Posts Tagged 'college'

Soul Searching

When I was in third grade, I had an inexplicable fascination with the Iditarod Dogsled race held every year in Alaska. The race retraces the journey from Anchorage to Nome, made by a brave dog named Balto to get medicine for children suffering from diphtheria in 1925. While most of the topics covered in third grade Social Studies put me to sleep, I couldn’t get enough reading about the Iditarod, and long after the Iditarod unit was over, I would daydream about being a “musher” when I grew up. Nowadays, I have no desire to be a “musher” and when you get right down to it, if someone actually offered me the chance to race sled dogs, I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it then either. After all, I could barely keep my balance walking through snow, so standing on a sled while being pulled by dogs would have been out of the question. Also, the potential perilous situations that can occur in the Iditarod like thin ice wouldn’t have appealed to me then and don’t appeal to me now. So why I daydreamed about being a “musher” was for a long time a mystery to me.

     Then in fourth grade, the combined effects of a vacation to a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin over Labor Day weekend and a whole curriculum based on pioneers like Laura Ingalls Wilder had me dreaming about being a modernday pioneer, abandoning the modern life of hurried mornings, long days away from home and annoying television programs in the evening and raising kids in the north woods. But as I matured I realized I was making that kind of life sound more glamorous than it really was. Using an outhouse? No thank you! Cooking meals over an open fire? As it is, I am still afraid of burning myself while cooking on an electric stove. And we haven’t even gotten to my fear of bugs and my disdain for rugged trails. I still love the smell of the air when we occasionally make it up to the north woods, and could maybe see myself renting a cabin to retreat to once a year (in early spring or autumn to avoid the bugs of course) when I am older. But to live as a pioneer isn’t my calling after all.

     Around the end of fifth grade through seventh grade or so it occurred to me that I really enjoyed writing and so I started dreaming of being an author. Even though I cannot read print books, I have always found beauty in the glossy covers and pages of books. Even now if there is an idle moment, I will sometimes pick up a print book lying on a coffee table and just savor the texture of it. I used to think about how thrilling it might be to be the writer of a real, glossy published book sold in bookstores all over the world, and more importantly about what a peaceful life the life of an author might be, just sitting in a quiet office with no time clock or boss, escaping to a fictional world created by your imagination and writing from the heart. But when I learned that most authors also must still work a day job, that even if a publisher does accept your book, royalties made on the book usually don’t exceed the cost of publishing the book and that authors often have to cave to writing what sells, not necessarily what inspires them, I decided that wasn’t the kind of life I wanted to live either. Believe me. Since I cannot even wrap my head around how J.K. Rowling came up with such an elaborate plot and created such well-developed characters, I don’t think I have the talent to make it in the author business.

     Then in eighth grade as a community choir I was involved in prepared to tour Italy, I started romanticising about making my living singing in a choir and touring the world. But again, I discovered that world travel isn’t as glamorous as it is cracked up to be, what with jet lag, fears of pick-pockets, bumpy roads that are very difficult to walk on and the constant fear of my medicine getting lost or stolen since I think Walgreens pharmacies can only be found in the United States. Besides, choirs don’t pay wages, so between choir tours, I would still have to work a day job.

     By high school, I was finally starting to grow in to myself and form a more realistic dream. When teachers started praising essays I wrote and I had a wonderful experience in a career exploration program offered by my school that gave me the opportunity to work with the news editor for a local newspaper, it occurred to me that I would enjoy a career in journalism. It would be an exciting career that would take me somewhere different each day. I enjoy participating in discussions on news and politics and was starting to notice and get frustrated about all the injustice in the world which I might be able to expose and change with the “power of the pen.” So I thought interviewing people and writing about news and politics would be a perfect fit for me. I was disappointed when I got to college and learned from professors and guest speakers that reporter positions were hard to come by since the shift toward online sources for news forced some newspapers to fold, and all newspapers, including our local newspapers to cut back. But I chose to stay the course, reasoning that maybe I would be one of the lucky ones who would land a job as a reporter. If not, I could settle for a public relations position with a company as the demand for Public Relations is growing and journalists commonly carry over to public relations positions because there are many parallels between these fields. For example, both fields value high-quality journalistic writing that keeps in mind concepts like the inverted pyramid (most important information first, least important last). The difference is that the goal of the journalist is to be objective whereas the goal of someone writing a press release for a Public Relations position is to spin the story as ethically as possible to favor the company. I wasn’t as passionate about Public Relations as I was about journalism but as I began my senior year of college, my mindset was, “hey, a job is a job. I could take a public relations position to pay the bills and then write freelance articles about politics or something as a hobby.”

     But then I read In to The Wild by John Krakauer. It was a book assigned for a Creative Nonfiction course I took in the fall semester of my senior year, and it was one of the rare books assigned for school that I didn’t want to put down. It absolutely captivated me!

     The book retraces the story of a young man named Christopher McCandless who had a seemingly normal upbringing in an affluent suburb near Washington D.C. But after graduating college, he cut off all contact with his family and hitchhiked all across the country. His ultimate dream was an Alaskan odyssey where he wanted to hike to the remote wilderness of Alaska with minimal supplies and live off the land. In 1992, he embarked on this dream with only a light backpack, set up camp in an abandoned bus used by hunters, hunted game and used a book on Alaskan plants to find edible flora. But the dream did not end well for him. In the summer when he was ready to end his voyage, he discovered that a stream which had been calm and shallow when he first crossed it had turned in to a raging river that he knew he could not swim across, so he returned to the bus where he eventually died from eating damp seeds which had developed toxic mold. I agreed with my classmates that what he did was foolish, even a little selfish. Perhaps he also had some degree of mental illness too that was exacerbated when he found out that his father was living a double life, secretly seeing someone else when Chris was little. But when the rest of my class had probably long forgotten about him and relegated his story to the mental file of “just another book assigned for a class”, something about him stuck with me. It was a feeling on the order of “wow! I wonder what it would be like to do that!”

     But why? Was it the fact that it mentioned the beautiful-sounding wilderness of Alaska, re-awakening my silly Iditarod or pioneer fantasies from when I was younger? Was it God’s way of telling me I was meant to have an Alaskan odyssey too, or live as a modernday pioneer after all? “No,” I realized. I am still not fond of wilderness that is too rugged and I have absolutely no desire to break ties with my family, become a hitchhiker or die alone in a bus out in the wilderness! I suppose all children have wild ideas at some point during their childhood. But I was now an educated and thus supposedly mature woman in my twenties. Why, when all my classmates and my parents focused on how foolish Christopher’s actions were, was I still enamored by him?

     I didn’t have much time to think about this book as I raced to the finish line of my college career, got caught up in the excitement of graduation and then had to deal with health problems last summer. But around October when I was adjusting well to Celiac Disease and feeling much better, I started to get a restless feeling in my soul and a yearning for a purpose. This was a good sign, my parents said. It meant that I was feeling better now and ready to think about my future. So for one week in Mid October, I dove headlong in to the task of applying for jobs. If I were collecting unemployment benefits, I would need to apply for two jobs a week, but I could do better than that! Every day that week, I woke up determined to apply for at least one job a day. So on Monday, I applied for a social media representative position with a retail store. On Tuesday I applied for a public relations position with a healthcare company, and so on. At the beginning of the week, I was actually a little upset because as luck would have it, the week I was finally motivated to apply for jobs was a short week. On Friday morning of that week, I had promised Mom I would go with her to Indiana for a family reunion and a long weekend at my grandma’s house where I would not have internet access to apply for jobs or check my e-mail for interview offers on the ones I had applied for.

     But sitting in the car singing along to the radio with Mom that Friday morning, it occurred to me that I wasn’t as eager to keep applying to jobs as I thought I would be, and rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment over the jobs I had applied for already, something troubled me. A few hours in to the car ride, I felt like reading, but as I scrolled through the list of books I had downloaded on to my braille notetaker and saved in my pleasure reading folder, none of them peaked my interest at that moment. Then I remembered In to The Wild. I still had it saved in my college books folder. Although I loved the book, unfortunately that semester was so demanding due in large part to my senior capstone seminar I had to take that semester that I couldn’t really savor the book. In fact, when it occurred to me that I was spending so much time on this book that I was neglecting my responsibilities for other courses, I had to resort to skimming through the second half of the book. In the car that day, I decided that it didn’t matter that the course was over. A book that captivated me that much was worth finishing and savoring. Over the following week as I savored that book, I still couldn’t put my finger on why this book captivated me so much, but I noticed that particular quotes jumped out at me in both readings. My favorite of these quotes was in a letter McCandless wrote to Ronald Franz, an old man he had befriended in Arizona. Toward the end of the letter, McCandless says, “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future” (57).

