Archive for September, 2010

Readers Digest Restores Blind Woman’s Confidence!

Well friends, I am going to have to interrupt my studying one more time for another long overdue news flash, but this time it is exciting news! Last Sunday night shortly after posting my last entry, I felt the beginning signs of a cold: that ominous sore throat when you swallow and an unusual amount of sneezing. Despite taking benadryl so I could breathe and get some sleep, I didn’t sleep very well because the sore throat kept me awake. So by Monday morning, instead of feeling rested and refreshed from the weekend, I was tired, plugged up and achy. But I had to get through a very busy morning before I could rest. First, I had my business class at 9:00, and this class happens to be located on the second floor of Rankin Hall which requires climbing three flights of stairs since it was built before elevators. Then I had to make a trip to the library to interview a student for a story I was writing for the student newspaper, followed by a trek to the Disability Services Office to ask about a book I hadn’t received yet. After that, it was off to Maxon Hall where I had to interview a faculty member for the same story, and then it was back to the library to frantically look over the quotes from these interviews and type the story, a story that was actually due last Thursday but I was given an extension by the editor because I couldn’t meet with the faculty member I needed to interview until Monday unless I skipped a class, something I didn’t think would be a good idea. No sooner had I finished the story than it was time to hurry to Shattuck Auditorium for Concert Choir Rehearsal. Needless to say, after such a busy morning, on top of my cold, and perhaps some lingering discouragement from the zoo internship lady I wrote about in the last entry, I was ready for Dad to pick me up and drive me home where my Mom had a steaming bowl of chicken tortilla soup waiting for me. But it turned out the soup and lounge chair weren’t the only things waiting for me when I got home. There was also a print issue of Reader’s Digest in the mailbox, inside of which was my name!

Alright, maybe I should back up and tell the whole story behind this exciting event. I have been receiving Reader’s Digest in braille since I was in eighth grade, an age when I was ready to start reading more adult centered magazines. Since my mom is a print subscriber and said this magazine has a lot of good general interest articles, I decided to go with Reader’s Digest too. Subscribing to this magazine was a great decision as there are always articles of interest to me in each issue, and I still tear in to the box and flip through each volume of the magazine when it arrives despite the fact that in many other ways, I am a different person from the eighth grader I was when I first subscribed to it. But being that I am a writer, and an aspiring Journalist who loves to share her opinions, I occasionally enjoy not just reading the articles, but writing letters to the editor about them. The first letter I wrote was regarding a profile of John Kerry that was written the summer before the 2004 Presidential election. (I supported John Kerry by the way despite being too young to vote back then. I didn’t agree with George W. Bush’s obsession with banning gay marriage and abortion, personal moral choices that I don’t feel the government has any business getting involved with, and his No Child Left Behind policy which meant teachers had to teach to the state tests or risk loosing funding, which was very stressful for both students and teachers. I also may have been influenced by my family who vehemently opposed the war in Iraq and thought Bush lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction. But I respect everyone’s right to have their own political opinions, so let’s not have any heated political debates in this journal). Anyway, I don’t think I have a copy of this letter anymore, but that is alright because I have developed so much as a writer since that letter was written that I am sure if I ever did find it and reread it, I would be embarrassed for sending it, and deep down I knew it wouldn’t be published. I submitted a couple other letters over the years, all of which resulted in me receiving a form letter with the usual “Thank you for your letter. We value your feedback” spiel. And then I was reading through the August issue when I saw an article titled “Extreme Make-over College Edition” which I thought would be relevant for me given that I am in college and thus have an insider’s perspective on college education, and my parents have an insider’s perspective on the high cost of tuition, both of which were topics discussed in the article.

