It's like skydiving. If you do it right, you'll enjoy the free-fall and land on your feet.

It’s been almost two weeks and I still cannot believe I have finally graduated college. It has been a whirlwind of emotions and confusion, and I’ve really been struggling being stuck in this temporary limbo. So today I went through some old things to try to regain some sense of direction.

In high school, I had the same math teacher every year except junior year. His first year was my freshman year, taking over our honors algebra class when our original teacher went on maternity leave. At the end of sophomore and senior year he wrote us notes about our academic strengths and weaknesses. For those of us he carried through from the beginning, he wrote a bit extra and gave us all digital copies so we could always access them if we wanted to. Here’s what he wrote:

Sophomore comments:

Academic Strengths:  Intelligent, quick conceptual learner

Academic Weaknesses:

Comments: The love of learning, sense of silliness and overall positive attitude that you bring to the classroom everyday has made it a joy to teach you over the last 16 months.  I think that you are the first student who I remember from that first day substituting for Mrs. Hartshorn, as you brought your list of questions for me to answer about myself and nearly refused to go on with the lesson until I answered at least some of them.  It has been my pleasure to watch you grow from that freshmen girl into the powerful young woman that you are today.  Thank you for always remembering to take life as seriously as necessary, but no more so, and always remember…  Gino lives in all of us.

Senior comments:

Academic Strengths: intelligent, hard worker

Academic Weaknesses: hesitant to ask for help

Comments: It has been a pleasure to once again have you in class.  There is a drive and thirst for understanding that you bring to everything you do.  You are one of the most talented and capable students in your class, and NDA will be lesser for losing you next year, as Westfield State steals you away from us.  My one piece of advice for you is to be less hesitant to ask for help and to remember to talk to people who can possibly make a difference in any situation in which you are having difficulty.  You do not have to go it alone.  Thank you for always being attentive and asking questions, even when it was clear that you would rather throw the book, and possibly me, out the window.  You really were more of a contribution than you realize.  Good luck next year.  Oh, and by the way, you made a great Annie.

Additional comments:

One of the reasons why I became a teacher was students like you who are such a pleasure to work with.  You and I have gone through a lot together.  It started with you and the other freshmen being so welcoming and open, and forgiving to a rookie teacher who had no idea what he had signed up for.  You all made me feel at home, and I actually looked forward to honors algebra every day.  You have no idea how much of a gift it was to look forward to coming to work everyday, especially after the dreadful experience I had had in my previous job.  Thank you for always being supportive, even if you did not realize that was what you were doing.

 

Don’t tell Briana or her classmates, but it really was your algebra class, and you in particular, who convinced me that I had made the right choice.  When I think back to that first year at NDA, you are usually the first one who I think of.  It really was your enthusiasm and energy that had me fall in love with teaching.  Thank you.  I still see that enthusiasm, though it is tempered with a bit of worry and stress now.   I hope that you never forget that exuberant freshmen girl who I met.  She really was a wonderful person to get to know.   I still see her occasionally, like when you danced at the fall ball with complete reckless abandon.

I have many memories of you throughout the years, but they are hard to put into words.  One of my few regrets from your freshmen year was not attending the Wizard of Oz play.  I have definitely enjoyed every performance since, especially your portrayal of Annie.  My wife and I both thought that you did an excellent job of portraying a young, strong-willed, starry-eyed girl.  You could almost believe that you were 12 in some of those scenes.

 

I will miss having you around NDA and occasionally popping in to grab a tissue when trying to avoid pre-calculus or after glee club.  It won’t be the same during open houses without you showing people around.  Who am I going to get to make a new birthday crown, or to remind me of Gino and burgermobiles?  Who am I going to get who will be as passionate about earning every possible point during geometry court rebuttals?

 

Good luck at Westfield State.  I am sure that you will do well in whatever field you finally choose, and I am proud to have been a small part of your journey.

