After graduating from St. Stephen’s in 2016, Elizabeth Sturley matriculated to Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., where she played on the Division III women’s field hockey team.
Briefly describe what it was like to transition to the life of a college athlete.
I had a pretty smooth transition to the life of a college athlete, because, until that time, I had never had an off-season. During my time in middle school and high school, I played field hockey and soccer, and I ran track, so I was used to the schedule of classes to practice to homework time. It definitely takes up more time in college, even at the Division III level, but it is similar in nature to what I had had at St. Stephen's, including the immense amount of travel time.
What has been the most rewarding part about competing collegiately?
I truly love the sport and reveled daily in the opportunity to continue playing at an even higher level. The benefits of being on a team are much more pronounced in college than in high school, I felt. I have a few favorite wins over competitive teams and seeing our name in the rankings was always special, but I loved the day-in and day-out rituals and traditions, the fall foliage tour we got of New England while traveling, and the sunsets over our home field!
What has been the most challenging or the most surprising part about competing collegiately?
I think this depends a lot on where you go. I think most people who want to compete at a collegiate level are used to being one of the best at St. Stephen's, a big fish in a smaller pond. In college, everyone who is playing was most likely one of the best at their respective schools. So, depending on where you go, not everyone is going to get minutes and most people aren't the stars anymore. I, thankfully, was not surprised by this, because I walked onto one of the best Division III teams in the country, so I knew going in that I was going to need to work twice as hard to be half as good as most people. I know a lot of my teammates were hurt by this realization though, and it certainly did mentally get to me sometimes.
What’s one thing you learned at St. Stephen’s that brought you comfort, allowed you success, helped you adjust, or changed your perspective of college?
I learned so much about time management skills and how to balance a million things at the same time. I learned the importance of involvement in a variety of activities and the benefits of being on teams.
What advice would you give high school students who want to pursue their sport at the collegiate level?
I think the most important thing is to not have all of your eggs in one basket. Make sure you love the school itself, not just the chance to pursue your sport. Sports are unpredictable, so you want to make sure you're in an environment you would be happy in even without playing. On that note, when you get to your new school, expand your horizons. Your team will be there and is an incredible support network and family and social group. But it has been so beyond worth my while to make incredible friendships outside of my team and outside of the athlete sphere and bubble. I didn't go through the recruiting process, so I can't offer a ton of advice there, but I will say that playing college sports is super rewarding and worthwhile, but if you are not passionate beyond belief, dedicated and invested already, you cannot force that, and it won't be as fulfilling an experience to pursue that path. At the end of the day, most of us are going to go on to careers with our brains and what we learn in school, not our sports, so keep that in mind when deciding how to spend your time and effort. I wholeheartedly support athletics and acknowledge how much they can shape people and how much student-athletes learn from them, but again, they are unpredictable and challenging, and there are always many options to continue staying active and being a part of a group.
Have you declared a major? If so, what are you studying?
I created my own interdisciplinary major called Justice and Human Rights (a mixture of legal studies, history and race studies) with a focus in political science and international relations.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I spent a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, studying justice and human rights and had some incredible chances to travel across the continent and learn from sites and through different perspectives! I spent my summers working for some really cool nonprofits, including a workers' and immigration rights advocacy law firm, a genocide and atrocity prevention organization in Washington, D.C., and the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. I am currently writing an interdisciplinary thesis about the rhetoric of genocide and atrocities in my self-created major under one of the world's leading experts in the field.
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth won the People’s Choice Award in the 2020 Three-Minute Thesis Competition from among more than 600 institutions participating in more than 80 countries. Her thesis is titled "An Atrocity by Any Other Name: Uses and Misuses of the Term 'Genocide.'"
Photos courtesy of Clarus Studios Inc.