The article was written by Mark Taylor, a religion professor at a university, and while I liked a lot of the ideas he had for reforming college education, I couldn’t help thinking back to a newspaper story I read for my Investigative Journalism class and being appalled at one suggestion he made that colleges should partner with for-profit companies to finance courses. I tried to talk myself out of writing a letter for days, reminding myself of all the other polite reject letters I got, so I shouldn’t waste the editor’s time with another letter when I am still not as well educated as the adult population who reads this magazine. But late one Sunday night, an especially dangerous time for writers since nighttime is often when inspiration strikes, I could resist the urge to speak my mind no longer. Here is the original letter I emailed to Reader’s Digest at about midnight that night in case I chickened out by morning:

Dear Reader’s Digest Editors,

I just read the “Extreme Make-over College Edition” piece in the August issue, and since I am a college student myself, my parents and I can attest to the need to reform the college education system to lower the cost of tuition. I also liked a lot of Mark Taylor’s suggestions to improve the quality of a college education, especially allowing students to go to other schools and take courses that aren’t offered at my small liberal arts college, and doing more interdisciplinary education with people of different majors. But I was absolutely outraged by Mark Taylor’s suggestion that colleges need to partner with for-profit companies to finance courses. In fact, last year in an Investigative Journalism class, we read a series in our local newspaper about how a well-respected university in our area, especially for science related fields, was having medical students take an online course paid for by a drug company. So of course, these courses promoted the company’s drugs. I believe this college made changes to that particular program so that is no longer the case, but the story came back to me as I read this article. Yes, schools need to find new ways to finance what they do, but this financing must be ethical, and I think while such a huge projected increase in college tuition over the next ten years is scary, it is a lot less scary than having generations of doctors who are taught based on drug company propaganda rather than unbiased science.

Allison Nastoff

After sending this letter, I went about my life without giving it much thought until I was going through my e-mails on August 10 and saw a message from Reader’s Digest. I expected to see another form letter, but instead of the polite rejection of my letter, the message said it was being considered and may be used for publication! They just wanted me to send a reply verifying my name and address. I promptly sent the message verifying this information, but tried to keep my excitement in check since the message said it “may” be published, and I figured since thousands, maybe even millions of people probably send letters to Reader’s Digest since it is an internationally distributed, well-established and well-respected magazine, the chances of my letter being published were slim. So when my dad saw the print edition of Reader’s Digest in the mailbox that day, I was preparing myself for disappointment when my dad, without even driving the car the rest of the way up our driveway, eagerly flipped open the magazine and exclaimed, “There it is!” The braille version of Reader’s Digest always arrives a couple weeks later than the print edition, so there is still some excitement yet to come when I see my letter for myself published in braille. But I told my parents they could break the news to me right away since another friend or relative might spill the beans anyway, and I didn’t want to be the last to know about the publication of my own letter. Anyway, here is how the letter appeared in the magazine: As a college student, I can attest to the need to lower the cost of tuition. But I was outraged by Taylor’s suggestion that colleges need to partner with for-profit companies to finance courses (Extreme Makeover: College Edition). Last year in an investigative journalism class, we learned about how a well-respected university in our area had medical students take an online course paid for by a drug company. These courses promoted the company’s drugs. Yes, schools need to find new ways to finance what they do, but this financing must be ethical.–Allison Nastoff

The letter was edited significantly of course because of space limitations, but it was still my letter and conveyed my point perfectly. My cold was forgotten temporarily as I savored the soup and the cheerful turn the day took. But I also think the publication of this letter and the arrival of the magazine on that particular day was just the shot of confidence I needed after the message from the zoo internship lady. I know there are many more people like this lady who will come in to my life and try to use my blindness to shatter my confidence. But knowing that my writing and my ideas are appreciated by the likes of Reader’s Digest, I feel like my confidence has been restored, and my belief that being blind will not stop me from using my writing and education to be a valuable contribution to society has been reaffirmed. And to make this boost of confidence even sweeter, you should know that I went back to my principles when I sent this letter by not mentioning I was blind. So I can also feel confident that when this letter was published, Reader’s Digest treated me no different than anyone else which I believe is the way it should be.