 

With love and gratitude,

-Mr. V

While the jokes and references I know won’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t in those classes, these notes reminded me of someone who I seem to have lost over the years. Obviously at 14 there’s far less to worry about than there is at 18 or 22, but it shouldn’t be so much that it takes away part of who you are. Unfortunately, my senior year of high school brought a serious and unexpected loss, and the shock and pain of it affected me through the rest of the year. It took away a silliness and brightness that I’d had when I was younger. It was a change I was aware had happened, but I needed time to mourn before I could be that person again.

I realize now, though, that I never worked to bring her back. While I definitely got closer to being that delightful, bubbly girl again when I started college, I still wore the same worry and stress, just about new things. While they were part of a mourning process in high school, these often plagued me in college because I cared too much what others thought about me or because I took on too much and couldn’t ask for help. Even though it was called out to me before I graduated high school, I have consistently still struggled to ask for help until it’s absolutely necessary.

Having finished college and started doing some serious job hunting, I can feel that worry and stress overwhelming my life once again. It isn’t even something I recognized as a problem until I found this note.

So I’ve set a new goal for myself (among many others that I will likely write about soon): be happy. I’m going to do my best not to let whatever comes my way these next few months take over the rest of my world. I have a lot of good going for me right now. I’ve got a lot of talent that  I know is going to take me far once I find the right fit for a job. I want to bring back that person who made someone happy to come to work every day. I want to bring a sense of joy and silliness to the things I do. That, I think, is going to make this whole transition much more bearable than anything else I could do!

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I know things now

Today marks the last day of the last spring break I will ever have, and the world has decided it should rain to signify what a sad day it is. Classic.

While packing to head back to school, I’ve been thinking about how much has changed over the past four years. I have struggled and grown and become so much more than I thought I would be when I started college. So today, I’ve decided to reflect back on my four years and note how much I’ve accomplished and overcome because, even if the next few months of my life are full of uncertainty, I know I’ve come a long way already.

Freshman year

I was horrendously shy among people I didn’t know when I was 18. The floor I lived on was full of the absolute nicest people you’ll ever meet. Everyone kept their doors open and went around to meet each other. I couldn’t bear the thought of it. My roommates already had friends who they were hanging out with, and I would lock myself in my room hoping I would never have to introduce myself to anyone. Because of this, I missed out on making close bonds with some of the loveliest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

Still, my undying passion for musical theatre pushed me to go audition for the Musical Theatre Guild on campus (and to drag along my friend from high school). I was cast in the show and made the best friends someone could ask for. They have stood by me through everything, even when I’ve been wrong. To this day, I truly believe joining MTG was the best decision I made in these four years.

I had my heart broken by my first love and fell for someone who didn’t treat me right. While already struggling with depression onset by a sudden loss during the last months high school, my relationship with this person sent me down a spiral that terrified me and those closest to me. My closest friends pulled me through, and, slowly, I got better. They weren’t afraid to ask me difficult questions, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I drank too much, gained the freshman fifteen, realized it, lost the freshman fifteen, and, as a result, learned how to handle my liquor. I fell in love with a friend who I stayed with for two years. I began taking steps toward leadership on campus. I broke away from so much of the badness that had been holding me back from my full potential and grew into someone capable of making change.

Sophomore year

Sophomore year I became an advocate for various causes. In a Native American arts and literature course, I was able to do an individualized study of violence against Native American women and how (or if) it is handled by law enforcement. Feeling the severity of my findings needed to be heard, I presented my research at an honors conference in Philadelphia, PA, my first out-of-state conference. My work was received well, and I was able to answer difficult questions regarding such a sensitive topic. I realized at this conference that my voice matters and that change cannot be made if we don’t call attention to the problem.

This is the year I began working toward starting Relay For Life on my campus. Relay has been such an important part of my life since middle school, and I was unwilling to give it up just because Relay wasn’t present on my school’s campus. I had voiced interest to people about starting Relay For Life on campus, and while most were supportive, a few responded with negative comments that nobody would be interested and that I would never be able to get it going myself. After a nearly disastrous car ride back from UMass Amherst’s Relay, I vowed to never make that kind of trip again for something that should be so accessible to our students. I worked with the school and the American Cancer Society to get approval for us to host an annual Relay For Life. After weeks of work writing a constitution, finding a group of people willing to lead with me, and finding people interested in joining, we got the okay to plan a Relay For Life to be held in April of the following year. This process taught me a lesson that has gotten me through more than a few difficult times since: you don’t need everyone to believe in you. You just need to believe in yourself.

