Every college student declares a major. But not every college student finds a calling.

Winona State University student Brian Waldbillig was lucky enough to find both—along with so much more—in WSU’s Mass Communication program.

The Farmington, Minn., native struggled at first in the college environment, trying to balance the demands of the academic lifestyle with competing expectations and influences in his personal life.

“I know I wasn’t focused on my grades, future or mental health,” he recalled. “But once I found my path and true friends, I started to find out what a real college experience is meant to be.”

Dr. Tom Grier, Associate Professor in the Mass Communication department, played a big part in helping Waldbillig discover and express his authentic self.

“Until the past couple years, I didn’t have a lot of hobbies, skills or experience,” Waldbillig explained. “I didn’t have any faith in my ability to excel in classes or projects. But Dr. Grier saw strengths in me that I didn’t even know I had.”

Waldbillig began to explore his passion for photography and eventually secured a position as the lead student photographer in the WSU Office of Marketing and Communications.

“Dr. Grier reminded me not to treat every assignment, project or job as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to learn and gain experience for the future,” he added.

With that perspective in mind, Waldbillig sought additional opportunities to share and expand on his creative abilities. In spring 2017, he was selected to work with Bridges Health Winona, a new free health care clinic in Winona, to execute the branding and public relations plan created as part of a group project in one of his classes.

“My goal is to have a career where I can use my passion for communication, photography and design to help other people,” he said. “My support may not have been on the front lines helping care for (those) patients, but I was able to assist the clinic with my own skills. Ultimately, I was able to help Bridges Health Winona continue supporting the community, and that’s something I’ll always be proud of.”

Waldbillig will graduate with a major in Mass Communication: Public Relations and a minor in Communication Studies. He credits his success to the many influential people he met along the way.

“My professors, superiors and peers helped me not only discover my skills, but how to utilize them moving forward,” he added. “They truly helped prepare me for the future.”

The campus culture of inclusivity and acceptance at Winona State also helped Waldbillig to come into his own and be proud of who he is and what he has to offer.

“I struggled growing up in a small town where I wasn’t fully accepted for being gay,” he said. “But at WSU, I felt safe, accepted and encouraged to be myself. My friends, family and other members of the WSU community gave me the bravery to stand up to my giants. I have been reminded countless times that I am not alone in my struggles and that I will always have support around me.”

After graduation, Waldbillig plans to return to the Twin Cities area, where he hopes to share with others the lessons he has learned at Winona State.

“I hope to continue meeting new people who inspire me to be my better self every day, and to provide that same inspiration and support to those around me,” he said. “The key to finding success and happiness is simply to surround yourself with people who support and love you for who you are.”

WSU Spring Commencement Ceremonies will take place Friday, May 4, in McCown Gymnasium on the Winona campus. The 9 a.m. ceremony will feature the College of Business and College of Science and Engineering. The 12:30 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Education and the College of Liberal Arts. The 4 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

For more information, visit winona.edu/graduation or call University Communications at 507-457-5024.