Everything from Nothing
How Courtney Woronka Reinvented Herself and Led the Class of 2021 to Brighter Days
Courtney Woronka ’21 had three goals when she first arrived at Bentley: Play varsity softball. Study abroad. And be a campus tour guide, like she was in high school.
Woronka whiffed on two of the three but still managed to produce a home run of a college career that shows the resilience and reinvention that’s been a key part of the Bentley experience in the age of COVID-19.
Growing up in Windham, N.H., Woronka was a conference all-star in softball, field hockey and indoor track, and captain of all three teams at Central Catholic High School, where she was named 2017 Female Athlete of the Year. Still, she knew she wanted more than athletics in college so she looked primarily at NCAA Division II and III schools.
Once she found Bentley, she knew it was where she wanted to be, with or without softball.
“I immediately fell in love,” she remembers. “It was just perfect. It was one of those things that was check, check, check. I thought, ‘If I don’t go to Bentley I don’t know what I’m going to do.’”
‘I FELT LOST’
Woronka signed on to play softball at Bentley but, after a year and a half found herself growing out of love with the sport. That winter break, she left the team and started thinking about another path.
“I felt lost,” she says. “My grades were not amazing, I didn’t feel at home like I thought I would. I loved my teammates, but I wasn't feeling the sport anymore and started really missing field hockey.”
Her old coach put in a good word with her potential new coach, and Woronka was soon playing field hockey again.
“I’m extremely lucky,” she says. “I’m not the best player on the team, I don’t play a lot, but it’s still a great experience and my teammates are amazing.”
Spending 25 hours a week playing sports is a heavy burden to balance with classwork and extracurriculars. Thankfully, Bentley coaches are used to overachievers.
“The coaches here are very forgiving in the sense that they understand how competitive Bentley is,” says Woronka. “They give up so much of their time to let students go do a sales competition or have a job interview. I know a lot of other schools don't have that flexibility for their student-athletes. That was another reason I came here: I knew I could be an athlete, but it's OK if I have X, Y, Z also going on.”
CHANGING THE GAME
Woronka was also a resident assistant, and when one of the students on her floor told her about an opening on junior class cabinet, she signed up. The experience was a game changer.
“Junior year was really when I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I thought I was really involved but there’s a whole other part of Bentley that I didn't know about,’” she says.
That didn’t stop her from jumping in with both feet, and eventually Woronka was elected president of the senior class cabinet for the Class of 2021. The position is normally in charge of seeing through senior class events and traditions but, like everything else, the role was turned upside-down in 2020.
“We worked all summer long,” she says. “You don't normally talk to your organizations over the summer, you start in September. I was racing home from work to be on calls with Student Affairs talking about how the heck we’re going to go back to campus.
“That’s when it hit me that this wasn’t the old Bentley anymore. We were creating an entirely new Bentley. And that’s what we did.”
‘GO DO IT’
It’s hard for Woronka to single out what she’s most proud of in her time at Bentley.
“I came to Bentley just trying to play a sport, and I would honestly put athletics as one of my lower commitments now,” she says. “I hope one of the things I’ve done here is show that if you're an athlete you don’t have to be just an athlete, if you're an RA you don't have to be just an RA. If you want other friends in a sorority or another organization, go do it."
Just as she traded softball for field hockey, Woronka has decided on a different career path as well. She finished her undergraduate studies in the fall and is currently enrolled in Bentley’s full-time MBA program while working as a graduate assistant at the Service–Learning and Civic Engagement Center.
“I came here thinking I was going to do finance and hopefully make a lot of money someday. Now, I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to run a nonprofit,” she says. “Taking business and using it to give back in some way is my goal in life.”
As she gets ready to address her fellow students at Commencement (another traditional responsibility of the role, something she only learned after winning the election), Woronka hopes the lessons they’ve all learned this past year last forever.
“It’s really changed my perspective on life in general, and taught me to be grateful for what I already have,” she says. “You never really know what’s going to come at you, ever. I think I’ve learned so many of my ‘life lessons’ in the past nine months. We lost everything, but we have so much at the same time, and I don’t think people really realize that — how lucky we are to be here and have this opportunity.”