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Another Perspective on the Zoo

Hello friends. I know I said that the entry I posted on September 2 could be my last journal entry until Christmas so I could focus on studying. But after receiving an outrageous/hilarious/pathetic e-mail Thursday night, that plan has changed because I just could not resist sharing this e-mail with you. But before I do, I suppose I should give you the back story behind this e-mail correspondence. As I have mentioned in other entries, I went to a mainstream public school as a child where the teachers were wonderfully accepting of students with disabilities, or where assistants taught me from an early age to advocate for myself and hold myself to the same expectations as my sighted peers. Then following high school, I was accepted by a wonderful private college that is also full of staff and students who are open-minded and comfortable with blindness. Over the years, I have heard other blind people mention that a lot of sighted people are narrow-minded in their perception of the capabilities of blind people, especially when it comes to employment. But since I had never personally had to deal with these narrow-minded attitudes, I naively doubted whether these stories were really true or wondered if maybe these stories were exaggerated.

 

My blissful ignorance about the attitudes of some sighted people was briefly shattered in October of my freshman year in college. Toward the end of September, a mass e-mail was sent out to students about a phonathon the college was doing, and they were looking for student employees to help with it. I had declined an offer for full-time campus employment that year because I didn’t know how Gilbert and I would handle the transition to college and I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew by throwing a job commitment in to the mix. But this phonathon was a short-term job that I think only lasted two weeks or so. Gilbert and I were adjusting really well, so I felt confident my grades would not suffer with such a short-term commitment, and I was also excited about the chance to make a little money and get some work experience for my resume. Talking on the phone is no problem for blind people, and the adaptations if I needed to enter information in to a computer are minimal. Most of the computers on my campus can access the Jaws screen reader software, and though I was still relatively new to Jaws and hadn’t completed training to learn all of its features yet, I knew the basics which I thought was all I would need for this kind of job. If the job required me to use a computer that was not connected with Jaws, I figured I would have no problem either talking to the technology department to get it installed, or having the list of numbers e-mailed to me so I could enter information using my braille notetaker and then e-mail the information back to the manager right after my shift. The newspaper editor I worked with for a high school mentorship program assigned me to call a bunch of local businesses to make sure their business hours and addresses were up to date, and this e-mail method worked beautifully for that situation. So with confidence and excitement, I decided to fill out the online application for this job.

 

It used to be that whenever I did anything that involved people who didn’t know me and my capabilities, such as applying to participate in a program or enter an essay contest, I always made sure to never mention that I was blind because I didn’t want this knowledge to have any influence, positive or negative, in the decision the essay judges or application reviewers made. I didn’t want my essay or application to be rejected if the reviewer was narrow-minded and maybe thought someone else wrote the essay for me or something like that, but I didn’t want the essay or application to be accepted if my essay or application wasn’t the best one submitted, but the reviewers awarded me out of sympathy or because they think my blindness makes me amazing! I wanted my applications and writing to be judged on merit alone. And so, I filled out the application and when it came to the section to write a paragraph about why I should be considered for the job, I made sure to highlight my friendliness, social skills and desire to learn and gain some real world job experience, but never said a word about my blindness. That way, if I was hired, the manager might be a little stunned and caught off guard when Gilbert and I strolled in on training day, but she judged my application on merit alone, so if she thought I was a great candidate on my application, she would take a deep breath, look beyond my blindness and work with me discussing accommodations. Well unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.

