Q&A: Student focuses on emotional health

Freshman at Washington State tackles trials of being in college at conference

Photo submitted Washington State Community College student Sonja Wooge, center, presents a speech on the emotional health of college students at the Mid-East Honors Association conference in Columbus.

When Washington State Community College freshman Sonja Wooge found herself overwhelmed as she started the college phase of her life, she turned it into a class project, writing a speech about the importance of college students caring for their mental and emotional health.

The speech ended up going well outside the classroom walls, with Wooge asked to present at the Mid-East Honors Association annual conference, held in Columbus March 23-25. Wooge accepted the invitation and said she hoped she connected with others there who felt just as she did.

“I’m hoping with my degree to be able to go into a career where I can impact and help reach people,” she said. “This speech was a stepping stone towards that.”

Question: What was the original assignment that led you to this speech?

Answer: It was an assignment for the honors option program. Since Washington State doesn’t have that many honors classes, they offer this for students as a way to get an honors credit for other classes. It’s a large project you do that’s worth 20 percent of your grade. I did this for my speech class last fall. I went to my professor and said that I’d like to do a speech about the mental and emotional health of college students and it was approved.

Q: Why did that subject matter interest you?

A: I’m a freshman and last semester, starting my first year of college, I was commuting 45 minutes to an hour to Washington State, an hour back and then another 20 minutes to my workplace. On top of my job, which was 25 to 28 hours a week, I was a full-time student with five classes. I did three different honors projects. I was also teaching at my church as well. I found that because of my ambition and excitement I bit off more than I could chew. What I found was that I had overworked myself. I managed my job, I managed my commute, I managed my classes…I did manage everything I had put on my plate but I felt drained and overworked.

I believe that you should push yourself and I’m someone who works well under pressure however there’s such a thing as too much pressure.

Q: How did writing this speech help you?

A: Overworking myself inspired the project, and I was also inspired by other students who were also feeling the same way. The speech was a way for me to express how that made me feel and how it made others feel. I really wrote the speech as encouragement. I really wish I would have had someone to encourage me. I had support but I think that’s different than encouragement. I had to be my own encourager. I kept the mindset of “I can do this.” I just believed I could and that’s what got me through. I wanted other college students to have that mindset and to remind students that they’re worth something as a person. They’re worth more than an education or a job. Those things are important but it’s also important to take care of yourself. If it’s too much, you can let go of some things.

I was completely drowning in my workload. I’m proud that I got it done but had I not done so much, I could have done better with what I did. I could have put all my energy into one honors project, instead of three, and come out with something really incredible. You don’t have to take on the world all at once.

Q: How did your presentation at the conference come about?

A: Basically, the conference is where a lot of honors students go to present their work and talk about it and socialize with others. One of my teachers said she thought this would be something really cool to present and that people would respond. With some encouragement, I took a leap of faith and gave it a try.

Q: What was your experience like at the conference? How many people did you present to and were they students, professors, or a mix?

A: It was an amazing experience. It was about 40 to 50 people and a good mix of students, professors and instructors. The experience was super unique and super amazing. I was nervous to present but it wasn’t a competition–it was just me showing my work so there was no pressure in that way. I was very nervous at first but my professors told me that I presented myself very well. I had a lot of questions at the end and I took that to mean it was relatable and hit home with people. I was glad to see it was something that resonated.

Q: What do you think is the main message of your speech?

A: It is important to work hard, important to have goals, to work toward the future and challenge yourself but it’s also important to take a step back and let yourself breathe. You are doing something just as an existing human being. You are worth something. It’s OK to say you can’t handle something right now. It’s crucial for college students to acknowledge their mental and emotional health. With the rise in society of kids having depression or anxiety, it’s super important that we start acknowledging that it’s OK to be concerned about your mental and emotional health . It’s OK to talk to people and it’s OK to reach out for help. If you have five classes and drop it to four, there shouldn’t be judgment. If you take some off your workload, it doesn’t make you a failure.

Q: Do you think you’ve found that balance and that you’re in a better place now?

A: I would definitely say so. This semester I’m doing one honors project and taking four classes and that’s helped a lot. I’ve taken a little of the workload off, with still enough pressure to keep me going. If you have no worries at all, there’s no reason to work hard. It has to be the right amount.

Kate York conducted this interview.