     Maybe all young people upon college graduation need some sort of retreat to search their souls and adjust to a new chapter of life because when you are really small and life is easy, the idea of soul searching isn’t even on your radar, and when it is, the demands of childhood from homework, to fitting in and participating in after-school activities leave little time for soul searching. Several of my college friends took vacations to Europe after graduation, perhaps to fulfill this need. Maybe given Christopher McCandless’s troubled mind, he just took it to the extreme. Was it possible that maybe all I yearned for was a smaller-scale version of a retreat? What if I invited one member of the family (Mom or Dad) to accompany me, and we rented a little cabin way out in the middle of nowhere for a month, bringing with us nothing but food from the nearest grocery store and books from home? When I thought about it, I pretty much went right from the joy of graduation to the worry and uncertainty of addressing my health problems. After my health improved, maybe I jumped in to the next step in the sequence of life that society expects of a college graduate who elects not to go to graduate school, at least not right away–looking for a job–too quickly without really stopping to honestly contemplate what I want the rest of my life to look like. Maybe a retreat in which I couldn’t log on to Facebook to compare my job searching progress with that of my friends, in which the peace and serenity wasn’t constantly being interrupted by the telephone, where I could cut myself off from the world and its commercialism and negativity, would give me the space I needed to think. Mom wasn’t too keen on this idea. She liked the vacation to nature part, but not the part about leaving all phones at home. It is important to be there if people need us, and these days, it is foolish to be without a phone in the event of an emergency. At first I was frustrated and about to give her the same lecture Christopher McCandless gave Ronald Franz about being too attached to security and conservatism. But after settling down for a few hours and thinking about it more carefully, I realized she was right, especially given my medical issues. And when I got really honest, I like my security too. In fact, I had no idea why I even suggested a retreat because I hate the uncertainty that comes with traveling. What if we found a wonderful cabin, only to discover that the grocery store in town only carried cheap processed stuff full of gluten and I was stuck eating nothing but raw wilted lettuce for a month or something? In fact, I have had moments in the past where I longed for serenity and had no problem finding it on our patio in the summer or in the peaceful sanctuary of my bedroom. If I needed a break from the social pressure of Facebook, I could find the willpower not to log on. Realizing that I really had no idea what I was looking for and was doing nothing more than frantically grasping at straws, I resolved to just clear my mind for a few days, read other books and trust that life would work out.

     Then the following Sunday, Mom and I went to church which holds an event every year called Harvest Fest, an event in which some of the missionaries the church supports come home and speak to the congregation about the work they are doing all over the world. Monday through Thursday of the previous week, the missionaries spoke at evening events, but since we didn’t return home from Indiana until Tuesday evening and were actually leaving on another trip the following Monday, we were unable to attend these events, but a couple of the missionaries spoke to the congregation that Sunday. I couldn’t see the rest of the congregation but I was on the edge of my seat. They were so inspiring! And, again I felt that same “Wow! I wish I could do that!” feeling. But as usual, on closer examination, I realized I wouldn’t really want to live in the rough conditions they described, and given my medical conditions, serving in a third world country would be foolish. As admirable as their work was, it wasn’t the life for me.

     But maybe these long hours in the car was God’s way of giving me the retreat I wanted earlier because on the second trip, I started doing some analyzing. It was during this trip that I thought about everything mentioned in this entry, all my dreams I fantasized about as a child from being a musher in the Iditarod, to a journalist, as well as Christopher McCandless and the missionaries and realized that all these ideas, as unrelated as they may seem on the surface had one thing in common. They all indicated that as far back as I can remember and still to this day, I admire people who dare to be different.

     I admire people who have found something that they are passionate about, and weren’t afraid to pursue it. I admire people whose demeanor seems to suggests they will never be one of those people who look back on their life with regret and say “I always wanted to…” because they are doing what they have always wanted to do. I admire people who don’t feel like they have to be good little soldiers, resigning themselves to a job they don’t find passion in but pays well. I admire people who appear to have jobs where they aren’t spending their lives counting the hours until the work day is over, the days until the weekend when they can take a vacation or something and the years until they can retire, because their job brings them such a sense of joy and fulfillment that they look forward to their job every day. And, in the case of the missionaries and Christopher McCandless especially, I admire people who truly believe and practice a life that has a higher purpose than accumulating wealth and saving for retirement. I still haven’t figured out how this revelation can be translated in to a path that is suitable for me. I have some ideas which I will elaborate on in the next entry, but what I did figure out was the answer to my troubled thoughts after my week of applying for traditional public relations jobs. I was troubled because I realized that I was falling in to line with society’s expectations like a good little soldier. After completing each application, I was full of excitement and hope at the time, but realized on the trip/retreat that I was not excited about the jobs themselves. I was actually dreading the thought of having to put on a happy face and spend my days announcing doorbuster clothing sales on social media or write about the features of heating and cooling systems for buildings if I got one of these jobs. So meaningless in the grand scheme of things! That was how it came to me that the reason I was troubled was because I was letting myself become someone who was only excited about the paycheck, and all of my childhood dreams and the kind of people I admire prove this is not the kind of person I was meant to be, so I pray every day that I won’t cave in to synicism and let myself become someone I wasn’t meant to be.


College Graduation Part 2: A Perfect Celebration

Gilbert and me on steps of Rankin Hall

Here we are, both proudly wearing our caps and gowns.

Well readers, although there was anxiety leading up to graduation, there is only one word I can think of to describe the graduation festivities themselves. Perfect.

     Just hours after checking my grades which officially confirmed that I would be graduating, Mom took me to the Almost There Fair. The primary purpose of the fair was to pick up rain tickets, brunch tickets and a packet with the important information on where we were supposed to be and when on the big day, but there was also a class picture and champagne toast with the president of Carroll University, a tradition for every senior class. This fair was at 4:00 that afternoon. The festivities began at 2:00 with a barbecue, outdoor games and a raffle drawing, but I had a little bit of a headache that morning, so I decided to just come for the main event at 4:00. The original plan was for Mom to take me around to the tables to get the information we needed and then leave since I didn’t think to make prior arrangements to meet up with a friend. But to my joy and amazement, Mom, Granny and I had literally just stepped out of the car when one of my best friends saw me! We met through an american history class first semester of my freshman year and enjoyed each other’s company so much that freshman and sophomore years, we would get together for lunch twice a week and occasionally do other things together like ring salvation army bells. She even came to my house to visit me when I had to miss a week of school for surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. But junior and senior year, school requirements were so demanding for both of us that we hardly ever saw each other. She gladly agreed to take me around the fair, so Mom left me with her and we had a great time catching up. Both my friend and I don’t care for champagne, and usually hate standing for pictures, but we didn’t mind watching the others drink the champagne and just enjoying the president’s speech celebrating our accomplishments. We also had such a good time talking and savoring the beautiful weather that day that even the tedium of positioning 600 students for a class picture went fast.

     After this fair, I made a quick trip to the disability services office just to tie up loose ends for some special accommodations being made for me so that commencement would go smoothly, and then out to dinner at a nearby mexican restaurant that is a favorite of college students, especially on Thursday nights which feature discounted margaritas. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t drink, but the food is awesome too. I had two chicken tacos and one beef taco, each topped with guacamole, and of course, more chips than I needed, but hey, college graduation is a once-in-a-lifetime event right? I think that was the most relaxed social function I ever went to because everyone was in a festive mood, brimming with excitement on the cusp of graduation, and since grades were submitted and all the hard work done, the faculty member that went with us no longer felt like a professor, but an equal. We were all adults now! And just when I thought the meal couldn’t get any better, I pulled out the money to pay for my meal but was told that the communication department had set aside money for this celebration, so it was free! The only damper to the event was that we might have liked to stay a little longer to chat, but when we were done eating, the restaurant more-or-less shooed us out. It must have been a busy night and other people wanted our table. But I guess we were about done anyway.

     Even preparation for graduation was festive. Unlike my high school graduation, this time around there was no need to host a bridal shower and a graduation all in one weekend, no one had just moved out of the house leaving it a mess, the weather was beautiful and everyone stayed healthy. Since I wasn’t used to a party free of these complications, I was at first perturbed when Mom did other things unrelated to the party in the days leading up to it like planting flowers and shopping at the mall for a baby gift for my brother-in-law. But she assured me that this time was different. Everything was in place, and there would be plenty of time to set up tables, make sure caps and gowns were ready to go for me (and Gilbert), and order the food with no stress. She was right. With my high school graduation, I remember staying out of the way as Mom frantically ordered food, but this time around, there was so much time the whole family could come along to Costco and pick out food based on free samples! I think I have mentioned in past entries how eating good food is half the fun of parties for our family? This party was no exception as we went all out! For appetizers, we picked out guacamole, salsa, spinach and artichoke dip, cheese spread and crackers and chips for dipping. For the main course, we picked out some wonderfully seasoned pre-cooked chicken and meatballs and a round steak which my brother-in-law who likes to cook made a fajita seasoning for. And let’s not forget about the usual party standards we all love like pasta salad, potato salad, bean salad and my dad’s famous tomatoes seasoned with olive oil and spices, topped with fresh mozzarella cheese! And of course, it was all topped off with a beautiful chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, cream filling, and a crunchy chocolate mortar board on top! A large chunk of this cake is still in the freezer for whenever the mood strikes me and I want to re-live my graduation via the taste of cake. That evening after a delicious pizza from Papa Murphy’s, I helped cut ribbons which Granny curled around napkins which had plastic silverware rolled in them. Mom also found streamers in my school’s colors which she cris-crossed over all the tables and despite not being able to see, I could tell it was beautiful.

     There wasn’t much time for breakfast Sunday morning as I had to be at Carroll in my dress, cap and gown by 9:15 to line up for a Baccalaureate, a fancy name for a prayer service at 10:00. I had my usual oatmeal, but was too excited about the events of the day to be interested in food yet. From the moment I stepped out of the car and heard the festivities of guests already arriving, felt warm sun and a perfect balmy breeze on my face and heard pretty church bells off in the distance, I just knew it would be a glorious day. In the arrangements worked out with the disability services office, I was assigned a student volunteer, who actually ended up being a classmate from public relations, so I knew her. She stayed with me all day and was such a wonderful help to me, getting me everywhere I needed to be that day that I sent her a thank you note with a $50 Target gift card. The funny thing was, she actually graduates next year, but several students walked up to her asking if she was graduating with me. But she said it was fun to be a sort of unofficial participant in my ceremony to get excited for next year. She found my dad and me right away and took over. There was the usual chaos of a faculty member shouting over a din of chattering graduates trying to get us all lined up, but it wasn’t long before we were all lined up and processing in to the auditorium to beautiful organ music. It was a beautiful service with various students leading prayers thanking God for the education and support we received at Carroll and asking Him to bless us wherever our lives lead us in the years to come. Then ironically, a student named Luke read a parable from the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the good samaritan, after which the chaplain gave a sermon encouraging us to think about how at different points in our lives, we resemble all the characters in this parable. Sometimes, we are all like the man beaten and left on the side of the road, and sometimes while we don’t mean to, we get so focused on our own lives that we ignore those in need, but we should all strive to be like the good samaritan as we go about our lives.