 

My mom and dad both had to work on the Saturday that was designated as training day, but since I had a dorm room that semester, they dropped me off at the dorm Friday night where I got a good night’s sleep, got up, took care of the dog, got dressed, ate breakfast and confidently and excitedly headed for the training room and what I thought would be the start of an exciting opportunity. But I don’t think I had even found a seat at one of the tables when the manager approached me and told me that this job requires a special software that there was no way they could adapt for me, and seemed to have no interest in discussing alternatives, or investigating to see if maybe this software was compatible with Jaws. She was polite to me and apologized for the fact that I went to the trouble of applying for the job and coming to training, but instead of being open-minded and discussing with me how accommodations could be made for this job, she remained adamant that there was no way this job could be adapted, leaving me no choice but to leave, feeling stunned, embarrassed, and for the first time in my life, a little discouraged about what the future might hold for me when it comes time to seek permanent employment if this narrow-minded treatment was already happening in college. I am sure some of you are thinking I should have been more persistent or even sited the Americans with Disabilities Act which requires employers to make accommodations for people with disabilities. But since I was so unaccustomed to that kind of narrow-mindedness, I was too stunned and caught off guard to respond. My parents also pointed out that this job wasn’t worth fighting for, and I should save the fight for a more permanent job related to my major that I will really want. I agreed with their reasoning, as well as the fact that the overwhelming majority of people I meet are wonderful, so it is not worth making life difficult fighting with one narrow-minded employer when there are probably hundreds of other employers who would love to have me on their payroll.

 

To be fair, I should mention that this incident was not the fault of anyone working at the college because when I told another teacher about the incident in casual conversation one day, they said the phonathon was conducted through an outside agency, and it sounds like others had negative experiences with the agency too because the teacher told me the college was not going to hire this agency again. The teacher even reported my story to an administrator who e-mailed me apologizing for the incident and encouraging me to apply the following year. Last year, the mass e-mail was never sent to students for another phonathon, so they must not have done it last year. But the apology, and the wonderful employment offer to answer phones for the college switchboard restored my confidence in myself and the decency of my fellow man, until this past Thursday that is.

 

Next summer, I will be eligible to participate in a Journalism internship, so about two weeks ago, I was sitting in front of the computer at work with nothing to do but wait for the switchboard to ring when it occurred to me that I should start researching local internship opportunities. I thought a good place to start would be an internship opportunity my advisor briefly mentioned last year with the Zoological Society. I don’t really enjoy going to the zoo as a tourist because the animals are mostly in cages (not that I would want tigers and snakes loose of course), and I hated standing in the hot sun listening to my mom read signs about the animals when I could get the same information from a textbook. But I do love animals, and figured this internship might give me a new perspective of the zoo that would be really interesting. Also, I had a lot of experience already with newspapers and thought it might be fun to try something different. And as an additional bonus, unlike most internships which are unpaid, this internship paid $8 an hour! Not wanting a repeat of the phonathon embarrassment, I decided maybe it would be more responsible of me to write to the coordinator of the internship letting her know I was blind and asking if this internship would be appropriate for me before I applied. The rest of the work day was spent carefully composing this message. Here is what I wrote:

 

Dear (Name of Coordinator),

My name is Allison Nastoff, and I am about to enter my junior year at Carroll University. I am majoring in Communication with an emphasis in Journalism, and will be eligible for an internship next summer. I was told about this Journalism internship with the zoological society by my advisor, and am considering applying for it because I think it would be a unique and valuable experience. But before I apply, I wanted to ask you a couple questions because I am totally blind, and was wondering if this is a disability this internship could accommodate. I am an excellent writer, and would be able to write or do any necessary research for this internship using Jaws, a screen reading software that speaks what is written on the screen. I think this software could be paid for by the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation if you do not already have it, but wanted to make sure installing this software wouldn’t be a problem should I be accepted for this internship. My other concern was that in reading your requirements for the internship, I saw that one of the requirements was walking around the zoo. I am physically capable of walking, and have a guide dog. However, I don’t know my way around the zoo, so I would need someone who could accompany me and direct me. So because of these accommodations I would need, I was wondering if this internship would be appropriate for me, and if these are accommodations the zoo can provide. Thanks in advance for your help.

