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Jean-Pierre Villamar '19 Reflects and Says, "Thank you, Lehigh."

It’s August of 2015, and it’s raining heavily. I’m sitting in the back of my parents’ car listening to some nostalgic music, and I realize that my college career is about to begin. My parents helped me fill the car to the brim with clothes, posters, essentials, and everything in between. I was scared, nervous, excited, and confused as to where the previous 18 years of my life had gone. So suddenly, I was in a new setting with different people, newly discovered traditions, and higher expectations. As hopeful as I was, I never imagined the places that Lehigh would allow me to go, both literally and metaphorically.  

Coming into any institution as an undecided major is terrifying. Coming into a place where everyone seemed like they knew what their plan was for the next 40 years was something else. I tossed and turned throughout my first few months at Lehigh trying to figure out what it was exactly that I wanted to learn. What I wanted to achieve. What I wanted to be. Although I did not declare my major as international relations until my sophomore year, my first year at Lehigh taught me so much. I learned more about myself as a person than any textbook could teach about the political theories of the international system, or the principles of economics. I learned that I could be an independent person and try new things at a place like Lehigh. This was the realization that laid the foundation for the rest of my college career.  

I would not be at such a prestigious university without the generosity of others. It is amazing that there are alumni who care enough to create scholarships for students to have access to a Lehigh education. I would like to specifically thank Cynthia ’79 and David Jenkins ’79 whose scholarship supported my efforts and endeavors at Lehigh, and for that, I am ever grateful. I hope to someday give back, myself, and support student endeavors, academically and internationally. Help from alumni really drives the ability for students like myself to unlock our potential and excel at a first-class institution.   

My opportunities at Lehigh have been outstanding. Joining the Marching 97 was an important decision I made for myself during the second week of classes one afternoon at the club fair. Although I missed the band camp where members learn the drills and are acclimated to “the finest band east of all points west,” I wanted to fully immerse myself in the spirit of Lehigh. What better way to do so than to join that rowdy bunch of musicians who live by the phrase PSYCHE! I sweated, ached, laughed, danced, sang, marched, and lived what it meant to be the heart and soul of Lehigh during my three years with the 97. I never thought that it would be so rewarding. Two especially memorable moments include the 2016 LeLaf game where we marched onto the field overtaking the Lafayette pep band (who were purposefully staying on the field!) and marked our territory as the superior band and marching down the streets of London for the 2018 London New Year’s Day Parade. It was truly a thrilling moment that was filled with excitement and pride as we played Lehigh’s fight song to all of Europe and the world.  

Yet another unexpected journey awaited me during the summer of my junior year. I was thrilled to learn of my acceptance into the Iacocca International Internship program. I was placed in the country of Montenegro where I spent the best eight weeks of my life living in a foreign country interning at the American Corner in Podgorica, Montenegro, a part of American Councils for International Education. I helped by immersing locals into the American culture and education system. Some of my responsibilities included teaching basic English, helping with SAT prep, and traveling around the city on various volunteer projects.  

During the course of the summer, I couldn’t help but think back to my nervous 18-year-old self who didn’t have a clue what was in store for him. How blessed I was to spend the Fourth of July at the American Embassy or zipline across the deepest canyon in Europe. I was able to develop meaningful connections with people whose lives had little in common with mine as an American student, but that was the most rewarding part. Because of the generosity of an alumnus like Lee Iacocca ’45 and others, I was able to understand the world from a different lens and perspective.  During my senior year at Lehigh, I had an incredible opportunity to be a member of the committee made up of faculty and two students who interviewed candidates for the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. I was the undergraduate representative, and there was a graduate student representative. This opportunity gave me a new perspective on the type of leadership that Lehigh would like to bring in for the future. Being selected to the committee was an honor because I developed relationships with faculty and helped make a decision that will affect Lehigh in the near future.  

All of these experiences really helped me grow as a person. I was able to further develop my verbal and written communications skills while working two jobs that furthered the mission of the university. Working at the admissions office as an admissions fellow, I was able to interact with the next generation of Lehigh undergraduates by interviewing prospective students. It really put me back in the time when I was looking ahead to a college experience that awaited me. 

Working in the office of development and alumni relations as an editorial assistant has allowed me to learn about the incredible alumni network that Lehigh possesses and how a gift to the university can impact the student experience. It’s been awesome to see the past and the future in these two positions while living in the present where I am laying the foundation for the rest of my life. I now understand the perspective of the students who are being helped with the generous awards, as well as the amazing alumni who donate. Both of these experiences allowed me to realize how much I should cherish the last few months I have left as a student.   

My main objective with this reflection of my experiences and favorite memories at Lehigh is to say, “Thank you.” Thank you to the institution that allowed me to be who I have become. I am confident that when I walk across the stage on May 20, 2019, I will be proud of the decision I made to attend the greatest university in the world. I want to thank all the alumni and pioneers that paved the path for that nervous 18-year-old to emerge into the world as a confident 22-year-old. Also, I’m glad to say that during my four years at Lehigh, we have won all of The Rivalry games! 4-0! 

Jean-Pierre Villamar '19