Thursday, March 29, 2012

Undergraduates, Whales, and Loafers

Any undergraduate student at a State University would be able to describe the typical outfits of females on a night "out on the town."  Tight, short skirts, low cut tops, see-through fabrics leaving little to the imagination.  High heels are common, and the makeup is plentiful.  Recently, I had a friend tell me, in a voice dripping with shock and wonder, that she received "SO MANY" compliments this past weekend, after she had worn jean shorts and a T-Shirt out!  All those skin-tight outfits with heels high enough to be considered a weapon had never granted her this much attention!  This not only made me smile, but it also made me wonder.  In the undergraduate world, comprised of skipping classes, underage day-drinking, and "friends with benefits" relationships, why is the most common summertime outfit of jean shorts and a T-Shirt rare to see?  The idea that less is more has been taken literally, making skirts shorter and tops lower... to the point where the girl in a T-Shirt may get the most attention of all.  The same can be said about the ambition in the undergraduate world.  I notice, as I consistently decline offers to skip class and participate in what sound like fun, but also seem a bit illegal, plans, that I am one of few, instead of one of many.  I will admit that working three jobs and taking eighteen credits is a lot of work, but I am constantly surprised at the amount of students who are simply relying on loans or Mom and Dad to get them through school.  I am constantly surprised at the lack of student workers on campus, and the abundance of individuals complaining about their lack of money.  If you want to have money and not worry about paying your loans back, get a job.  If you want to remember your nights, stop drinking so much.  If you want to be respected, wear a longer skirt.  The world of undergraduate students is unlike any other place in the world, and I love it.  I love the spirit, the creativity, and, like Asher Roth told me I would, I love college!  I just wish there were more jean shorts, and less hooker heels.  I wish there was more drive, and less drunken driving.  I wish more students would discover what I have already: that you CAN work your way through college and graduate almost debt free.  That you CAN wear jean shorts and loafers to a party and still have a good time.  It just seems like, in the undergraduate animal kingdom, students like me, working and wearing loafers, are becoming extinct.  So here's my SAVE THE WHALES campaign.  We're a dying breed.  Do your part, don't complain, don't join the hooker-heel wearing least not every night.  Change the world; save the whales, one Saturday night in loafers at a time.

Picture Frames, Favorite Students, and Neverland

Here at Slippery Rock University, it is required for Secondary Education majors to complete 40 hours of classroom observation, twenty in a diverse setting and twenty in your content area, before applying to the College of Education.  While completing my 40 hours over Spring Break, I traveled back to the high school I graduated from a mere two years ago.  Seeing my old teachers and conversing with them about education, lesson plans, and classroom management was amazing, but something bothered me.  "Why is our class picture not on your desk anymore?? Who are these new people??"  Like the teacher-befriending, overachievers that my Class of 2010 was, often times we had given signed pictures to our favorite teachers, which they proudly displayed on their desks.  However, two years later, we had been moved to a far corner by the window and replaced with a new group of Juniors and Seniors.  My old English teacher admitted, "When you leave we can't mourn forever.  We have to make new favorites, Werkmeister.  We have to move on."  My teachers then explained to me a different view of one of my previous favorite elements of teaching: never growing up.  Although we, as educators, are granted the "Peter Pan dream," our students are not.  Seeing the same students for four years, five days a week, is a blessing, and often highly enjoyable.  However, at the end of their four years, the kids you relied on for laughs, sarcastic eye rolls, and creative projects, will graduate and leave you behind.  It is all we could desire, as educators, for our students to graduate and become successful, but at the same time it will be very sad.  I never looked at my "Peter Pan dream" in this way, and the realization hit me hard.  However, I guess there is one reassuring fact... even if my Class of 2010 picture has made its way into the corner of the window ledge instead of in the center of my favorite teacher's desk, it's still in the room, and there are new pictures on display.  The kids that impact you are never truly gone, and there are new kids arriving every year, just waiting to become the new "favorite," and have their picture on your desk.  Public education is Neverland, and the "favorite" students are Wendy, John, and Michael Darling.  They may visit Neverland for a few years, but eventually they have to grow up, they can't stay forever.  But while they're with us, we can teach them many things: how to fly, how to dream, to believe in fairies... "So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Caves, Crocodiles, and Fear