Allison Nastoff

 

I hadn’t heard back from her, and was beginning to think I never would. And then Thursday night at about 11:00, I had just finished reading an article for politics and thought I would just check my school e-mail one more time before turning off the braille notetaker and going to bed. I didn’t expect any messages of interest, let alone this absolutely outrageous reply:

 

Dear Allison,

Thanks for your interest in our journalism internship. I admire your determination to complete college, considering your blindness. I think you may be under a misconception that the Zoological Society communications internship is mainly sitting at a computer and writing. In reality, the internship involves: –Walking the Zoo extensively and observing animals and interviewing staff, with visual observations of their work and of exhibits –Going to numerous events in which the intern works with a photographer to get information for captions, photo permission forms signed (and they have to be read and checked for information), descriptions of the people photographed and the scene in which they are photographed, helping the photographer arrange the subjects, etc. –Learning about the visuals that go with stories, including what makes a good photo, a good layout, etc. –Proofing layout proofs (hard copies that must be read and the photos checked), and writing in corrections by hand –Creating children’s activities after viewing other activities from the past, including putting together crafts, mazes, etc. –Having each draft of a story edited and critiqued in red ink or yellow highlight (we don’t use TRACK CHANGES), a major part of the learning process. –Learning how to do research for a story. We have a library here with many specialized books that have not been translated into Braille. We do not rely on the Internet as the sole source for story research. -Learning how to interview people, including reading body cues and describing their environments. -Being able to navigate our computer system quickly to find information in numerous folders. You are welcome to apply for the internship. You may, however, want to apply for an internship that does not require as much visual and physical work as this one does.

Sincerely, (her signature)

 

Alright, maybe it could be argued that I threw too much information at her in my message, and maybe I should take a less overwhelming approach in the future by perhaps simply sending them an e-mail simply saying that I am blind and invite them to call me or arrange a time to meet them in person to present myself in a less overwhelming manner. You could also say that I asked if she thought the internship would be appropriate for me, and she was simply being honest. Even so, part of me was outraged, and another part of me was laughing hysterically about this narrow-minded reply! I especially loved the sentence: “I admire your determination to complete college, considering your blindness”. Now I see what those other blind people I have talked to over the years meant when they mentioned having to deal with sighted people who thought blindness was a terrible tragedy that condemned them to a sad, hopeless life, and were amazed that the blind can do anything. And then, just like the phonathon manager, it was clear this lady had no interest in discussing how this internship could be adapted. When I read the message to my parents the next day, they were just as outraged as I was, and my mom agreed with me that I should not apply for this internship because there are so many open-minded people I could intern with that I don’t need to waste a summer dealing with this person. But my mom, who is usually a quiet person like me who prefers to let things go rather than making a scene, surprised me when she said I ought to at least respond to this person with a refutation of her negative assumptions of me, and educate her a little about blindness before we part ways. I kind of agree that this would be a good idea because I agree with the philosophy that if we don’t educate narrow-minded people about our capabilities when given the chance, these negative attitudes will only persist. But another part of me, the part that always likes to assume the best about people, wonders if maybe this coordinator is a genuinely nice person who just didn’t reread her message and think about her tone and how it could be perceived by the recipient before clicking send. After all, one of the first things I learned in a high school communication course is that you have to be especially careful when composing e-mails because you cannot communicate your tone of voice through writing, so your words could be perceived negatively by the recipient even if that wasn’t your intention. But another problem is that another part of me is thinking “whether she intended to be narrow-minded or not, that is how she came off to me, and all I can think about is how I would love to give her a piece of my mind, a feeling that is not conducive for writing a polite, professional and strictly educational response. On that note, sometimes when emotions are raw, it helps me to just forget about professionalism and speak my mind. So here is a response I wrote last night that I have been fantasizing about sending:

 

Thank you so much for getting back to me and providing more detailed information about what this internship involves. However, while I had some misconceptions about what this internship involves, your e-mail makes it clear that you have some misconceptions regarding the capabilities of blind people. In reality:

–Being blind has done nothing to impede my ability to complete college courses. With only a couple minor adaptations like screen reading software, and ordering electronic copies of books from the publisher if they are not available online, I am able to take a full course load and I am treated no differently than my sighted classmates when it comes to course expectations. Also, I am not simply completing these college courses. I am completing them with excellent grades, as I have made the Dean’s list every semester.