After this, the student volunteer and I met with the Dean of Students to orient me to the stage, and then my dad picked me up for brunch held in the main dining room. Brunch wasn’t as relaxed an affair as I hoped it would be because graduates had less than an hour to eat before we needed to line up again for the official ceremony and the line for the brunch buffet was really long, but it was worth the $20 ticket to eat in the dining room one more time as an undergraduate. After brunch it was back to the auditorium to line up, and seemingly in the blink of an eye, the sound of bagpipes announced that commencement had begun.

     Carroll has a proud tradition of having each freshmen class process in to the opening convocation the day before the start of every fall semester and then process out of Carroll with the same bagpipes as seniors. Unfortunately, my start to freshman year was so chaotic what with getting used to Gilbert, transitioning to the dorm and getting trained with new technology that I somehow missed the freshman procession. Mom got me there in time for the main convocation event itself, but somehow the fact that I was supposed to march in this procession got overlooked. But to be honest, given my nervous state at the time, the weight of these four years of hard work ahead of me, and uncertainty about whether Gilbert and I would actually survive to see graduation given our stressful start, I probably would not have enjoyed it. But I didn’t miss this procession, and as the bagpipe sounded and the student volunteer and I processed in, I felt almost euphoric. Ever since the end of my last final exam, people from my parents to the president of Carroll had been saying “you did it! Congratulations!” But it wasn’t until I was actually processing in to the commencement ceremony that it hit me, that yes, “I did it!”

     Unlike high school graduation when roads were washed out from flooding the day before and even during the ceremony, thunder could be heard outside, four years later at college graduation, rain tickets weren’t necessary. It was the most glorious sunny day you could ask for and in fact, the chaplain announced that morning at the baccalaureate that he was informed there was a 0 percent chance of rain!

     Unlike many of my peers, I always love graduation speeches. Yes, they can be long, but if they would quit checking their watches and listen, they can be very fitting opportunities to celebrate the accomplishment of graduating and be inspired to make a difference in the next chapter of life. The speakers at my commencement were excellent. The keynote address was given by Dr. Howard Fuller, a 1962 alumnus of Carroll who has become a nationally renowned advocate for education reform. The speech had light moments as he talked about his athletic involvement at Carroll and how he injured himself playing basketball the day before his commencement but would not allow this injury to keep him from walking across the stage. But he also talked about how America has shifted away from its values like free, quality education for all and protection of the most vulnerable of our society and how as graduates, we should go out in the world to embrace these challenges and make a difference.

     Then the class speaker, elected by the senior class gave his speech. I was actually nominated to be class speaker. Around the middle of February, all graduating seniors got an e-mail inviting them to nominate someone they think would make a good class speaker. I disregarded this e-mail because I didn’t want to be the one to put one of my friends on the spot by nominating them, and because I wasn’t really involved in campus life and always feel like a stuttering nervous wreck when giving oral presentations. I honestly thought that the odds of someone nominating me were as unlikely as the odds of me being elected president of the United States. But a week later, I would come home from class to find an e-mail in my inbox announcing that someone had nominated me!

     Needless to say, since I never considered the possibility of being nominated, I hadn’t considered how I would respond either. After the first reading of the message, I was just speechless. After the second reading, I was elated that someone had that much faith in me to nominate me for such an honor and was tempted to send a reply accepting the nomination right then and there. Then my brother, a voice of reason who came home to visit that day asked me, “are you sure you want that kind of pressure on your graduation?” Maybe he was right. Graduation is supposed to be a day to bask in the glow of being finished with four years of hard work. Would the pressure of delivering a speech that would forever represent the class of 2012 spoil the day? But then again, it might be worse to decline the nomination but then kick myself the rest of my life, wondering if the class would have voted for me if I had accepted. Thus began two days of mental agony as I wrestled these questions to the brink of a headache. The e-mail was sent to me on Tuesday February 28, and we were supposed to accept or decline the nomination by March 2. On the evening of March 1, when I couldn’t stand my indecisiveness any longer, I decided to bite the bullet and accept the nomination. And then I had to figuratively hold my breath for three weeks until the outcome of the class vote was revealed. As crazy as it sounds, when the e-mail said “the class speaker for commencement 2012 will be…Greg Pateras!” I actually breathed a sigh of relief and cheered, realizing I had scored the best outcome of all. I would die an old lady with no regrets and tell my children and grandchildren that I wasn’t a chicken. I didn’t decline the chance at the opportunity of a lifetime. But I would be able to relax on graduation day and leave the pressure and stage fright to someone else.

     But actually, since he studied to be a teacher, a career that requires daily public speaking to children who can be a tough audience, and since he had done a lot of public speaking for student organizations, he was definitely a more qualified speaker than I would have been. Of course, my family members naturally would have loved to hear the speech I would have given. Inspired by Josh Grobin’s performance of Believe on the Polar Express soundtrack, I had a rough outline in my head of a speech on how our childhood and college journeys ended so quickly it was scary, especially given the economic climate we are entering. But as the song says, destinations (and graduations definitely qualify as destinations) are new beginnings and with our Carroll education, we should go forth with confidence that we have everything we need, if we just believe! But I am sure this speech would not have been as beautiful in practice as it sounds in theory, and we all thoroughly enjoyed Greg’s more light-hearted, impromptu speech with no traces of stage fright apparent to me at all.

     And then it was all over but the walk across the stage, such a fleeting moment but one I will always cherish. But unlike most graduation walks which are only remembered by the graduate and friends and family close to that graduate, my walk across the stage was cherished by the whole audience. Remember how earlier in this entry, I casually mentioned the necessity of making sure caps and gowns were ready for Gilbert and me? Yes, that’s right. Gilbert also wore a cap and gown!

     Here’s the story. The manager of the bookstore absolutely loves dogs, and since his adored lab was old and had to be put to sleep right around the time he met Gilbert, Gilbert held a special place in his heart. So every time we went to the bookstore to get the required materials for a new semester of classes, I would allow some time for this manager to pet Gilbert and we had a good time chatting about our dogs. Well, at the end of my junior year, what started as small talk became the early stages of planning for graduation.

     “So what year are you now?” he asked.

     “I’m going to be a senior,” I announced proudly.

     “Hey, does that mean you and Gilbert will be graduating next year?” he asked.

     “Yes, we are!” I said. After we all, including my dad who was with me, exclaimed over how fast my first three years at Carroll had gone, the manager asked in a mischievous voice, “is Gilbert going to wear a cap and gown?” to which Dad and I laughed hysterically. I had already decided that I wouldn’t mind if Gilbert was acknowledged at graduation. But the thought of him wearing a cap and gown was so silly, and awesome we hadn’t thought about it!

     Then the manager proceeded to tell us that a few years ago, the company that supplies the graduation gowns came out with gowns that were so inappropriately revealing that the administration deemed them unacceptable to wear at commencement.

     “I should see if we kept any of them. With a little altering, I’m thinking one of these gowns would fit Gilbert perfectly!”

     So on February 29, I went to a graduation fair to order my cap and gown and five days later over spring break, I took Gilbert to the bookstore to get measured for his! Then on May 8, after finishing my last final exam, Mom and I walked out of the bookstore with an altered cap and gown for Gilbert, stuffed incognito in to an ordinary shopping bag.

     I knew everyone on campus would love it, but even I had no idea the extent to which everyone would love it! Thinking Gilbert might be uncomfortable wearing a cap and gown all day, my parents and I decided that I would be the only one wearing a cap and gown for the baccalaureate service and brunch, and we would put Gilbert’s cap and gown on just in time for the real event, the commencement ceremony. During the final instructions for how to line up at about 12:30, my siblings tried to walk in and discretely pull Gilbert aside to put on his cap and gown. (Since numerous safety pins were required to hold everything in place, there was no way I would have had time to dress him myself).

     “It was kind of hilarious,” my sister recounted laughing after the party, “here the instructor is giving important final instructions for a dignified ceremony and we come in to dress a dog!” In other words, the popular four-legged graduate was clearly drawing more attention than the instructor, as evidenced by the sound of several cameras clicking, giggles and whispers of “aw, so cute!”

     As usual, Gilbert agreed that he was cute too. I think I mentioned in an earlier entry that Gilbert was originally bred to be a show dog, but was instead donated to the guide dog program? Well, Mom noticed a trace of his show dog personality as my volunteer helped us up to the stage to accept our diplomas. As we were walking through the crowd, Mom said he would occasionally turn his head to look at the crowd, just like a human model strutting down the runway!

     Before I knew it, the voice of a faculty member from the biology department boomed, “Allison Michelle Nastoff, magna cum laude!” Realizing in that instant that all of those late nights, big tests and stressful projects had paid off, and I was actually accepting a college diploma cover, an honor which many never see, my face wasn’t big enough for my smile as I graciously extended my hand. But that wasn’t the end of our moment.

     “We would also like to acknowledge Gilbert, who has attended all of the courses required for graduation.”

