Sept. 11, 2009
BERKELEY, CALIF. - By Louis Vayo '08
Louis Vayo, a member of the Cal men's swimming team from 2005-08, was recently awarded an Oscar Geballe Postgraduate Scholarship. During his years with the Golden Bears, the Placentia, Calif., product earned first-team Pac-10 All-Academic honors twice. As a senior in 2008, he posted Cal's fastest time in the 400 individual medley, as well as the second-fastest marks in the 200 freestyle and 200 IM. Vayo earned his bachelor's degree in environmental economics and policy in '08 and is planning to join the Peace Corps before enrolling in graduate school.
The following essay, written by Vayo to the Geballe Scholarship selection committee, provides first-person insight into his academic and athletic careers at Cal, in addition to his career plans.
I want to share with you a short story about my endeavors at Cal.
It begins like this:
"Son, are you sure you want to go to Cal?" said my mother, almost pleadingly. It was unlike her to discourage me, but she had not taken well to my fascination with Cal, when USC was so conveniently close and had offered me a full ride for swimming.
My father chimed in, "You know, it is very difficult academically."
My parents were right. I didn't give them much opportunity to have faith in me academically. I struggled in high school, especially with the rigors of swim training that wore on me daily, and my unweighted GPA of 3.0 was solid proof. Nevertheless, I was enthralled with Cal and no amount of resistance would sway my decision.
My first semester was brutal. We had double practices every single day except Sunday, and it didn't take me long to fall behind academically. I had been recruited to swim for Cal, so in my mind I had placed swimming as the greatest importance. Midday naps would take the place of attending classes, and my schoolwork would be done hastily, under the delirium of constant exhaustion. Perhaps the only academic motivation for me during that freshman year was to achieve above a 3.0 GPA, so I wouldn't have to attend three mandatory hours of "study" at the ASUC per week, and I barely made it.
I had a moderate amount of success that year in swimming, scoring among the top quarter of the team at Pac-10s and qualifying for NCAAs. My freshman year turned out to be a crash course in time and life management, and despite the rocky start, I learned enough to begin managing my athletics, academics and extracurricular activities with more success.
I decided to major in economics after taking Econ 1 with the inspirational Professor Martha Olney. I had no idea what I would want to do with an economics degree, and my choice was more out of time pressure than anything else. The subject matter for economics was fairly intuitive for me, though I wasn't particularly passionate about it.
It was then I discovered the environmental economics and policy major, and more or less fell in love. This major began to broaden my understanding of the world and really challenge my all-too-comfortable lifestyle in the higher part of the socio-economic ladder in the wealthiest country in the world. Issues like poverty and the impotence for development in third world countries, the negative impacts of climate change, and environmental sustainability policies are among the many captivating and significant topics that I have taken away from my undergraduate years at Cal.
Perhaps it was just maturity that comes with age or the leadership roles on the swim team that I had inherited as co-captain, but my interest in academics had taken a direct 180-degree turn from when I was coming in as a freshman. I finished with a 3.62 overall GPA, with roughly a 3.74 GPA in my upper division classes in EEP.
My academic performance had not outpaced my swimming achievements, though. I qualified for NCAAs all four years and achieved both All-America and All-America honorable mention status. I placed myself in the record books under Cal's all-time Top 10 lists in three individual events, as well as a school-record-breaking relay. The awards I am most proud of are the Academic All-American honors in my junior and senior year, and the multiple Pac-10 first- and second-team academic awards. These I never thought possible.
Though academics and athletics at Cal consumed a vast amount of my time and energy, they were not the only endeavors I have been involved in. I became involved both with Athletes in Action and my church to outreach to the community. On top of convalescent home visits, homeless outreaches and opportunities to build with Habitat for Humanity, I was able to help tutor students at Willard Middle School in my final semester as a student-athlete for a couple hours weekly.
As hesitant as I am to list the different volunteer activities I have been involved with (as it seems to lessen the purpose of it for me), these activities have taught me so many essential lessons not only about the great need all around me, but they help me discover my strengths and passions.
One of the most popular questions for people at my stage in life is: "What next?" My honest answer to this question is: "I don't exactly know." This answer for me is not the result of a lack of interest or desire for everything out there. On the contrary, it is the copious number of pursuits that I find challenging.
Each summer when I go back home, I tell my mother about a new lifelong profession that had recently inspired me. Among some of them: a nutritionist, a personal trainer, a waiter at one of those fancy restaurants that knows all the different wines, a professional tennis player, a professor, a coach, a chef (Chef Louie has a nice ring to it).
I know most of these are silly, and I often suggest them to my mother to prod out some type of amusing reaction from her. Realistically, though, I find myself interested in a variety of things in a variety of different fields. Energy sustainability is of great interest to me, and the field is likely to grow and develop especially as fossil fuel prices are fluctuating and causing adverse consequences on all economies across the world.
Another passion I have is for childhood obesity, in our country as well as throughout the world. Being an athlete since I was five years old, I have grown to love exercise and being physically capable and healthy. If this is the route I choose, a public health degree would follow suit.
A third route might be a professor of economics, perhaps at a college or university. I value education extensively, and I would find teaching an edifying endeavor. Pursuing a doctorate in the field of economics (or whichever field I find most compelling and compatible with my education at Cal) at various universities would be the next step. Whatever the choice may be, I feel that being a student-athlete at Cal has empowered me, that I can tackle any task or challenge confidently.
My concrete plans from here are as follows: I am currently applying for the Peace Corps, and as I work through the long application process, I plan to take the CBEST so I can become a substitute teacher. I am also currently studying for the GRE so I can have the exam finished when I am ready to begin applying to different schools.
In the Peace Corps, I would like to do one of two things. One option is to work with or start up an organization for sustainable development, which seeks to educate people on sustainability as well as implement policies that would lead to environmental protection. My other option would be to connect with a school and teach various subjects as well as physical education and nutrition. I believe these opportunities will guide me toward a passion which I will pursue with all of my ability, just as my experience at Cal has taught me to do.