–For my Journalism courses, I interview people routinely, and it is true that I cannot see their body language. But the same things I cannot see in their body language, I can pick up in nonvisual ways such as observing the tone of their voice. Also, I am perfectly capable of walking, and if these workers are truly passionate about their interaction with the animals, I bet they would have no problem describing any important interactions they have with these animals that I cannot pick up nonvisually.

–I have had classes where some information wasn’t available in braille or online, but with a little openmindedness, my teachers and I have been able to negotiate other ways for me to receive the same information.

–I volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and love planning weekly activities for my little sister, so I believe there are plenty of nonvisual ways I could contribute to planning children’s events.

–It is true that photos and layout would be visual, however other teachers have realized that not being able to do these things is not a big deal, and this small limitation should not exclude me from all the other nonvisual, and tremendously valuable experiences of the class. I feel the same holds true for this internship.

Don’t worry. I won’t apply for this internship because while the visual aspects of the internship could be adapted, an internship where I would have to deal with such narrow-minded attitudes would not be appropriate for me. You are welcome to have your opinions about blindness, but I think you might want to consider educating yourself better and thinking more open-mindedly about the capabilities of the blind before making these negative assumptions in the future. Sincerely, Allison Nastoff

 

If you are stunned by my strong language, don’t worry. I haven’t hit send on it, at least not yet because since most of you readers are adults and for many of you, dealing with narrow-mindedness is probably business as usual, I thought I would solicit your advice about how to address this lady. Have any of you tried to refute the negative assumptions of these kinds of people? If so, what kinds of responses have yielded the most positive results for all parties involved? Should I send my response as is? Or, have you found trying to change the attitudes of these people is a hopeless cause not worth the trouble? Any advice and personal experience you could offer would be much appreciated. Thanks, and I hope this new year of school/work is going well for all of you.

Some Thoughts as I Return To School

Hello readers. I hope you all enjoyed the address from Snickers, the queen. She is right that I absolutely love and adore her, but I should point out that while Snickers says I favor Gilbert, Gilbert is jealous because I give too much love and attention to Snickers! I just cannot win, I tell you! So I guess sibling rivalry is alive and well in both my human and animal family. But I will concede that Snickers has a right to be a little insulted since Gilbert gets so much more attention in this journal than she does, and for that, I offer my most sincere apology and will strive to ensure they are both mentioned more equally since they have both proven they have an awesome and innate ability to add some fun and life to this journal because unfortunately, the demands of the human life do not always allow me to have the constantly sunny disposition they have, especially when the responsibilities of school return to my life. Speaking of school, though I hate to end this glorious summer with a somewhat depressing entry about returning to the reality of school, this time of year always sparks so many thoughts and emotions that I feel an overwhelming need to express before they are buried under stressful thoughts about the homework ahead of me, and mountains of information my brain must store, at least until after exams.

     I often feel guilty when I complain about going to school. After all, the slaves back in the 1800s, and marginalized citizens in third world countries today would give anything to have the chance to go to school, and in some places like Afghanistan, women risk their lives by going to school because the Taliban does not want women to be educated. Even in the United States, you hear about too many schools that are centers of poverty and violence, rather than learning and possibility, or schools where budget constraints and sometimes negative attitudes about the capabilities of children with disabilities means they don’t always get the quality education they deserve. But I have always gone to wonderful schools staffed with teachers who saw any technology I needed to give me an equal education to that of my sighted peers as a worthwhile investment, and who set high expectations for me, telling me never to let my disability stop me from dreaming big. I have never known poverty or violence, and never had to risk my life for an education. Yet despite how blessed and fortunate I know I am when I think about the less fortunate circumstances, even for people just a few miles away in the inner city schools, I still complain about having to go to school, especially this time of year.