I climbed Mount Washington, traversed New York, and realized that life should be an adventure.

Junior year

Relationship-wise, this was the most difficult year of my life. For the first time, I began to question my feelings in a relationship. In the past, I’d left relationships because I knew I was being mistreated. Junior year, though, I struggled with the combination of long distance and growing closer to other people at school. I felt disconnected from my boyfriend and found things that had never bothered me in the past with him did so now. After trying to take a short break and getting back together, over spring break we mutually agreed our relationship needed to end. This was by far one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, but it was a necessary one. We had grown apart and didn’t work anymore. I should have realized at the time that there’s nothing wrong with that.

I fell for someone else who had been struggling with feelings in his relationship for a long time as well. When we returned to school for the end of the semester, we began casually dating. Out of fear that someone (us, one of our exes, family) would get hurt, I insisted we couldn’t be in any sort of relationship until at least summer. Naturally, that didn’t work out as planned, and at the end of April we stopped pretending we weren’t together and defined our relationship. Some of the talk that came from this situation, both to me and behind my back, taught me who I should and shouldn’t keep in my life. I spent so long being worried about what other people would think and how they would feel that I couldn’t admit that I wanted to be with him. People who get a thrill from other people’s drama are always going to talk behind your back and exaggerate the situation. Don’t keep them in your life, but recognize that there are enough logical people in this world who care about you enough to not jump to conclusions. Nobody will ever understand what you’re going through to the extent that you do, and you can’t make them understand. And, yes, sometimes you’ll make decisions that are good for you and hurt other people. Don’t do so maliciously, but that doesn’t mean don’t do it. They will heal, just as you have in the past. It’s okay to invite change into your life.

Through this all, we put up our very first Relay For Life of Westfield State University. We struggled so much at the beginning of our planning to the point that I feared Relay wouldn’t happen. We were given a goal of $20,000 to reach, a testament to our school size and how new we were. In the last two weeks leading up to Relay alone, we raised more than this amount. By the end of the event (which hosted 375 people), we had raised over $40,000. Never in my life could I have imagined our first ever Relay For Life being so successful. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much from being happy in my life. The news, the American Cancer Society, and the school were so impressed with what we did, but nothing could compare to how impressed the executive board of Relay was. We hit so many bumps along the way, and we still managed to do so well. People are so much more generous than most realize. Please take note, friends: If someone tells you you can’t do something, prove them wrong! Never let anyone set limits for you. The only reason you wouldn’t be able to accomplish something is if you told yourself you can’t do it. In a year, we managed to make this great change on our campus and in our community. You can do anything. Trust me. (Sole exception: if you don’t have 20/20 vision, NASA will not let you be an astronaut.)

Senior year

Even through this year I’ve continued to grow. I directed a show with one of my best friends, and I’ve continued working with Relay For Life (for information about our 2015 Relay For Life, visit www.relayforlife.org/wsuma). I went to Walt Disney World for a conference and am attending another in Gettysburg, PA in April. I made the decision not to apply for grad school right away and turned down an acceptance to the Disney College Program. (If anyone read my post about the DCP, I applied anyways and then realized I was right that it wouldn’t work for me right now). I’ve done a gratuitous amount of work on my senior honors thesis regarding writing styles and mental health. And now, I’m applying for jobs. There is so much change ahead that sometimes I feel like my head is spinning, but looking back on how much has already changed I know I can do it again.

It blows my mind to look back at everything that’s happened over the past four years. While I would definitely change some parts of my college experience if I could, I don’t regret any of it because of what I’ve learned. I’ve overcome some severe insecurities about myself as a person, in my relationships with others, and as a leader on campus. More than ever, I feel empowered and ready to take on the next steps of my life and whatever it has to throw at me. I’m not expecting an easy journey, but I will get somewhere great. It’s all about taking it one day at a time. I can do this.

