If we had asked Minnesota native Brenna Hughes four years ago about what sorts of skills she'd hoped to learn as a Blugold, she would likely have focused on her teaching skills, becoming a better mathematician, and maybe something to do with overcoming shyness to be more comfortable in front of a future classroom.
If we had told her that by graduation, she would have overcome her shyness and not just learned ballroom dance, but would have performed on and off campus for a wide range of events throughout the community over a few years, she would never have believed it.
"I'm a very shy person, and assumed I would get through my four years here and remain unnoticed. I joined Two to Tango, a dance club, and now I've done things I never imagined I would," Hughes said. "I've danced in front of huge crowds at the Viennese Ball and Gatsby's Gala, and was part of a flash mob in Davies Center. I've even trusted people to lift me overhead for aerials."
Hughes, who came to the club with zero prior dance experience, found the dancing hard to learn and a slow process at first, but she soon became more comfortable and confident enough to perform with the club.
"What I've told many people is that if I can do it, anyone can do it. It's something I will keep doing into the foreseeable future."
In addition to overcoming her own shy nature, joining this club and having the chance to perform publicly gave Hughes added benefits to her personal growth that she hadn't really expected, but is grateful for.
"Dancing with Two to Tango made me feel like I was really a representative of UW-Eau Claire, that when we were out at different community locations it was a way to show people the kind of hard work and dedication that Blugolds possess," Hughes said proudly.
As Hughes prepares to graduate on Dec. 22, she is glad to have the opportunity to pass along a bit of advice to incoming and prospective students when it comes to life outside the classroom.
"I would hope that new students who want to expand their student experience just start small if it doesn't come naturally — start with one event, with one person. But even going to one event or joining one club is a way to meet more people. College isn't just about studies — it's about finding what your long-term life interests might be," she said.
Hughes also would encourage new students to take advantage of Counseling Services on campus, a service she made use of several times over the years.
"They challenged me to step out of my comfort zone, and reminded me that the stress I was feeling was completely normal."
As she prepares to continue her teaching job search for the 2019-20 school year, Hughes takes with her confidence to continue to try new things and push herself to be brave. In fact, she might even take on a dream she's had since she was young, and join a community theater program.
"Thinking about it scares me," she admits, but life as a Blugold taught her that facing her fears will bring payback she never even imagined.
Image caption: Brenna Hughes and Benjamin Stickney at the 2017 Viennese Ball. Photo credit: Leader-Telegram