Over the weekend, I took my floor of Freshmen to the Casparis Cave, near Ohiopyle in PA.  This is a cave where headlamps are not only "suggested," they are completely necessary.  The cave is full of twists, turns, and tight squeezes that are only manageable by laying flat on your stomach and inching forward using your hands and feet alone.  This cave is a challenge on a regular day.  However, on the day I took my residents, it rained all day!  The water that typically covers an explorer's feet as they enter the cave became knee to mid-thigh level, and extremely muddy- you could not see your own hand in the water.  Since this cave is open to the public, my floor was not the only group exploring.  There was also a boy scout troop, outfitted for the adventure.  Much like the residents from my floor, these boyscout members were talking about how excited they were to explore the cave.  They were "one-upping" each other, talking about who was going to make it deeper in the cave- who was going to be the bigger man.  However, as the boys climbed up the rocky face of the cave, one by one, their demeanor changed.  The purest moment I witnessed all day was when a small boy climbed up the face of the cave, stepping into the thigh-high muddy water at the entrance.  The previously boasting, self assured little boy suddenly threw his arms above his head, his entire face distorting in unsurmountable terror.  "ARE THERE ANIMALS IN THIS WATER!?!?!" the little boy screamed.  All adults had to choke back laughter and reassure the boy that there was nothing in the water: no sharks, crocodiles, or other unseen creatures were going to nip at his ankles here in western PA.
One of my residents also experienced a moment of terror; becoming claustrophobic and having to turn around, she failed to complete her exploration of the cave.  These kids' fears reminded me of so many other moments in life.  We pretend to be strong; excited for the challenges life will throw at us.  We hide our fears, camouflaging our worries with words that are not always entirely true.  Sometimes, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves and others that we really are up to the challenge, we truly are fearless, manly, and brave... we're actually scared.  Sometimes we're all a little worried about what's in the water.  And sometimes we may need to turn around, like my resident... but that shouldn't stop us from trying.  The little boy who screamed in fear, and my resident who fled the tight clutches of the cave... they still tried. They hiked to the cave, they climbed up the rock face, they waded into the water.  They made an effort.  And regardless of the outcome, that's what's important.  There's no shame in turning around, or asking if there are animals in the water.  There's no shame in being afraid.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Questions, Happy Shows, and City Schools

"You can't live like that.  You need to wake up.  Life's not happy."

Why not?  Have you ever asked this question, not to a professor refusing to extend a deadline, or to a parent denying you the right to stay out past curfew, but to life?  To society?  Have you ever questioned the world we live in?  Sure, those that look at the world with a happy, positive, optimistic outlook are rare, and often considered naive... but are they wrong?  Is it wrong to only watch happy movies and sitcoms, consistently changing the channel from violence and crime shows?  Is it wrong to compliment strangers, and smile at people who pass you on the sidewalk?  Would the world not be a better place if instead of thinking "look at everything that's going wrong in my life" everyone thought "look what's going right!"  The mind is a powerful thing, and choosing to view the "glass of Earth" as half full instead of half empty is something we, as individuals, can chose to do.  Positivity is contagious, and stress is bad for your health.  So why surround yourself with negative energy, negative shows, negative people... why not change the channel, laugh a little, and tell your 8th grade students from a city school that they can be whatever they want to be?  Sure, it might be a little unlikely, but so are a lot of things, and they're more likely to succeed with positivity and encouragement than with "you won't make it," negativity.  We've walked on the moon, we've made vaccines, we have internet on our phones... WE, as a human race, can do anything we put our minds' to.  So when society tells me I need to "grow up" and "stop being so positive" because "the world's not a happy place," I have just one thing to say.   
"Why not?"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Aunt Edna, Sewer Grates, and Sex Symbols

"Don't confuse your path with your destination...    It's midterms.  It's work.  It's an argument with your significant other.  It's your mom calling, wondering why you haven't sent a thank you card to Aunt Edna.  If it's not one thing, it's another, and sometimes life can be very overwhelming.  Sometimes you may feel like, as I wrote in my first blog post, you could fall through the sewer grate and be washed away, lost to the horrors below forever.  But other days, it works out.  Other days, you pass your exams, you get promoted, you get flowers for no reason, and mom just sends a text saying she loves you, with no other instructions or requests.  Sometimes, you stand on top of the grate, like Marilyn Monroe.  In the sewer grate metaphor for life, you're can either be the piece of gum in the dirty rain water below the grate, or you can be the sex symbol on top of it, famous forever.  Life is what you make it; your day will go in the direction the corners of your mouth are facing.  So chin up, kids.  Just because it's stormy now, doesn't mean you aren't headed for sunshine."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Capture the Flag, Floor Socials, and Salad Forks