     The crowd which had applauded enthusiastically but politely for me, erupted as Gilbert was shown his diploma, a giant bone! I know some blind people ask that their dogs not be recognized in commencement ceremonies, and I respect and understand where they are coming from. The dog didn’t have to write any papers or pass any exams after all. But in my view, Gilbert deserved some recognition because as I would tell a blind freelance reporter and former Carroll alumnus who wrote a newspaper story about the event, Gilbert and I grew together through college. As I mentioned in previous entries, I graduated the training program with Gilbert exactly one week before moving in to the college dorm, so we were both scared freshmen in a sense, adjusting to a new environment, and each other. But by senior year, we were a mature, confident team. I also believe that just because Gilbert’s work wasn’t academic didn’t make it any less important and worthy of acknowledgement. He faithfully guided me to class every day, both the beautiful days and days when he had to shake rain water from his fur or lick paws that got rock salt in them. I will also cherish the countless times Gilbert breezed through the twisty turny confusing tunnel that brought me to tears when I had to practice it with my cane senior year of high school. He slept patiently and without complaint through every course I had to sit through, on cold hard floors that surely made him long for his fluffy bed by the couch at home. And most importantly, his adorable, sweet demeanor encouraged peers who may have otherwise felt uncomfortable approaching a blind person, to come over and strike up a conversation with me, thus forging friendships with people I look forward to staying in touch with the rest of my life. I suppose I could have gotten through the nuts and bolts of college–the lectures, the exams and papers–without Gilbert, but it definitely would not have been as rich and rewarding an experience. So as Gilbert and I returned to our seats and I thought of the numerous people who had high-fived and hugged me saying “congratulations! You did it!” I realized it was time to pat Gilbert on the head to tell him “congratulations! We did it!”

     By the way, Tuesday after the ceremony, I discovered that the alumni office put a video of this moment on YouTube! So if you couldn’t be at my graduation and would like to see this precious joyous moment, go to YouTube and search Carroll University commencement 2012. When I searched these terms, it came up as the first result. It is called “Carroll University Commencement 2012 — Gilbert the Guide Dog Receives Honors, Too.”

     In no time flat, the ceremony ended with the singing of Alma Mater, Carroll University’s school song which is also on YouTube, and a final procession and I was officially an alumnus of Carroll University.

     After the ceremony, my siblings and grandmothers headed home to get ready for the party and greet anyone who arrived early, but as I anticipated, Gilbert’s formal recognition made us celebrities and it seemed everyone wanted our picture! My parents also thought it would be nice to have a picture of Gilbert and me standing on the steps of Rankin Hall where I had many classes. Usually I think Gilbert and I both get tired of having pictures taken, but that day, we were all smiles and wags. For my part, I knew that this was such a special sweet day that I wanted to savor it, even by staying longer to take pictures, and for Gilbert’s part, his tail wags any time someone gives him attention!

     The party that evening was the perfect icing on the cake. Unlike the storms that spoiled my high school party, that night was the perfect evening to be on our patio surrounded by family, close friends and a couple special former teachers. And speaking of icing on the cake, it was a delicious cake which I shamelessly accepted a huge piece of, as I wasn’t going to spoil such a special once-in-a-lifetime day by worrying about calories.

     All too soon, the day was over, my dad had to get ready for work and family had to pack up and fly home the next morning. While there was a little bit of that let-down that I talked about in a previous entry, that “I cannot believe it’s all over” empty feeling, it wasn’t as pronounced as it was after my high school graduation. Perhaps it was because exhaustion won out. I had to work much harder to get through the last semester of college than the last semester of high school. Perhaps it was because I have gotten over my anxiety about the future, realizing that life is a river that always has a way of working out. After my high school graduation, my let-down feeling was largely based on anxiety over college. Will I be able to handle the higher expectations, and the absence of an assistant to advocate for me? But now that I had not only survived, but thrived in the beautiful experience of college that I had been so worried about four years before, I woke up the day after graduation more mature and confident that I could handle anything life threw my way.

     But I think the biggest reason for the less pronounced let-down was the realization that graduation wasn’t only the end of an exciting chapter, but the start of a new one, full of possibilities. Even so, if I could leave college freshmen with one piece of advice, it would be the advice I gave a neighbor girl who started her freshmen year at Carroll as I was beginning my senior year and who expressed dread of her first college class scheduled for 7:00 in the morning. College may seem daunting now, but enjoy these college years, because they will go fast!

College Graduation Part 1: Anticipation and Anxiety

Well readers, I still cannot believe that May 13, a day four years in the making, (or 22 years if you look at it from the perspective of all my school years) has come and gone. I am officially a college graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Communication, and a proud alumnus of Carroll University. I apologize for not updating sooner, but the weeks leading up to graduation were so busy and full of excitement that updating the blog was the last thing on my mind, and these weeks after graduation, I think I have been so exhausted physically and emotionally (in a good way) that I haven’t been inspired to write about it. To be honest, I am still at a loss for how to put such a beautiful milestone in to words, but now that we are in to June and I am approaching the one month anniversary of my graduation already, it is time that I push myself to write about this event, not only for you curious readers, but also for me. Sighted people often rely on Facebook pictures and videos of an event to record and recollect an event. I have both Facebook pictures and a video of this special moment, but as a blind person, pictures do nothing for me, and videos only capture half of the experience, the sound of the moment. But a written account can recall all of the senses and even the emotions running through the mind leading up to the event, which even pictures cannot do justice. So I find blogging to be the most meaningful for capturing special moments. In a two-part series, I hope to capture as much of the experience and emotion of that day and all of the hard work and emotion leading up to it in this blog so that the memories never fade.

     I don’t know if this happens to anyone else or if this is another thing that makes me a strange person, but for me, anticipation of exciting milestones is often accompanied by needless anxiety. At first, it manifested itself in fear of the unknown path my life would take after college. (See Living on Easy Street). When Mom calmed this fear by advising me not to think of life as a road but as a river, to let the river carry me as it may and know that while there may be rough waters, everything always works out, my fear turned to a more pressing paranoia. Sometime in April while I felt myself becoming invested in the excitement of inviting relatives and helping my parents plan a party, it occurred to me that school wasn’t over yet. There was still a chance I could fail something and not graduate, or be allowed to walk at commencement, but be told that my degree wouldn’t be official until I repeated a course the summer after. I cannot imagine what a let-down that would be. If that had happened to me, I would have skipped the commencement ceremony and postponed the party.

     In retrospect, I should have just taken a deep breath and realized I had nothing to worry about. After all, I made the dean’s list every semester and my classes had been audited by both my academic advisor and the Registrar to ensure I had the required credits, and that same audit from the Registrar indicated I was on track to graduate Magna Cum Laude!

     For those of you unfamiliar with weird academic terminology, Suma Cum Laude is the best of the best. I think this distinction requires a grade point average between 3.8 and 4.0 or something like that. Magna Cum Laude is second best, but pretty awesome too! I think it requires a grade point average between 3.5 and 3.8. Mine was right around 3.66 every semester!

     Every semester, I would score poorly on an assignment or two. While I freaked out about it freshman year, I quickly realized that it was normal to get a poor score occasionally, and my excellent scores on everything else balanced everything out so that I always got A’s and B’s. But last semester when I got a couple low scores on assignments in my public relations class, I found myself freaking out again. Graduation announcements had already been mailed to former teachers and my sister’s flight booked when I got these grades! I don’t think that even a piece of rhubarb pie (Garrison Keillor reference) would be enough to get the taste of shame and humiliation out of my mouth if I failed now! But of course, just like what always happened before, my excellent scores on everything else compensated and I passed with an AB.

     But even as part of me was anxious about my grades and wanted to make sure I got perfect scores on everything to end strong and ensure my graduation, another part of me was battling a serious case of senioritis. I would go up to my room with every intention of working on a paper or studying, but then my mind would wander to life after college and unable to focus, I would find myself goofing off on Facebook or listening to music. I will say I was proud of myself for finishing the final research paper of my communication conflict class on Sunday evening when it wasn’t due until Tuesday May 1. But that unusual decision not to procrastinate was overshadowed by revisions on a user manual in my technical writing class that ended up being more time consuming than I thought. So on Monday April 30, I still ended up staying up until 2:30 in the morning finishing the written revisions of my user manual on my braillenote, then setting an alarm, which I don’t usually do, to make sure I was awake and on the real computer by 6:30 to make visual revisions I forgot about like bold type and larger font for some text and a table of contents. I shudder to think what could have happened if I procrastinated on both my user manual and my conflict paper!

     On May 3, I was inducted in to two honor societies; Lambda Pi Eta, the Communication honor society and Pi Sigma Alpha, the politics society. I smiled as I was presented with medallions and cords which I would wear at graduation, but the realization that exams hadn’t been taken and grades for final papers hadn’t been entered yet nagged at the back of my mind. “Has anything ever happened where a student was inducted in to an honor society and then had that honor revoked because they failed an important paper or exam their final semester?” I wondered to myself. Can you imagine how humiliating that would be?

     Now that I have graduated, I will admit to any professors who read this that I rarely read textbook chapters from cover to cover. If a professor put a lot of emphasis on the importance of reading a particular section of a chapter during lectures, I would read it, or if there was something unclear from class, I would search the textbook chapter for clarification. When professors made study guides, I would scan the study guide and if there was a term that wasn’t ringing any bells in my memory, like “principled negotiation” and it couldn’t be found when searching my notes, I would find the section from the textbook about it. Early in my college years, I did read the textbook chapters dutifully from cover to cover, but sophomore year, I started noticing that despite reading the chapters, I was scoring terribly on reading quizzes and essay questions related to the reading. It occurred to me that it may be because textbook chapters are so ridiculously long and overly detailed that by the time I got through them, my brain was fried and I had retained nothing. But when I started skimming readings and reading only the information related to the daily essay questions assigned as homework in a politics class, my scores on these essays improved dramatically! I quickly discovered that by paying close attention and taking detailed notes during lecture, I was able to retain the rest of the information better and thus did great on tests in that class and subsequent classes as well.