     While I don’t want to claim to be a philosopher, I cannot help notice that I am not alone in my dread of going back to school, and I wonder if this seemingly universal gloominess that comes with the arrival of each new school year is due to the fact that when you have had access to education all of your life, you cannot appreciate how fortunate you really are. And if you live under a government that places so much value on education that it is required of you, and are surrounded by parents and teachers who share these values, you may view education as something you groan and go along with because it is the law, or because it is expected of you by your parents. Ultimately, this means that for people who long for education but live in areas where the culture surrounding them doesn’t value education, school is viewed as their gate to freedom from poverty, and a better life for themselves and their children, while many affluent Americans view school as a prison where they must serve a twelve year minimum sentence in order to earn the freedom of adulthood. The reason I am making these uncharacteristically philosophical speculations is because I think that though I didn’t have the ability to articulate these thoughts as a child, this is often how I felt at the beginning of each new school year.

     Alright, I know a lot of you readers might say this prison analogy is a little harsh, but just play along with me for a few minutes and think about it. When you were a child, didn’t you ever feel imprisoned by crowded stuffy classrooms where you sat for hours at a time struggling through pointless math problems, or listening to teachers rambling about history, grammar or science while the rest of the world passed by outside the window, making you feel as if you were wasting your life away? Did you not feel imprisoned by the bells that rang every hour, at the sound of which you were expected to robotically hurry to your next class, which for me was the same class, at the same time five days a week in high school? Didn’t you feel imprisoned by strict teachers who required you to have a pass just to use the bathroom, and robbed you of precious lunch and recess hours to finish work simply because you work at a slower pace than the rest of the class. Surely, you felt imprisoned by the homework which dominates so many after school hours you don’t really get to have a life outside of school, and the teachers who gave detentions if you just needed a break from these pointless assignments for once, deciding to go to bed early or enjoy a movie with your parents who won freedom from the bonds of homework when they entered the adult world. School vacations, especially summer vacation offered a temporary release from this imprisoning routine, but while the beginning of summer vacation is characterized with feelings of joy and freedom, the whole month of August was always marked with gloomy feelings when I realized that it wouldn’t be long before I would have to surrender my freedom and return to the prison of school, even when I was mature enough to understand the necessity of education and how lucky I am to have access to it.

     However, I must say that ever since I started college, I have not been quite as depressed about returning to school. Don’t get me wrong. I still feel a little imprisoned by boring classes, and though I always start each school year convinced this will be the year I get my homework done efficiently so I have plenty of time for more pleasurable pursuits, I know by the end of the first week, I will be so hopelessly overwhelmed by homework that always takes me longer to complete than I think, that this very well could be the last journal entry I have time to write until Christmas. And I still get a little bit of a melancholy feeling because the end of summer, characterized by the sleepy, mournful songs of the cicadas by day, and the choir made up of thousands of crickets that come out after dark, followed by autumn, characterized by the wonderful aroma of ripe apples in the air, and the peaceful lullaby sound of the wind dispersing the crunchy dead leaves, are such beautiful seasons that I feel like I have to tune out once school starts, leaving me with the feeling one might get if forced to leave a lovely concert right at the climax of its beauty. But yet, since I have started college, my sadness about leaving summer behind isn’t quite as deep.

