Amanda Ullman: 2014 UCLA Senior of the Year

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Amanda Ullman had always been an adventurous person, be it trying out something new, like a new dish, or learning a new instrument, like the saxophone. She attributed this to her upbringing, saying “My parents have always supported my personality in this way by constantly finding opportunities for us to travel or by helping me seek out new clubs and after school activities.” Whenever she would ask them for advice on what to do after college, and on setting herself up on a good life track, their answer was always, as she put it, “to explore a career path or an interest and learn from my experiences which parts I found interesting and which weren’t so appealing.” Merging this mindset with her time at UCLA, and taking on truly unique opportunities, Ullman shared her secret to success: “if you’re trying to stay dynamic and are looking for opportunities to grow as a person, it’s really important to test your own limits and to be able to look back and know that you explored all parts of your personality.”

Outside of her own adventures, affecting meaningful chance was a vital part of Ullman’s life, and she had been able to serve her community in numerous ways, in part thanks to the service opportunities she found through Bruin Belles which she says has always left her with some sort of tangible observation of the service that she has provided to a person or to a cause. “Events like attending dances at the Veterans’ Hospital or working with the children in the Adaptive Recreation program are the most gratifying to me because I can see the physical changes in the people I work with. I think it means a lot to a person who might not have any close family around, like a veteran, or to a child who feels limited socially and physically by their disabilities, like those in the Adaptive Rec program, to be able to interact with new people who display a genuine interest in getting to know them,” she said.

In fact, through Bruin Belles Ullman made one of her favorite memories while working with a little girl in an Adaptive Rec yoga class: “While it was obvious that she was loving the newfound abilities to stretch her arms and legs in ways she was not normally able to do on her own, it became apparent at the end of the yoga class that the real appeal of Adaptive Rec was that it allowed her to form social relationships that weren’t normally offered to her. Over the course of the yoga class, I learned about so many thoughts that she and I at her age shared would have shared. We chatted about her taste in popular music, her relationship with her younger brother, and even her crush on the cute boy across the gym.”

It was things like that, according to Ullman, that kept her coming back to community service. “When I can find myself making these sorts of changes with individuals in LA through philanthropic opportunities, and even when I can assist Postal Inspectors on contacting victims or obtaining case witness interviews, I feel really proud about the ways I can use my own resources to keep improving the lives of others around me.“

During the summer of her junior year, Ullman came to realize how life and her hopes and aspirations could change dramatically. “I was ready to walk out of UCLA as some kind of mass media professional when I began as a freshman, either finding my career path in public relations or within the offices of the television/movie scene,” she shared. Ullman remembered going to career fairs and wondering exactly which classes and extracurricular activities it would take to get her foot in the door of the Dreamworks production facilities. This all changed when she had the incredible opportunity to work for the Department of Homeland Security. “When I found out my that I would be working at the [DHS], even just within it’s Office of Public Affairs, people around me starting joking that I was about to become a spy–some friends even being serious about that possibility.” One day, as Amanda was sitting down at breakfast with her mom right before she left for DC, her mom warned her not sign any documents without reading them, to make sure that she wouldn’t be committing herself to an extreme sort of “Hollywood-style, clandestine life” without knowing what she would be getting myself into. While Amanda merely thought of all that as an over-exaggeration that she would acquire in DC, she also began to realize the vast field of opportunities she would be able to take advantage of in her time there and in her.

As she talked to officials in different offices within DHS, she realized how many different sorts of opportunities lay just within DHS itself, and how many of the people in those opportunities landed there unexpectedly. “Talking to people around DC made me realize that I couldn’t dictate my life’s path, but I could immerse myself in as many experiences and learn as many pieces of knowledge as possible to set myself up to one day land in the kind of life that I wanted,” she said. When she confessed her plans to try picking up a minor and proficiency in the Chinese language in her last year of college to her office superiors, they simply said “Why, not?” and then listed numerous opportunities they knew of that could suit her interests. “They made me realize that embracing new sorts of plans can be a great tool to redefine your life towards new-found interests and unexpected talents that could make you a lot happier than the well-thought out plan you promised yourself you would strive to follow,” said Venzon.

Reflecting on her four-year journey, Ullman expressed that uncertainty was something that one must accept and learn to love in life. “There’s something a little bit intriguing about not knowing where you’re headed, like sitting in the boarding gate of an airport right before a big trip. Too many possibilities lie in a city or a country that you’ve never visited for you to have created a fool-proof itinerary for yourself, but if you keep yourself open to a diversion from what you originally planned, you have all the greater potential to stumble upon something great. If you keep the happenings of your life a little uncertain, you allow yourself the room take on endeavors you might never have thought to even consider.”