The strut through college

Recent grad Festberg found hope at UB

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The Spectrum

For two years, Sara Festberg battled depression and anxiety. She enrolled at Penn State University for her freshman year at college.

After a few months, Festberg realized her state was disabling her from receiving the education she needed. She immediately transferred home in the midst of her spring semester and studied at Nassau Community College. She knew eventually she would have to transfer to a school that challenged her more educationally. She did not, however, know if she would be strong enough to do so.

After experiencing life at three different colleges, Festberg, UB alumna with a degree in health and human services, finally found herself walking across a graduation stage on May 12.

She shook President Satish Tripathi's hand, and with a grin on her face, strutted away from Alumni Arena ready to take on life after college. Festberg didn't believe it was possible to find a school she would truly love, but UB proved otherwise.

"I chose to go to Buffalo because I was a transfer student and I wanted to go somewhere where I knew a few people already," Festberg said. "I wanted somewhere I would be comfortable transitioning in. When I was living at home after Penn State, I visited an old friend at Buffalo and fell in love with the nightlife and the people. After the visit, I realized what I was missing out on by living at home: a college experience."

Festberg is from Long Island and many high school graduates from her town attended UB. Having previous knowledge about the school through them, she felt UB would be a good place for her to continue to grow, she said.

Penn State was an expensive investment for Festberg's family. Upon realizing the experience she received there was not worth the cost of the school, Festberg decided it was important to focus on finding an affordable education. The price of attending UB was perfect, she said.

Many incoming freshmen and transfer students choose UB due to the price.

According to admissions.buffalo.edu, Kiplinger's Personal Finance ranked UB No. 33 in the nation in its 100 Best Values in Public Colleges for 2013 list, and U.S. News & World Report named UB 19th nationwide for graduating students with the least amount of debt. The report states more than half of UB students finish their undergraduate degree completely debt-free.

This year, the university awarded more than $4 million in merit-based scholarships to incoming freshmen, according to admissions.buffalo.edu.

Even after visiting the school, falling in love with the culture at UB and finding an affordable way to receive an education, Festberg was hesitant about what her third college transition would bring.

She felt significantly more confident in herself and her abilities, however, after a year at home. She suggests that any student who is feeling angst and depression should take time to him or herself before engulfing in a new unfamiliar environment. Her time at home gave her the ability to mentally and emotionally prepare.

"I was nervous to transfer [to UB], but I was confident in my decision to go away to school," Festberg said. "I was no longer depressed and decided I needed to grow up and learn to be away from my comfort zone and my mom."

Festberg's close relationships with her mom and sister kept her comfortable and sane at home for the one-year gap between Penn State and UB. She was pleasantly surprised to form such similar close relationships with her peers at UB.

"I can sum up my experience at UB in one word: incredible," Festberg said. "I couldn't have asked for a better college experience, which I was fortunate enough to have for two and a half years. I joined a sorority, where I met my best friends in the entire world; I know that sounds corny and typical, but it's true."

On top of learning the value and strength of what friendship can do to a person, Festberg obtained the education that she was denied of at Penn State and Nassau. She said she loved her major, health and human services, and was given extraordinary hands-on experience in her classes.

Upon enrolling in a variety of health and human services courses, such as SSC 413 - addictions treatment, and SOC 206 - social problems, Festberg discovered what she wanted to do with her future: she wanted to help others who faced intense difficulties and struggles, which she encountered in her past. The knowledge she gained from her professors, along with her past anxieties and depression, enabled her to learn about herself. She discovered her passions and desires, whilst evolving into a college student with solid friends, a high-quality education and a level of maturity she did not know she would reach, she said.

"I'm so lucky to have found such good people in my life and none of that would have happened if I didn't go to Buffalo," Festberg said.

On one of Festberg's last nights at UB, a good friend of hers - Larry - passed away.

"Unfortunately, a fresh memory I have looking back at school is the death of my good friend," Festberg said. "Larry committed suicide the Wednesday before I graduated. I still get choked up when I think and talk about it. I miss him so much and I'll never really understand why."

Festberg urges any student who feels depressed, anxious or uneasy in any way to seek help immediately. It's crucial for college students to take care of themselves, especially when they are away from their families, she said.

Though Larry's death was not a positive ending or memory to her college experience, Festberg now feels an even stronger desire to help those around her.

UB offers a variety of counseling to its students for free.

Sherri Darrow, director at Wellness Education Services, said most students do a good job of balancing school, work and relationships.

The students who are not well, though, are encouraged to get help and utilize the services available.

According to Darrow, if students are having difficulties coping with high levels of anxiety, they should make an appointment with UB's Counseling Services. The therapists are trained and they work exclusively with college students and can support student needs using one-on-one and group counseling.

"There are students who have a diagnosis of anxiety or depression before they come to college, and they may or may not have experiences with therapy and/or medication," Darrow said. "By scheduling an appointment with Counseling Services sooner rather than later, a student can establish support early in their careers."

Upon dealing with her anxiety and depression and overcoming her stresses, Festberg was able to receive the positive college experience she always hoped for. She encourages transfer students and incoming freshmen to take chances.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; do not take it for granted," Festberg said. "If you are unhappy in a situation, do your best to change it and remove yourself from it. Figure out who you are and who you want to be. Be spontaneous and always remember mistakes happen and life goes on."

With the memory of Larry, the internal battles against herself and the knowledge she gained within the UB lecture halls in the back of her mind, and her friends and family by her side, Festberg is prepared for her future, she said.

Diploma in hand, dressed in her blue cap and gown, Festberg strutted off the stage and away from UB, ready to embrace whatever is next in life.

Email: features@ubspectrum.com