     Part of the reason for this could be that the routine isn’t so monotonous because I don’t have every class every day. In fact, a lot of classes at my college don’t meet on Wednesdays, so with the exception of first semester sophomore year when I had two classes that met on Wednesdays, I have gotten Wednesdays off all semester. This semester, I will have one class that meets for fifty minutes four days a week, two classes that meet two hours twice a week, and one class that only meets once a week for three and a half hours. When I am not in class, unlike high school where you were required to fill any free hours with study halls in an assigned classroom, in college, how you spend free hours is your decision. Usually, I end up using them to study anyway because there is so much work to do, but just knowing that I could go home early, take a walk outside on a beautiful day or chat with a friend in the coffee shop if I wanted to is exhilarating. Also, I have never missed a class except when I wasn’t feeling well around the time of my ovarian cyst surgery last year, and never would skip class without a legitimate reason like that because I am a serious student, and because that would be pretty disrespectful to my parents who are paying my tuition, and my conscience would bother me so much I wouldn’t enjoy the time. But it is so exhilarating to know that if I were to skip class, I wouldn’t be chased down by cops to face truancy charges, and my parents would not be called. So even though college is more demanding than high school in many ways, this variety in my routine, and the fact that I am treated like an adult and trusted to make my own decisions means I feel a lot less imprisoned in my college education.

     But I think the larger reason for my more positive outlook at the start of each year of college is the simple fact that college is not required, and therefore, not everyone goes to college. I don’t mean to sound elitist and snobby when I make this statement, and unfortunately, there are too many people who would love to go to college, but don’t have access to colleges where they live, or cannot afford higher education. I hope that Barack Obama, or some president in the near future can reform policies so that everyone who wants higher education can pursue it, but it is not my intention to put down anyone who couldn’t go to college, or chose not to go to college. My point is that since college is not required, people who have access and choose to pursue a college education are a more mature group of people. Of course, it is true that these days, it is difficult to find a job and be successful without a college education, so a lot of people who might have loved to be done with school and go right to work after high school in a less competitive world, decide they need to go to college. One day when I was younger, I was talking with my sister and her husband about what the college atmosphere is like, and now that I am in the college world, I realize the truth behind one particular comment my sister’s husband made. He said that just like in high school classes, the students don’t want to be there, but in college, they understand that they need to be there. This is exactly the attitude I see in my college classes, and I love it. I think that simply being with a group of people who understands why they need education creates a more pleasant, less imprisoning atmosphere. Disrespect toward professors, at least at my college, is extremely rare, and even though I mentioned earlier that in college I could skip class because parents would not be called, I don’t skip, and despite the lack of parental supervision, most of the other students don’t skip class either, because since college is not mandatory, so their parents really cannot force them to go, they most likely would not have enrolled in college until they themselves have acquired the maturity to value this higher education. But I think it is not only your choice whether to go to college that makes higher education more liberating, but also the fact that it is your choice what to study in college. Of course, there are still general education requirements, especially for freshmen and sophomore years. However, although I hated taking Statistics since I am a writing person, not a math person, I didn’t get such a deep feeling that what I was learning served no purpose because instead of crunching numbers just for the sake of doing it, the teacher gave us word problems, and showed how knowledge of statistical operations would be useful in our diverse majors. But in addition to general education classes, in college you have more smaller, specialized classes directly related to the major you chose, allowing you to develop wonderful friendships with people who share your interests, and be more engaged and passionate about learning since the subject matter of the courses are tailored to your interests. Of course, sometimes even classes related to your interests can be boring, but it is so much easier to persevere and stay engaged in these classes when you know that what you are learning will serve a larger purpose in your chosen career, long after the final exam.

     Or maybe I became more optimistic once I started college because after fourteen years of education that could be compared to climbing a mountain at times, I saw college as the final lap on this climb. My college years have absolutely flown by too, and I cannot believe I am already a junior this year, which means I only have two more years on my educational climb before I reach the promise land of adulthood where all of the skills you learned through the educational climb can be put to use making a larger difference in the world. And on that note, I will sign off because while I wrote most of these thoughts yesterday on my last day of summer vacation, as I finish this entry, I am in the technology center at my college after my first class of this new year, and I want to study hard and make excellent grades so my arrival in this promise land is not delayed. So I guess it’s time to stop blogging, pull out my syllabus and start studying again.