Alum tells new students: Walk through open doors

Melissa Harrison, ’02, walked through the doors of her Sweet Alma Home on Thursday to inspire new students and help the campus community launch the 2021-22 academic year.

With 15 years of experience in state and federal government, politics and media, Melissa drew on her experience as Senior Vice President at Ogilvy, a global advertising, marketing and PR firm in Washington, D.C., to encourage students to take advantage of opportunities that open doors at Heidelberg will provide.

“Today you walked through the same doors I and countless other alumni have stepped through,” she said. “That’s the thing about open doors. No one can make you cross the threshold. Ultimately, only you can choose to take the initiative to see what’s on the other side.”

She told the students they already walked through one important door – to higher education at Heidelberg. 

As a first-generation college student – like many of Heidelberg’s currently enrolled students – Melissa looks back to realize the “countless doors to the world” that were opened for her at the Berg … doors to academic pursuits, collegiate athletics, lifelong friendships, even the “love/hate relationship you will have with your professors until one day you realize they only have your best interest at heart.”

And there were more. “Heidelberg also opened doors to a television studio, radio show, study abroad and campus ministry. Doors into new ways of thinking, problem-solving and a path toward being a more well-rounded global citizens,” she said. “And it will do the same for you.”

Students will meet people with similar backgrounds and also those very different. “This is a microcosm of the real world,” Melissa said. “Learning how to adapt over the next four years will prepare you for whatever is next.” 

If you look at each experience as an opportunity to grow and learn, you’ll “break through your existing bubble so you can lead a life of purpose with distinction.”

A professor’s gentle nudge

Speaking of bursting bubbles, Melissa encountered a major one when, during her undergrad years, she landed in London to study at Oxford. When she arrived, she was convinced she had made a huge mistake and nearly let fear get in the way of a life-changing experience. She called her parents and insisted on coming home. Her dad suggested otherwise and a gentle nudge from political science Professor Dr. Marc O’Reilly was the reinforcement she needed.

“The gentle push that Dr. O’Reilly gave me that day changed my life,” Melissa said. “I stayed in England, studied at Oxford, traveled throughout Europe and gained the confidence to keep searching for open doors.”

She told students they may experience that same fear. “But don’t let fear stop you from experiencing all that this great institution will offer you over the next four years. Embrace it. Harness it. Laugh in its face as you walk right by it.”

As she discovered, “the world isn’t nearly as big as it may feel.”

“Think of Heidelberg as your T-Bridge to the World, connecting you to those who traveled this path before you and those who will come after.”

Never alone

She assured students that they are not alone, instead surrounded by alumni around the globe who got their start at Heidelberg too. 

“Our traditions make Heidelberg special,” she concluded. “And Heidelberg has a tradition of believing in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.

“When Heidelberg opens the door, walk through it. It may just change your life forever.”

Maintaining her involvement

Since her graduation, Melissa has remained active in the life of Heidelberg. Currently, she’s serving as the vice president of the Alumni Council, where she has been working with fellow Council members and the HYPE team to develop and launch Berg Buddies. Berg Buddies is a program that connects students to alumni mentors who will be career network advisors for them. In 2018, she was the recipient of the Young Alumni Achievement Award.

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