"We're playing capture the flag!  TELL EVERYONE!"
As I sat desk in my building tonight, part of the wonderful duties and responsibilities of being a Community Assistant, hordes of underclassmen, in all-black, congregated.  Naturally, the CA in me became suspicious and nervous,  "Please don't be doing anything illegal on my duty-night." Yet, at the same time, the normal college student in me wanted to join them.  As the other on-duty CA and I sat behind the desk, confined to our responsibilities and schoolwork, the fun continued.  Kids kept arriving, from various floors, buildings, and other mysterious locations, all clad in black pants, black hats, and long black socks pulled high over their soon to be grass-stained and bloody knees.  Other CAs arrived in the lobby, coming and going from the library or other jobs, all stopping and staring open-mouthed at the now 25+ students assembled for battle in our building lobby.  "This is more residents than I've ever had at one of my socials... ever."   
"Who organized this?"  "They did." 
Sure it's not an "offical" social.  Sure, according to my "Weekly Report" that I turn in every Sunday, it's not even valid.  But these are the socials that really count.  You don't need a paid individual to create fliers and set up a "floor social" for kids to make friends.  You don't need linen table cloths and three different types of forks to eat a delicious meal.  You don't need a $100 skirt and four inch heels to be attractive.  Sometimes, less is more.  Sure, it might be nice to have an organized hall event, a seperate fork for your salad, and a nice dress pump to pair with your pantsuit, but is it really necessary?  We make things so fancy in today's society, but do we really need to?  Would the salad be that different if you ate it with the same fork you ate your main course with?  Would you be any less attractive in a smaller, more comfortable, less expensive heel?  Does it really matter?  I can tell you one thing.  Those kids outside, the ones tackling each other on the muddy hill behind our building, the ones rolling around in search of two old rags... 
those kids are having fun. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

All Nighters, Bucket Lists, and Water Towers

"I want to pull an all-nighter!  I've never done that before, how much fun would that be?"  "I want to have a threesome.  Now that would be fun..."  As a Community Assistant, working with the office of Residence Life, I see and hear many interesting things on my floor each day.  Yesterday was no different.  I held a floor social last night, purchasing Chinese food for the entire floor and creating an activity where each resident wrote something they want to accomplish before the end of the semester, creating our very own First Floor West Bucket List.  The entire activity was very entertaining, sparking hilarious conversations and interesting ideas that ranged from the very legal and tame, like "Have a campfire," to the very illegal and dangerous, like, "Climb the school water tower," or, "Finish a bottle of Captain Morgan in one night."  Although I obviously tried to deter the unsafe sex, trespassing, and alcohol use, I also could not help but to smile.  Most of my residents are Freshman, new to the college experience.  Having watched, helped, and guided them since the day they moved in, I feel almost like their mother.  I have even been affectionately dubbed "Mother F" because we reside in Building F on campus.  Although I often worry that they will get arrested, or catch a disease, or just not find their way home to our Building one night, when I stop and think of the wild and vivacious shenanigans that I myself experienced my own Freshman year, I feel a strange mixture of fondness and embarrassment.  Reminiscing about my extracurricular activities and the dreams and bucket list items of my residents, I realize THIS is what college is about.  Sure, it's about receiving an education, but it's also about memories and experiences.  You have four years here.  Four years that you can either spend hidden in your dorm room studying on a Saturday night, or four years you can spend embracing your youth and making memories.  Four years of "climbing the water tower."  The mind blowing, gut wrenching, passion filling aspect of college is that we will never be as young as we are right now.  We will never again have the excuse "Oh, that was back in my college days..."  We will never have our current freedom, lack of responsibility, and environment ever again.  Eventually, we have to find a job, pay bills, raise a family, and worry about our diets.  Eventually we have to dress conservatively, play appropriate music at an appropriate volume, and put disapproving looks on our faces when society says so.  Eventually, we have to grow up.    But for now... for these four years... 
I'm gonna climb the water tower.