     Of course, this approach didn’t always serve me well for reading quizzes, but these were relatively rare and worth a small percentage of my grade. Perhaps the time not spent frying my brain reading chapters cover to cover meant I had more time and mental energy to write better papers, which more than compensated for the low quiz scores. And while I had a mental blank on a couple questions on the communication conflict exam (they were questions I remember discussing during class lectures but the answers were on the tip of my tongue), I nailed the question on principled negotiation which I had found while skimming the textbook the night before, a question I may have gotten wrong had I read the whole chapter when it was originally assigned, let myself be lulled in to complacency and not consult the study guide since I read the chapter already, (something I used to do), which would have resulted in that term getting lost in the shuffle of other extraneous details from that chapter.

     Maybe it was a guilty conscience, or simply the realization that I cannot fail now since the weekend before graduation, my mom made a twelve-hour round-trip drive by herself so that I could finish a group project and portfolio for public relations and Granny (my maternal grandmother) could witness my graduation. (If that graduation didn’t happen, this sacrifice of love would have been for nothing and I don’t know how I would ever recover from the humiliation.) But while Mom and Granny cheered and declared a celebration was in order after my public relations exam May 7, and the Communication Conflict exam May 8, (the final final of my college career), I couldn’t stop silently fretting over the couple questions I went blank on and whether after four years of late nights, tired fingers from typing papers and the occasional tears, these questions would make it all a waste.

     It didn’t help that on Saturday May 5, a day I had planned on making dramatic progress on the final portfolio for Public Relations, I had a nasty headache and didn’t make near the progress I had hoped to make as a result. That put me behind so that Sunday night when I would have started looking over the study guide for Public Relations, I was finishing revisions on portfolio pieces, and on Monday, even though my exam wasn’t until 1:00 in the afternoon and even after cancelling my weekly Big Brothers Big Sisters visit, it took me until 11:45 to add the final visual touches to my portfolio on the real computer and get it printed. That left just enough time to get dressed, eat a quick lunch and review my notes in the car. In fact, since I have a better memory than many people, it was not uncommon for a quick review of notes in the car to be the extent of my studying these four years, but because of my graduation anxiety, this was the one time when I desperately wished I could have studied the night before.

     Since my procrastination mindset had returned and I had no sense of urgency to start working on my contribution to the group project, or the portfolio for Public Relations, I studied hard for my first amendment exam on May 3 after the honor society festivities and walked out of that exam feeling relaxed and confident. (I went blank on the names of a couple of theorists, but the professor for that class is one of those merciful professors who will give you credit if you get the general concepts, which I think I did.) But in my frantic efforts to finish the portfolio for public relations, the exam for Public Relations simply snuck up on me.

     Mom tried to calm me by asking, “if you weren’t anxious about graduation and you had time to study, would you have studied?”

     “Well, probably not,” I admitted.

     “See, then you’ll be fine,” she said, “if you’ve never studied before and you have always done fine, you shouldn’t worry.” She was right, but it is kind of funny how the one time I wanted to play it safe and study in advance as college students are supposed to, it doesn’t work out.

     On May 7 after my public relations exam, my mom made chicken dinner to celebrate my (paternal) grandma’s birthday, but all through dinner, the online, 90-question multiple choice exam for my technical writing class nagged at my mind. I had taken online exams before and thus was familiar with the interface which was very accessible. But in a reminder e-mail about the exam, the professor cautioned against waiting until the last minute to take this exam to allow time for problems like internet outages, which happen occasionally with our internet provider. The exam would only be active until May 8 at 1:59, but taking it Tuesday was risky as I had my conflict exam that morning. The exam was made available May 1, but it got pushed to the back burner, and I was just sure that fate would punish me for this procrastination by causing the internet to fail me and I would be screaming at the computer, re-taking and re-submitting the test until 3:00 in the morning, or not be able to complete the exam at all. But to my relief and delight, fate was nice to me. Although I was a little surprised and disappointed with my score when the system automatically graded my test, (it claimed I scored 69/90, but I felt more confident than that while taking the test), at least the internet worked on the first attempt and my test was submitted by 9:00 that night, leaving plenty of time to study for the conflict exam.

     But it wasn’t until Thursday May 10 when grades were due and I went online to discover that I earned an AB in all of my classes that I truly started to relax and enjoy the festivities. In retrospect, now that the rat race has been over for almost a month and I can actually think clearly, I wonder if it was not my grades that I was anxious about after all, even though that was how the anxiety manifested itself. Maybe the real source of my anxiety was over fear of the unknown. As I mentioned in “Living on Easy Street”, I have experienced many transitions, but through them all, there was always one constant: I was merely transitioning to another school, not another life and another world. Or maybe, after being in school my whole life, the prospect of graduating college and no longer being a student felt so surreal that deep down, I couldn’t believe it. Indeed, my anxiety peaked on the last official day of classes before exams when the professor of my first amendment class said “Have a good life.” Have a good life! Wow! That’s when it hit me that I wasn’t just taking a temporary reprieve from the world of school to “have a good summer” the usual refrain of teachers all of my life. I was embarking on a new life. How did that happen so fast? There must be a mistake. But there wasn’t a mistake.

     I didn’t, and still don’t know what life has in store for me, but when I saw my grades May 10, I decided it was time to put anxiety over the future aside, savor the present and let the festivities begin.

That’s How Far Back I Go!

Last week, I celebrated my 22nd birthday, putting me in the oldest bracket in terms of traditional college students on campus. It was a fantastic birthday as usual. The main celebration happened a day early because I thought I would have to go to my night class on my real birthday. (I thought about skipping, but realized that since it only meets once a week and I had come so close to graduating, I would be a responsible student.) So the day before my birthday, my parents, brother, grandma and I sat down to steak, baked potatoes, a yummy salad kit with a southwest dressing, broccoli and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, topped with ice cream! (Did you know I love chocolate?) My grandma, keeping with tradition bought me clothes. My parents gave me another gardenia, my favorite fragrant flower. (I got a gardenia for my 20th birthday, but unbeknownst to me, my silly dad thought it wasn’t getting enough sun and put it outside in the hot sun which killed it. I guess he didn’t know that gardenias are fragile plants meant to be indoors. But I forgive him now). Along with the gardenia, I also got an official plastic pitcher with a long neck designed for watering plants. My sighted parents are able to water house plants with huge glass pitchers, or even just a drinking glass and not spill a drop. I have always found it difficult to get pitchers and glasses down in to the dirt by the root of the plant without spilling, so when I watered plants, I found it easier to re-fill one of those plastic, disposable water bottles which I can hold with one hand while figuring out where to pour it in to the pot with the other. I still spilled occasionally with these bottles because the necks of these bottles are short, so water would start coming out before I had fully aimed it in to the pot, but since the mouth of a water bottle is smaller, I felt like I didn’t spill as much. This water pitcher though is a genius invention, as the long neck allows me to get it lined up before water starts to pour, eliminating spills altogether. The only problem now is just remembering to water it since plants cannot follow me around and practically trip me when they want food or water like Gilbert and my cat Snickers do. With my last gardenia, I was good about watering it when it was in bloom, but when I could no longer smell it, I would forget about it and am ashamed to admit that my parents ended up pouring water in to it a lot when they saw it looking dry. But being that I am on the cusp of college graduation and a life where keeping a plant watered will be the least of my responsibilities, this is the perfect time to turn over a new leaf (get it!), and so far I have diligently watered my plant before bed every day except one day when Mom told me not to because it looked like it had too much water in it.

     My mom also ordered me a braille book on how to crochet, as well as some hooks and yarn. I have been thinking I would like to learn a craft to expand my life beyond reading and rambling on blogs like this. I have always been fascinated by the fact that the beautiful, intricate afghans and scarves I have gotten as gifts over the years were once just balls of yarn, so when I saw the braille book my mom ordered on the web site of Horizons for the Blind, it occurred to me that this natural fascination I already had for crochet would keep me motivated through the challenges that come with learning a new craft, making it a perfect option. Also, since my grandma on Mom’s side and one of my aunts is in to crochet, they could help me, making it the perfect female bonding opportunity. So far, my efforts to learn have been discouraging. I don’t know if it is because my hands just aren’t used to the new motor skills required for crochet yet or if I am just a dunce, but the written steps the author gives don’t make sense when I try to follow them. My mom wasn’t able to find a print version of the exact book I am using, but she has tried to show me hand-over-hand how her book illustrates it. But this doesn’t make any sense either. On several occasions, just when I think I have succeeded in making a slip loop, the foundation required for any crochet piece and then progressed to making chains, the slip loop falls off the hook in the process of making the first chain loop. I am not giving up. If my teachers, especially in middle school and high school had let me give up on difficult things like math, I would not have the foundation to be the ambitious, soon-to-be graduate that I am today, so I know that if I can continue this tradition of never giving up, even on hobbies like crochet, I will be capable of making beautiful afghans, scarves or even sweaters to give as Christmas gifts one day. So I have been trying to spend a few minutes each day practicing, but since it is a hobby not a requirement like Math was, I allow myself to walk away from it before I work myself in to tears of frustration. Once I graduate and have all the time in the world, at least until I get a job that is, I may consider looking in to face-to-face lessons with a crochet instructor to see if that helps.

     To my amazement however, we actually could have celebrated on my real birthday because I got an e-mail that afternoon from the teacher of my night class who said due to personal scheduling conflicts, she needed to cancel class! So instead of going to my night class, my parents and I had a second party with a Papa Murphy’s pizza and more chocolate cake. My mom even saved one more gift, an iTunes gift card for my real birthday. This professor for my night class is the kind of professor who believes that for the tuition we pay, she wants to give us our money’s worth and at the beginning of the semester, she basically said she would only cancel if the college shut down for a snow day. She also apologized profusely to students who planned their semester around the old schedule which now had to be modified. But I couldn’t resist telling her before the start of class this week “you don’t know it, but you gave me an awesome birthday present last week!” to which she laughed and responded “well, I’m glad it worked out for somebody.”

