to college like, ‘Oh yeah, gotta learn what’s in these textbooks.’ But I definitely want to advocate that you’re going to learn more in the world than you are in the books. The school is the doorway—it’s a basic framework of what you really want to know in life. … But the people you are going to meet are going to be more important than what you actually learn in the books.”
What advice would you give to high school students considering Illinois?
“If you’re considering applying, I say definitely do it. Go for it. This school is great. I know a lot of people who don’t go to this school who wish they went to this school, so definitely put it at the top of your list.”
What advice do you have for those students who decide to attend Illinois?
“Just be true to who you are. Don’t try to be something you’re not. If you come to the University of Illinois and you’ve never done certain things in your life before and people around you are doing certain things, you don’t have to do those things just to fit in. … You don’t have to acclimate to other people.
“When there are so many people here at the University of Illinois, you don’t have to change yourself. Just be yourself.”