First of all, I’m sorry about my hiatus the past few weeks! In case anyone was curious as to where I was, last week I was conducting a study for my senior honors thesis, and the week before was opening night for a musical I was in!

Now onto real talk. Happy spring break, all! The movies make spring break look so glamorous, don’t they? Beaches, parties, eternal sunshine. For those of you going off to someplace warm or magical, have a blast! For the rest of us, here are some harsh realities of senior year spring break compared to expectations.

1: Expectation: There’s a bit of spring in “spring” break.

Reality: If you’re in the New England area like I am, it seems like we’re stuck in perpetual winter. It’s technically not even spring yet. The name sets this vacation up for failure.

2. Expectation: You’ll be off at parties on the beach all week getting a nice tan with a drink in hand.

Reality: This is prime time to fill out job applications. You family has probably missed you and is going to want to keep you around. And the beach is a bit of a trip away, which brings me to my next point…

3. Expectation: parties parties parties!

Reality: You’re probably broke from school and graduation expenses, never mind regular fun spending. And there are plenty more expenses ahead in the next few months. Time to get pack to that part time job you hold onto at home!

I know this is a bit pessimistic, but this is the reality for most of us. There are some fun things ahead about spring break, though! You’re going back to your own bed, home food, and high school friends. At this point, professors understand how hard we work, and most of them know that a break is meant to be a break. You can spend as much time sleeping, marathoning your favorite TV shows, or visiting people as you want! You have a week ahead of you when you aren’t living surrounded by thousands of other rowdy students. Embrace the quiet, do some work, get some rest, and enjoy yourself!

Budget versus the bar

That’s the real battle in your last semester, isn’t it? Somehow (and I really don’t know how) everyone seems to make it out to the bars for thirsty Thursday, and you don’t want to miss out on any of those classic senior year moments. But then there’s your handy wallet, telling you to stay home. The Poor College Student is not a myth. There’s one in all of us.

So what do you do? Well you’ve got a few options. You could go and keep your budget tight. Pre-game at home first so you don’t drink as much out, offer to DD so you can go out without paying for anything, only bring a certain amount of cash and leave all cards at home. I don’t exactly function that way. We always have an underclassman be our designated driver, and I don’t like leaving my wallet home. The result: no matter my intentions, I end up spending more money on drinks for myself and others than I initially intended.

For anyone else battling the same financial battle that I am, don’t feel like you’re missing anything. There are always more chances to go out, but the nights you’ll look back on fondly probably won’t be on loud, cramped, blurry dance floors (as much as it’s fun at the time). You’re not missing out on any big time college experience by only going out once in a great while. It has taken me pretty much since my 21st birthday to realize this, but the nights spent in with friends are the ones worth sacrificing sleep for.

Convince your friends to stay in every so often on a Thursday night. Maybe have a few drinks in, play Cards Against Humanity, watch a movie, find out if your campus is sponsoring any events. What I’m getting at really is that there are a lot of cost-free things to do instead of go out to a bar that are equally as fun, just in a different way. Plus, these ones won’t give you so much of a headache tomorrow.

It’s the most contagious time of the year!

I don’t know if that’s really true, but everyone in my apartment seems to be getting sick. For those of us who aren’t getting sick, these winter blues are really helping the procrastination bug settle in. Unfortunately, all the Dayquil ad Robitussin in the world cannot cure senioritis.

Here’s the problem: at this point, how much can your GPA go down, really? Last semester a professor messed up my grade, giving me a D when I had earned an A in the class. (I got that fixed immediately.) Care to know how much that brought my cumulative GPA down? Roughly 0.1 points. That’s it. If I needed a sign telling me I could essentially give up and still finish just fine, that was it.

On top of that, I’ve been focused on the job search as of late. Every employer I’ve come across is looking for years’ experience on top of a college education. First of all, that’s terrifying. Secondly, this has caused me to feel pressured to pursue projects other than homework (i.e. writing articles for papers, trying to get creative works published, searching for entry level positions that have the potential to become full-time).