     But all of this birthday recounting isn’t even what I had planned to be the main point of my entry. For that, let’s go back to my statement toward the beginning of this entry that my 22nd birthday put me in the oldest bracket of traditional college students. This reminded me of a conversation with a classmate the day after my birthday that really got me thinking. I had arrived to my Communication Conflict class early and was waiting for class to start when one of my friends who saw that I had my birthday the day before on Facebook wished me a happy birthday.

     “Yesterday was your birthday?” a girl whom I enjoy chatting with but is not on Facebook chimed in. “Well happy birthday! And how old are you?”

     “Twenty-two!” I said with that strange sense of excitement and disbelief that comes with saying your new age for the first time, almost akin to saying the new year for the first time January 1.

     “Wow! You’re old!” she said playfully. That started a fun conversation in which we both talked about how we feel so old when we see little children, to which the professor added, “wait until you have children of your own. Then you’ll really feel old!” Usually my brain would have moved on from such a casual conversation, but instead I have found myself thinking back to it all week. Of course I know I’m not really old. In fact, I am still in that wonderful phase of life when getting older brings new opportunities, not new ailments and according to political pundits, I will be classified as a young voter until I am 35. And then, speaking of people who really are old, conversations with my grandma and even my parents about how much things have changed over the course of their lives came to mind.

     Sometimes when I complain about how difficult it is to find information on the internet for college research projects, Mom will regale me with stories of how many hours she spent in the musty, dusty “stacks” of the college library pouring over actual books, and then having to write her papers on a typewriter. My parents both remember taking road trips in which they didn’t bother with seat belts. In fact, it was even acceptable for babies to ride unrestrained on the giant window ledges of cars back then.

     “You want to know how far back I go?” Grandma said once, “I remember watching silent films outdoors on a projector that hung from a tree! That’s how far back I go!”

     Remembering these conversations, it occurred to me that even in my relatively short lifetime, there has been a staggering amount of change that was so gradual I took it for granted when it was happening which makes me feel old in a strange way. So to celebrate my 22nd birthday, a milestone that really hammered home the realization that I am sort of a senior citizen now, at least on my college campus, I thought you readers, which I hope will one day include my children and grandchildren, might enjoy a reflection on how far back I go.

     I remember a time when our family did not own a computer. Our very first computer was delivered on Christmas eve 1995 when I was in kindergarten. Being as young as I was, I don’t think I understood what computers were all about, but I will never forget just the buzz of excitement that filled the house as my older siblings played with it every waking moment. But when I look back and remember my siblings doing hand-written reports in middle school and then fast-forward to my middle school experience, by which time every assignment rubric said “your paper must be typed”, I realize that our first computer was more revolutionary of an event than I ever could have imagined.

     Keeping with computers, I also remember when there was no such thing as high-speed broadband. The internet was accessed through a dial-up connection. To accommodate this, I remember when for several years, our house had two phone lines, one for talking on the phone and one for the internet. Otherwise, no one could reach us on the phone if someone was using the internet.

     I remember being with my parents one Saturday afternoon when I was eight years old as they bought their first cell phone. It was nothing like the cell phones nowadays. In fact, that reminds me of a hilarious prank that my dad tried to pull on my sister before heading off to college, just four years after the purchase of that first phone.

     Approaching my sister all somber and serious, he said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but while we would like you to have a cell phone for college, money is tight right now and we just cannot afford to buy you a new one. So Mom and I hope you don’t mind using an old one.” With that, he handed her the very first cell phone, which my parents had saved. She almost burst in to tears at this, until she looked at my dad who couldn’t keep a straight face, and they all burst out laughing.

I wasn’t there for this prank but when my parents told me about it, I remember asking, “what’s so bad about the old phone?” When Mom pulled it out for me to feel, I instantly understood why it would have been a source of embarrassment at college for my sister. It was bulky and gigantic! I am sure I held that phone at the time when it was new, but phones were updated and replaced so quickly I took for granted how small they had evolved. My sister did get a modern phone, but what was considered a modern phone then would be ancient by today’s standards. It was a sleek flip phone, but it could only make phone calls. Those iPhones which we all take for granted now that can surf the internet, take pictures and shoot videos hadn’t yet been invented!

     Anyway, as soon as we got in the car to drive home from that store with our first cell phone, my mom phoned home and with giddy excitement in her voice proclaimed to my older brother that she was calling from the car. Given how frequently I stand on the sidewalk after class and flip open my phone to arrange where Mom should pick me up after class, it baffles me to realize that even in my lifetime, this wasn’t always possible.

     I remember when in June of my fourth grade year, my parents purchased cable television. I think cable channels had been around for awhile even then, but my parents were frugal and didn’t think we needed it. But when my brother, a teenager at the time begged and pleaded for months, arguing that “we are the only ones I know who don’t have cable,” my dad made a deal with him that if he earned all A’s that semester, we could get cable. Even I, a person who wasn’t as fond of television as my other sibling was enthralled with the diversity of shows available now. I grew especially fond of Animal Planet and spent many beautiful afternoons watching Emergency Vets and A Pet Story.

     I think I was in fifth grade when I first heard about a DVD Player, and it seemed like from that instant forward, VHS tapes were obsolete. In fact, I remember when my elementary school would film special events like the class play in first and second grade, my graduation from DARE and the school band, orchestra and choir concerts. If we wanted a copy of the video, we were asked to bring a blank VHS tape to school and the video would be copied on to it for us. But at least for the time being, I cannot watch those videos because our VCR doesn’t work and since the VCR is considered ancient now, my parents aren’t sure how to fix it. My parents have talked about looking in to services that convert VHS videos to DVDs but we just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

     Also related to VHS tapes, I remember a time when there was no such thing as DVR. So if one family member wasn’t going to be home and wanted to record a show, someone had to put a VHS tape in the VCR at the proper time for the show. If no one was home to man the VCR or the person forgot about this duty, you were out of luck. And there was no such features as pause or start over, so there were no bathroom breaks until the commercials and absolutely no talking was allowed during shows. The funny thing is that since our family didn’t get DVR until I was in high school, even today, I am not used to it and still find myself biting people’s heads off for talking during a show, so Mom has to remind me, “you know, we can pause the show nowadays.” Oh yeah, we can!

     The advent of the DVD transformed the classroom experience too. Because a VCR took up so much space, individual classrooms did not have one of their own, so when a teacher wanted to watch a video in class, they had to coordinate this in advance with the media room in the library and then pick up the phone and call down when they were ready for the video to be cued up. By middle school, each classroom had its own DVD player and now in college, DVDs are placed in a slot on the classroom computer and I think shown on the same projection screen as the powerpoint presentations. That reminds me, I never heard of powerpoint until middle school and remember a time when teachers taught with chalkboards and fragile overhead transparencies that I think had to be written out by hand using a special marker.

     I remember a time when files had to be saved on giant square floppy disks to be transferred to another computer. Now everyone uses thumb drives so tiny you could easily swallow it or suck it up with the vacuum cleaner if you aren’t careful. Or, if you have Apple products, you don’t even need thumb drives at all, as files can be backed up on the iCloud and synchronized automatically with other computers.

     Facebook has become such an ingrained part of life for my generation, I was shocked to learn a few months ago when the movie Social Network was released, that Facebook only came on the scene in 2005. I remember a time when my sibling lamented losing touch with friends over summer, a time when talking with friends or arranging a party meant long hours on the phone. Seemingly in an instant, Facebook almost replaced the phone and allowed my siblings and I to stay in touch with friends and family spread all over the country.

     I remember a time when one medicine I need to take for a medical condition had to be measured in a tube and another person had to blow it up my nose! If I had a cold, or even if my parents stuck the tube too far in my nose causing a tickle, I would sneeze it out. My parents couldn’t re-do it because it is one of those medicines where going without it isn’t life-threatening, merely inconvenient. But an overdose would be extremely dangerous and there was no way to know how much was ingested before the sneeze. So much of these early childhood years were spent consuming remarkable volumes of water and camping out near the bathroom until it was safe to try again with the next dose. What a glorious day it was at my appointment in October of my freshman year of high school when the doctor said this medicine was available in pill form which is so much more consistent and reliable!

     In terms of advancements in technology for the blind, I remember a time when braille could only be produced on paper. Since braille has to be embossed on thicker paper and since braille takes up twice the space as print text, I remember hauling around giant 4-inch binders, bursting at the seams with my braille assignments. In elementary school, all of this extra stuff required me to use a larger desk in the back of the room, and by fourth grade, I had to haul my homework home in an adapted suitcase on wheels because regular backpacks just couldn’t accommodate everything I needed, at least not without risking back injuries.

     I first experienced the joys of a computer with a refreshable braille display in seventh grade when I was given a Braille Lite. But while this computer was lighter and made a lot less noise than the old fashioned metal Perkins Brailler, it didn’t have much memory, so I still depended a lot on hard copy braille. Also, if you wanted to make changes, you had to go to a special insert mode which was very prone to having glitches, at least on my computer. What a joy it was when my freshman year of high school, I got my first BrailleNote which had enough memory for everything, had cursor edit buttons above the braille display that allowed editing to be done with the efficiency of a sighted person and an e-mail interface so teachers could e-mail files to me and I could e-mail homework to them! By high school, math, with its graphs and figures, was the only subject that still required the Perkins Brailler and hard copy materials. This reduced the volume of stuff I had to handle so much that I could sit in a regular desk for every class but math and carry my homework home in a normal backpack! The BrailleNote has made a difference at home too. The house is no longer overrun with giant braille books for my summer vacation pleasure reading because I can download books on to my BrailleNote instantly from Bookshare.

