“People are scared of failure, but to me failure is my best friend. It’s one of the things I enjoy most because it allows me to take a step back and say, ‘Is this the right direction or what lesson can I take from this to make the next chapter even stronger?’” Hayet Rida ’11 says her experiences at Wooster led her to the idea that, “True failure is quitting. Everything else is just research.” That perspective has been a big part of her journey to success.
Rida came to Wooster as an international student from Ghana and struggled to find a major that was the right fit for her. She became highly involved on campus serving as president of the International Student Association, the African Student Union, and part of the orientation committee, but her GPA had her on academic probation. “There are other ways to flex your muscles at Wooster,” she says. As a leader outside the classroom, she developed relationships with faculty and deans who knew her work ethic. “Everybody at Wooster wants you to succeed. I built relationships with professors, so they could get to know me as a person, and they didn’t write me off as a bad student. I’m still in contact with those professors today.”
Finding the right major through an upperclassman who helped her to get into a photography class, Rida made a connection with Associate Professor of Art Bridget Milligan who encouraged her as she developed a unique and challenging Independent Study. A documentary filmmaker who spoke on campus inspired her to study the idea of beauty in her home country through returning there and teaching women about photography. “Professor Milligan didn’t question if I could do it,” said Rida, “She asked how I would do it.” Though denied Copeland Funding, Rida used her relationships on campus to find support for her project. “You have to be able to fight for what you want so people can recognize your fight and align you with the coaching you need to keep fighting,” she explained.
As a double major in art and communication studies, another key coach for Rida was Professor Ahmet Atay, now chair of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. He suggested she use a method called autoethnography where the writer or researcher uses self-reflection and writing to analyze personal and cultural experiences. “He gave me examples to look at so I could write in that voice,” she said, explaining that her I.S. was a diary of her travels and experiences in Ghana. Above she’s pictured with many of the women from Ghana who were part her I.S. She found the autoethnography method to be a perfect fit for her experience, later earning honors on the project. She still remembers reading the letter from Milligan about the award, “She wrote ‘One day I will tell people that I knew you.’ Every time I have some measure of success, I remember exactly what she said.” Rida credits Milligan and Atay with giving her the support she needed to succeed after Wooster, developing a perseverance that keeps her from giving up. “My success at Wooster came as a combination of my failures, not as the end goal of success,” she said. “What I did with those failures and how I strung them together was my success story.”
After developing her skills as a writer, Rida continues to assert her influence through an award-winning body-positive blog, covering popular topics like beauty, body confidence, décor, fashion, and travel. She also works as a senior strategist for FCB, a major advertising firm in Chicago with clients including Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Kmart. Rida studies human behavior and uses what she learns to influence consumers. Before taking her current position, she applied for 100 jobs, and before that she applied to 97 positions before finding the right job after she graduated from Wooster. “Failure becomes part of the lubricant of success,” she says. “I.S. helped me to hone my skill of starting things and seeing them through. It shows that if you fail you should look at it as direction, not a destination,” a message Rida hopes current students take away when they hear her story. “I want them to understand that failure is not the end. My success wasn’t the things that went right; it was the things that went wrong and how I found ways around them.”