So I’ve begun finding plenty of ways to procrastinate even more than usual. I have excuses out my ears about why I shouldn’t start reading for class, but they all come back to just being over school work. We haven’t even been back for a month, and I’m already ready to be done! With all of my first exams coming up within the next two weeks, I’m using my incredible scientific skills to try to find a natural cure to senioritis, seeing as I’m immune to the fear of ruining my GPA.

The cures being tested right now are mostly snack rewards. Other options include TV, social media, wine, and having company. While senioritis is a natural part of the graduating process, it’s preferable that it doesn’t last long. In the end, it’s going to be just as bad as any other semester of procrastinating when everything finally ends up being due.

If you’re going through a bout of senioritis right now and have any tips on how to get rid of it, please comment below!

My Ten Year Plan

Is it just me, or does everyone seem to want college seniors to have a plan? Not just any plan, but a long term plan that details who, what, where, when, and why they will be. Yeah, I don’t even know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow. But since I’ve been asked, I’ll give it a shot.

Disclaimer: Even if you make a five/ten year plan, you do NOT have to stand by it! Set goals, but change your mind. That’s okay. We’re young. What’s stopping us?

Beth’s Ten Year Plan

In the next two or three years, I plan to graduate, secure a writing job, and join a non-profit community and/or community theatre wherever I settle. I am determined to find my own place as soon as I can and start supporting myself entirely. If it’s in the cards I will attend grad school for English or non-profit work. Maybe one day I’ll continue my education in psychology, but right now my heart isn’t in it.

Once I can afford it I plan to travel. Within the country at first: day trips, road trips, spontaneous long weekend getaways. But I am determined to see the world. Over the next ten years I am determined to visit Europe at least two or three times in addition to places within the United States and Canada. If time will allow, I’ll expand my travel horizons even further.

I’d like to get engaged or married within this time frame. This does not necessarily mean I will be ready to start a family, but I would like to share my life and adventures with someone I love.

There will be plenty of moves. I’d like to try living somewhere outside New England for a span of time. I’ll change jobs, I’ll lose touch with some people, I’ll grow closer to others. It’s unrealistic to ask anyone to have a plan for the next ten years because of how much life changes. But these are my general goals, and I’d like to think I’ll reach them (even if it takes longer than I’d like).

All in all, it’s probably useful to lay some sort of plan like this. It doesn’t have to be anything detailed, but it will give you something to reach for. If nothing else, it will give you something to say when your family asks.

For those whose schools don’t advertise this as well, Disney offers a “Disney College Program” that allows any college student to apply for a position at Walt Disney World in Florida or at Disneyland in California for roughly four months in the fall or spring semester. For those on the younger end of college, you can take courses while at the program that may transfer as credits at your school. For those of us who are graduating, though, this presents an opportunity to try living somewhere new and working to make a living.

There are a lot of positives to participating in the DCP. For one thing, you get free access to all parks and an employee discount. Additionally, you get experience working full-time, dealing with customers, problem solving, and handling high-stress environments, which are all qualities employers are looking for. Like study abroad programs, the DCP is a unique experience that only presents itself once in a lifetime for most of us. And for those of us who are graduating in May, this is the last time the program will even be an option for us.

After doing my research and debating with myself tirelessly, I’ve decided the program probably isn’t for me. I’ve had extensive work experience that has taught me all of the above-listed skills. For medical reasons, I likely wouldn’t do well working outside all day, and many of the indoor jobs are in food services, customer service, or retail, areas in which I have gratuitous experience. Most of all, though, my biggest goal for the end of this year is to move out of my mother’s house and support myself. Unfortunately, the DCP would not help me along the way as most people I know must spend what they earn on rent, food, air fare, etc.

What I need right now is a job writing. Though I would love to experience working for Disney, it isn’t in the cards for me. I’ll just have to visit like the rest of the world.

For others, though, this is an incredible opportunity not only to have an adventure, but also to get some serious work experience. If you’re interested in learning more about the Disney College Program, follow the link below for their website! Applications should be going live within the next week or two, so keep your eyes peeled!

Disney College Program