     So grandchildren, that’s how far back I go! And given how fast things have changed just in my short lifetime, I cannot even imagine how much more will have changed by the time I am a grandmother. Readers, especially those born around 1990, feel free to comment if you think of any innovations I forgot about.

Living on Easy Street

Near my college campus, there is a tiny road called Easy Street, which my dad pointed out with a laugh as he drove me a couple years ago. As a journalism major, my first thought at the time was “that would make an awesome human interest story, interviewing residents about whether the living is as easy on Easy Street as it is in the musical Annie!”

     This recollection came back to me out of the blue again recently. I couldn’t figure out why until it occurred to me that maybe it is because though I don’t literally live on Easy Street, I’m on Easy Street right now on the figurative highway of life.

     I would say I have definitely earned the chance to drive on Easy Street for awhile. While my journey through college has been rewarding, it has had its share of rough patches. Freshman year was defined by the simultaneous transitions from a cane to a guide dog, and from living at home to living in a college dorm. Due to a multitude of issues from a rocky transition to new technology, Gilbert’s depression when in the tiny dorm room, my longing for comfortable furniture and homecooked meals, and the stress of caring for an unfamiliar dog at the time in an unfamiliar setting, my parents and I decided it would make more sense for me to live at home.

     Sophomore year was defined by the combination of Statistics, a class that was very difficult for me, and the stress of coping with an ovarian cyst that the doctor feared was cancerous and had to be surgically removed. (Fortunately, it was determined to be benign). Second semester was defined by two classes, Environmental Science and Investigative Journalism, both of which required intensive research which was, and still is difficult for me.

     First semester junior year was relatively easy. But second semester, the combination of night classes three days a week, an english class and a public policy class where I read in a week’s time what I probably read for a whole year of high school, the stress of applying for internships on websites that weren’t always accessible and the emotional stress of a new job for my mom left me exhausted by the time summer vacation finally arrived.

     Last semester, first semester of this year, my senior year was the roughest of all. Because I did my internship over the summer, last semester was the first semester where I had three classes instead of four, so you would think it should have been easy. But one of those classes was another English class with a lot of reading and since the class only had five other students, I discovered the hard way that I couldn’t fly under the radar and not read everything. Interpersonal Communication was relatively easy with reading that was mostly easy and interesting and just a little bit of research, but this class was overshadowed by my Capstone course where I had to write my senior thesis. This required first brainstorming a topic. The scholarly language for the topic I chose is “communication apprehension between parents and college students.” In plain english, I studied whether the living arrangements of college students had any impact on the relationship with their parents. Then I had to find a diverse array of scholarly sources on similar topics that have already been studied–that intensive research beast again–and write a thorough literature review. Then my own research began. I chose to do quantitative research, so the professor pointed me toward a communication apprehension survey previously developed by communication experts that was deemed valid and reliable. I modified this survey a little bit for my purposes and posted it on Once this was done, I thought the rest of the project would be smooth sailing, but that was far from being the case.

     The survey required 100 people to respond in order for it to be accurate. Despite a month of begging and pleading on Facebook and forwarding a link for my survey to professors I knew and asking them to pass it along to their classes, I only had 56 respondents when I returned from Thanksgiving break. With only a week and a half to collect 44 more responses, analyze them, put the results in a nice tidy table for the paper, discuss the implications of my results and create a tri-fold poster presentation, I was starting to have nightmares that I would fail this course and therefore not graduate.

     In desperation, I sought permission from professors I didn’t know to come at the beginning of a couple of their classes and plead with them face-to-face to fill out my survey. As of December 2 at 1:30 in the afternoon, the time I arranged to meet with another classmate in the computer lab to enter my data in to a statistical analysis software program, I had 98 respondents.

     When I had a meeting with the professor to discuss accommodations for this project and I told her I had never used statistical analysis software with JAWS before, she had the foresight to realize that by the time I gathered all my data, I wouldn’t have time for the frustrating learning curves of figuring out whether the software, known as SPSS (have no idea what that stands for), would work with JAWS. So when she offered to have another student work with me on this part, I accepted.

     Anyway, I still needed two more survey respondents. I am embarrassed to admit this, but desperate times call for desperate measures as they say. I asked my mom to come in with me and she visually got the attention of two more students entering the lab and summoned them to me so I could ask them to take my survey. The wonderful thing about attending a small college with a more intimate atmosphere is that despite the diversity of programs offered even in my field of Communication, a lot of the research classes are required for all disciplines, so any student you talk to at my college has at some point faced a similar desperate situation, or they know they will if they haven’t already. Therefore, the importance of building good karma, especially near the end of the semester isn’t lost on most students. With that in mind, both said yes and sat down at a computer on the spot. The 100th survey was submitted just in time for the arrival of my classmate who was assigned to enter my data.

     When the classmate gave me the results of the data she entered, the numbers didn’t look right. I am not a statistical expert by any means, but I could have sworn that tests of statistical significance were not supposed to yield negative numbers. But since there were no instructions in the book the survey was pulled from about how to score it, I just went with it.

     I didn’t look at my capstone project all weekend, mostly because I had to write a research paper for Interpersonal Communication and revise a personal essay for workshopping in my Creative Nonfiction class. To my intense frustration, my mom and dad decided to go to Indiana that weekend to attend a Badgers college football tournament which my sister’s husband bought tickets for but couldn’t sell. This meant that if I discovered the source of the mistake while they were gone, I would have no means of getting back to campus and meeting with the classmate again to correct it until my parents got back, so I just didn’t want to know. Knowing would only cause more stress.

     Monday I was able to write up the Methods section and meet with my advisor who showed my mom examples of tri-fold posters students have made in the past since she would be helping me assemble the poster in a visually appealing way. But this is not as much as I would have liked to get done because Mondays last semester were full of interruptions and those who know me know that I need long stretches of uninterrupted time for projects because I cannot think when I have to watch the clock. I had Big Brothers Big Sisters at 10:00, my interpersonal communication class from 12:00 to 12:50, English from 2:00 to 3:50 and choir from 7:00 to 9:30 that night!

     Still dreading the prospect of discovering a horrible mistake, I found some things to tweak in my literature review Tuesday morning and corrected some formatting issues in my parenthetical citations pointed out to me during a peer review exercise. When I got home from my Interpersonal Communication class that afternoon and couldn’t find any more excuses to avoid facing the music and uncovering my mistake, I went back to the SurveyMonkey web page which recorded the responses for all my participants. All afternoon, I tediously entered them all in to my Braille computer so I could visualize them easier and added up the scores again. I don’t know how to do in my head whatever statistical analysis programs do to determine statistical significance, but even just doing basic addition, I could tell something wasn’t right. Based on the scale I was using, the scores would have to range from 14 to 70, but some of my respondents were scoring higher than 70. Was my brain just fried and I was adding things up wrong? No. After doing it mentally a couple more times and then entering the numbers in to my braille computer’s calculator, I was still getting the same answer. Sure enough, about 9:00 that evening, buried deep within some disorganized notes I took at a meeting with the professor, I found where she told me to reverse the four negatively worded questions. Why couldn’t it say that in the book too?!

     I think I first let loose with some swearing. Then I think I cried. Then I wrote a frantic, extremely apologetic e-mail asking if there was any way the classmate could meet me the next day, December 7, to reverse the scores and re-enter them in to SPSS. The project was due on the evening of December 8. Then there was nothing I could do but endure a sleepless night.

     To my tremendous relief, the next morning I saw that the classmate had e-mailed me back. She could meet me at 2:00 that afternoon! It was kind of funny because whenever there is an extremely demanding individual project, I always feel as if everyone else has their act together, especially when peer reviewing other papers which were further along than mine. But when I got to the computer lab, my classmate laughed and told me that half the class was there as well. They all said hi to me and after reversing the numbers which went without a hitch, we commiserated about how we were all scrambling to finish stuff we would have liked to have finished sooner. “If the numbers don’t come out right this time,” I told them, “I’ll just have to resign myself to the fact that I have failed.” At this, the classmate helping me responded that I could just call it a “learning experience” in my limitations section and she wouldn’t fail me. This little shot of moral support made me realize that my big mistake may have been a blessing in disguise. If I hadn’t made the mistake, I would not have come to campus and would have found something else to stress out about working on the project in solitude. But coming to campus gave me just the boost of encouragement I needed from friends who could empathise with my situation.

     When Mom picked me up and brought me home again, I still had some tedium plugging my data in to spreadsheets, and some frustration trying to paste the tables in to my paper. I eventually figured out that the problem was I was using the 2007 version of Microsoft XL, but had saved my paper as the 1997-2003 version of Microsoft Word. The old version of Word and the new version of XL were not compatible. Once I re-saved my paper as the 2007 version of Word, it worked!

     I would stay up until 2:00 in the morning finishing the discussion section of my paper. The next morning, I would spend feverishly making last minute revisions, printing my paper, assembling it in a nice binder, re-typing snippets of my paper for the poster, printing them, and re-printing them when Mom said they would look better in a bigger font. That afternoon, Mom devoted to putting all of my words on pretty background paper and assembling the poster. The last piece was glued on about 3:30. The project was due by 6:00. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if it had been due in the morning. I also don’t know how I could have managed to do anything else, like prepare a speech. I was burnt out and eternally grateful that all I had to do was stand by my poster for an hour and field questions. But I was not asked any questions: I only had complements! On December 21, I found out that for the whole course which also included career preparation stuff, I earned an AB. I didn’t get around to re-claiming my binder from the professor’s office and seeing how I did on the paper until the day before Spring Break. But given that this senior thesis was worth 50 percent of my grade, I was able to bask in the joy of Christmas, knowing that I must have done pretty well on it!

