Everyone knows the stereotypical college graduate backpacking across Europe. Andy Stoll had the same idea when he graduated the University of Iowa, but took it to an extreme by visiting 40 countries in the four years after he graduated. His experiences abroad, as well as what lead him to take that journey, were the subject of his lecture Monday night.
“My message tonight…I’m not here to say ‘think outside the box,’” Stoll said. “My message is that maybe there is no box.”
Stoll pulled up a slide showing a line connecting dots reading “learning to drive, getting married” and “buy a bigger house.” He explained that this is the way that people are told life is supposed to be, but explained that that path doesn’t really exist.
“This line represents how life works,” Stoll said. “Tonight, what I want to convince you of is that this line doesn’t exist…That line isn’t really there.”
Emphasizing that he wasn’t qualified to tell people how to live their lives, Stoll instead explained that he would tell four stories from his life that lead him to where he is today. The first story dealt with a high-school aged Stoll running for student council as a joke.
“My theory was that if someone made a funny political ad, they’d win…I had a really dumb idea. I was going to run for student council as a joke,” Stoll said. “If there was ever a time that I could buy popularity, it was that moment. It cost $1 per poster at Kinko’s.”
Even though he ran as a joke, Stoll was elected to a position on his student council. From there, he launched into his second story, about how he was unable to afford college at the University of Southern California and instead attended the University of Iowa.
“My dad looked at me. He said, ‘I know this is your dream….but even with the grants and the financial aid, we can’t afford to send you there,’” Stoll said, recalling the conversation with his parents about where he would go to college. “I was pissed.”
After arriving at the University of Iowa, Stoll recounted how he ran for a position in student government in order to “meet girls.” From there, Stoll became the vice president of his student body only six months into his freshman year, and president of the entire student body within the first 16 months.
“Fake it ‘til you make it,” Stoll advised. “The thing that I’ve come to learn is that when you start anything in your life, you don’t know all the things you need to know.”
Graduation brought a new set of challenges for Stoll, namely that his ambitions exceeded his knowledge of the world.
“My problem was that I wanted to change the world, but I had no idea how it worked,” Stoll said.
From there, he made the decision to travel the world. Stoll presented a short video that explained his travels around the world, including working in a Hong Kong cupcake factory, working in a Thai dress making factory, living in a Buddhist temple in South Korea and participating in cataract surgery in Fiji.
“We’re all much more similar than we’re lead to believe,” Stoll said, summarizing his experiences. “The differences are what make us interesting.”
Stoll emphasized that while his story might seem special, he’s just a normal person. Anyone in the audience, he said, could do what he did, and everyone had the power to deviate from what they thought their plan would entail. In fact, he concluded, life will almost certainly take you down a different path than you expected.
“I’m just a guy. I’m nobody special. There’s nothing that I have that you don’t,” Stoll said. “The one thing that I have that you might have is when I was 23 years old, a voice in my head said to travel around the world, and I listened to it.”
Edward Pankowski is the life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.