Some people shy away from hard things. Breanna Joyner turns them into opportunities for learning and growth.

Quiet and reserved in high school, Breanna recognized how difficult engaging with people was for her. So she made herself do connect with people in college, even though the pandemic during her freshman year at CBU gave her an excuse to hide away – every introvert’s comfort zone. Aware of the isolation, she signed up to serve as an Orientation Guide. And then as a Resident’s Assistant (RA). And then as a Peer Mentor. With every new endeavor, she learned a little more how to open up and how to connect to others.

Her friends noticed a change. “What happened to you? We used to have to get you out of your shell, but now you do that for us,” they said. She smiles and acknowledges that she hasn’t changed as much as just grew into who she had always been and learned how to express that. Breanna isn’t looking for popularity. In fact, “I don’t necessarily want to be well known,” she explains, “but to touch people’s hearts.” 

You have to do what you love.

Perhaps that’s part of why as a freshman chemical engineering major, she struggled – the classes challenged her, not just in their rigor but also in their content: “I failed. I just wasn’t interested in it,” she says. “I tried it because it was important to my family, but you have to do what you love. I just needed to be in a major I loved.” Now she is studying English and Mandarin Chinese in the hopes of first going to China to teach English and then coming back to the States, bringing her experiences into American classrooms. She has found in literature a way to discover people, a way to empathize, to practice in the pages the kind of connection she hopes for in real life.

It really is here at CBU, that quality so many people covet: inclusive acceptance. When Breanna took New Testament with Dr. Wallace, she met two of her best friends – and she found a surprising open-mindedness. She describes herself as “not very religious,” but because “professors never push their beliefs and everyone comes from a different belief, it expanded my understanding of other people.” It inspired her to test other waters.

I never thought I’d like being busy.

That’s why she’s learning about people in as many spaces as possible. Not only as an RA and Orientation Guide and Peer Mentor, she also works in Plough Library and at the Refugee Empowerment Program and in the Admissions Office as a President’s Ambassador. Still she looks for other opportunities. “My freshman year, I had all these pockets of downtime, and I just needed to fill them. But now I’m so busy. I went to the Financial Aid office the other day to turn in a checklist for another job, and Ms. Peggy said, ‘Bre, how many jobs to you have?’ ‘Too many to list,’ I told her.” She lets out a quiet laugh, one that whispers surprise. “I never thought I’d like being busy, but now I’m not happy when I’m not busy.”

It’s not as if she isn’t studying. She is. “I have had challenging classes. I chose English as a major because it’s one of the hardest things for me,” she explains. “Dr. Gross has pushed me to think of things I hadn’t thought of and how to put them into words.” Because doing something you love makes the effort worthwhile, her confidence as a writer is growing. Acknowledging that her favorite professor is “really hard,” she recalls finally making a 93% on a paper for him and nearly crying tears of joy. And she made the Dean’s List in the spring.

This accomplished leader and blossoming English student has more talents up her sleeve, though. Maybe that’s part of why she fits so well at CBU. “I don’t know who wouldn’t want to come here. CBU students are welcoming, super nice, and smart – but not just in one specific way:  we have students from a lot of places who can do a hundred different things. This summer, I saved up money, bought the components, and built a computer” because her friends are into gaming and she wanted a better platform in order to play with them. The Computer Science department probably wishes she hadn’t chosen English as her major.

We are defined by our choices, choices like what we study, what we learn, how we react to hard things of life. Recognizing the challenge of self-definition, Breanna says, “You’re going to fail, but your value doesn’t come from failure. It comes in what you do with that failure.” Maybe that’s why she calls her biggest accomplishment “proving myself wrong.”

“I didn’t think I could do all these things,” she says. “It’s a victory.”

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