The 2011 Microsoft Imagine Cup has come to a close, and while there may have been some surprises at the final awards ceremony, the podium order isn’t really all that important.

It may sound cliche, but every participant in the Imagine Cup Finals is truly is a winner. Out of nearly 400,000 participants, only 400 made it to New York for the final. Team OneBuzz, hailing from New Zealand and hoping to defend last year’s title, shockingly was left out of the top three in software design. Even so, they are already fieldtesting and raising funding, so an Imagine Cup award would have been the icing, not the cake for this talented bunch. Team Note-Taker from the U.S. on the other hand finished second in the category, taking home a cash prize and another feather for its cap.

Of the other teams I covered, Team Lifelens finished third in mobile development, Team Dragon finshed third in mobile game design, and WickedTeam finished third in XNA Game Design. I didn’t get to see Lifelens’ competition, so I can’t say how I feel about their ranking, but to be frank, I’m a little shocked that the two game entrants I covered didn’t finish higher. Still though, I have little doubt that they will all be wildly successful in the years to come. If you want to see the complete list of winners, you can check them out on the Imagine Cup site.

Imagine Cup was the best possible showcase of all that HackCollege stands for. These students all looked beyond the classroom and created projects that are far more unique and impressive than the degrees they work toward. Many will go on to create businesses out of the work they did for Imagine Cup, and others will use the exposure and experience to land dream jobs. Many will use what they learned to overcome their nation’s societal burdens, and a few will build solutions for their own physical limitations. Whether they won or lost, all will leave New York knowing they can make the world a better place, and they can even do it between classes. Imagine Cup is a lesson to all of us that college, while difficult and time consuming, is not an excuse to avoid doing something else; it’s an opportunity to do whatever you dream.