     Somehow after all of this stress, I still had to find the energy to finish assembling an electronic portfolio for that same course due December 12, assemble an english portfolio and take my Interpersonal Communication exam December 14. I did find the energy to do these things, and then fell asleep every time I sat down the first week of break!

So this semester on Easy Street has been hard-earned.

     The first half of the semester, I only had three classes again. One course, Communication and Conflict, doesn’t meet until noon. Intro to Public Relations meets once a week. The official time slot for it on the registrar schedule is 6:00 to 9:35, but the professor often dismisses us by 8:00. A Technical Writing course I am taking is fully online, so I can do the work for it at my convenience and from the comfort of home! On March 13, I started a two-credit course that only meets for half of the semester on the first amendment. It is taught by the same professor I had for Communication Law junior year. He was a tenured professor who taught at my college for over forty years and technically retired the semester after I had Communication Law with him, but he still wanted to teach and so convinced the administration to let him create this two-credit course.

     For all these classes, there are the usual boring textbook chapters, but no literature or political tangents from the 1600s, (a few from the 1800s in my first amendment class, but he explains them thoroughly) and no classes that require reading an entire book in a week, sometimes less. There are papers and projects to do, but they aren’t near as demanding, and they don’t count for 50 percent of my grade. And yet, instead of enjoying Easy Street as my dad told me I should do, I have been feeling this strange restlessness.

     Partly it is because I know I cannot stay on Easy Street forever. Eventually, I will have to get a job. While my peers could get a part-time job, take a gamble and skip the health insurance since they are young and live on rahman noodles if they didn’t feel like working a demanding job, I will eventually have to find a full-time job with good benefits since I have a medical condition which requires several expensive daily medications and therefore cannot go a day without health insurance. Eventually, I would love to get married and rock a little baby or two to sleep, but just from observing my parents, I know that supporting a family, as much as they enjoyed it and loved us, was often times as far from Easy Street as you can get. So instead of enjoying Easy Street, I find myself worrying about the potential rough roads ahead.

     Partly, I am restless with self-doubt. It is strange to think about how four years ago, I was so passionate about the prospect of studying journalism. I was going to learn how to save the world, expose the truth! But over the course of my college years with many classes being taught by adjunct professors who worked in the field, I became more aware of the changing climate for journalism and how newspapers are being eliminated. Yet I stayed on the journalism course because it was still what I really wanted to do, and I didn’t want to become one of those students who change their major and end up taking seven years to graduate. I would just stay the course and cross the job search bridge when I came to it. Now however, with graduation less than two months away, it is almost time to cross that bridge and preliminary internet searches have yielded lots of science jobs, a few boring technical writing jobs for corporations and no journalism jobs. I can always attempt freelance writing of course or even find a way to make money blogging, but I am sure these things would have to be supplemental to a regular job as they are also very competitive and a person I know who does freelance writing for a newspaper told me he gets assigned two stories a week and makes $60 on each, not an income I could live on by any means. So this semester, whenever I talk to students from other majors like Criminal Justice or Elementary Education, I keep wondering “should I have chosen a different major with more employment potential?” When I hear younger students talking about classes they will take in the fall, I sometimes wonder “should I have taken that class?” In short, I have this strange uneasy feeling that I may not have made the most of the opportunity my parents gave me for a college education, as if I wasted a lot of money getting a degree I won’t be able to find a job with and I will just be another one of the many dissatisfied adults in America who never finds a job doing what they really wanted to do and so have to settle for any old job to pay the bills, live for weekends and vacations and dream of winning the lottery.

     But mostly, I am restless because once Easy Street ends, which will symbolically happen in May, I don’t even know what road I will be turning on to next. My mom and I have a lot of time to talk in the car on the way to and from school, so I have told her about these feeling of uncertainty. Her reply was that this part of my life was just another transition, of which I have had many. I transitioned from the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children, a special pre-school program for blind children, to a mainstream elementary school. It was rough at first, but soon, I adjusted and did great. I transitioned from elementary school to middle school in sixth grade. This transition too was rough at first, especially since I went from a school day that started at 9:00 to one that started at 7:20. But again, I adjusted and did great. The same was true for my transition to high school and college.

Mom has a point. I have been through many transitions. But I didn’t know how to tell her that this transition is going to be different from all my previous transitions.

     All of my transitions up to this point have been transitions from one school to another school. It was rough at times getting used to a new building, a new schedule and new people, but the basic structure of school always stayed the same, so at the end of the day, these transitions really didn’t change my life that much. But this time, I will not simply be transitioning to another school. I will be transitioning to another world. Furthermore, in the past I would tour each new school a year or two in advance since my parents, teachers and I knew with certainty which school I would be transitioning to well in advance. But here it is only a couple months until graduation and I actually don’t know yet what kind of world I will be transitioning to.

     (The state Department of Workforce Development is going to assist me in finding my first job. My councilor sent me a list of job developers to contact and ask questions to choose who I like best, but these summer-like record-breaking temperatures which remind me that in the working world, years and years of beautiful days like this may be spent in a windowless office doing a job I may not even be passionate about drains me of all motivation. Fortunately, it is supposed to get dramatically cooler tomorrow and I think some rain is in the forecast too, so thinking about a windowless office job may not sound so bad then.)

     However, as I write this, I am having a revelation. In retrospect, I can look back and realize the transitions to each new school didn’t change my life much, but at the time of the transition, I did have the same feelings of uncertainty, as if my life was being turned upside down. Sure, now I realize it was just another school building, but with each new building came new people, higher expectations and a new culture. This transition has a little more uncertainty in not knowing the name of the place I will be going to next and only being able to think about in its abstract name, The Workforce. But at the end of the day, it’s just another building, new people, new expectations and a new culture, all of which I have adjusted to brilliantly before.

     With that in mind, I am reminded of another piece of excellent advice my mom gave me at dinner one night, when I was fretting about my lack of a plan for my life but at the same time dreaming of having enough money to strike out on my own. Instead of thinking of life as a road and panicking because I don’t know which path to take when this road ends as I have been doing, she said she likes to think of life as a river that we all just flow along. Often, life isn’t something that can be planned out. Circumstances out of our control may change the course of events. I may get married to a husband who gets a job in a place I never imagined I would live as she did. These situations could be likened to unexpected currents that throw us off course, but no matter where the river leads, everything always works out. In fact, my mom pointed out that if we hadn’t ended up living where we did, I likely would not have chosen or even known about the fantastic college I am proud to attend or even had the wonderful resources and support that I was so blessed to have as a blind student all through school, the message being that sometimes, the river of life carries us to a better course of events than had we resisted the current.

     I have always been an optimistic person, and as pessimistic as parts of this entry may have sounded, this optimism hasn’t weakened. Given how successfully I have traversed the rough waves of life so far–my brain tumor as a baby, the blindness and other medical issues that the tumor caused, the all-night struggles with visual subjects like geometry and of course, all of the transitions to new schools– I know I will be able to navigate whatever unexpected currents and rough waves this river of life has in store for my future as well. So after graduation, I look forward to diving in to the river of the rest of my life with confidence and trusting that wherever the currents take me, everything will work out. Until then, I intend to enjoy these last two months on Easy Street.

Students Suspect Preferential Treatment of Blind Student

Shepherdsville, WI. School administrators at Clifford University are investigating student complaints regarding perceived preferential treatment of a blind student by professors. The student, Allison Nastoff, is a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a politics minor.

     Typically people at the center of serious investigations like this decline our interview requests, but Nastoff says she has nothing to hide.

     “An investigation isn’t necessary in all honesty,” Nastoff said, “the preferential treatment my peers speak of isn’t perceived. It’s real.”

     Nastoff, who has been blind almost her entire life, said some preferential treatment has always been a part of life.

     “I’ve always received a little bit of special treatment, simply because totally blind people like me are rare, and thus fascinating,” Nastoff said.

     But even she has noticed a sharp increase in preferential treatment since she started college. It just so happened that the start of college coincided with the acquisition of her first guide dog, a yellow lab named Gilbert.

     This issue was first brought to the attention of the administration by Thomas Truman, a student in Nastoff’s history class freshman year.

     “I had to stay up all night finishing a paper and I was exhausted. But being the motivated student that I am, I dragged myself out of bed and made it to the 8am history class. But I inadvertently dozed off and my head slumped onto the desk,” Truman said.

     According to Truman’s official complaint, Dr. Jefferson noticed and reprimanded him for being disrespectful, telling him he shouldn’t come to class if he is too tired to pay attention. But a couple days later when Gilbert snored loudly during a lecture on stagflation, Dr. Jefferson laughed and said affectionately, “I guess Gilbert isn’t interested in stagflation.”

     “How is that fair?” Truman would like to know.

     Since Truman first raised the issue, other students have started to come forward.

     “I sat next to her in an International Relations course last year,” said Hillary Palin.

     Palin recalled one assignment where they all had to write papers about whether or not the United States should send foreign aid to countries with corrupt dictators like Libya, and come up with our own ideas for how the United States could get aid to these impoverished countries without supporting corrupt dictators.

     “The day papers were handed back, I overheard Dr. Biden say to her “95 percent! Nice job!” as he gave Gilbert an affectionate pat. At first, I was impressed that she scored so high and was going to congratulate her, but couldn’t help glancing over her shoulder and noticing a comment Dr. Biden wrote on her paper,” Palin said.

     As Palin tells it, Nastoff proposed as one of her solutions to the issue that money should be sent to non-governmental organizations like the Peace Corps, to which Dr. Biden pointed out that the Peace Corps is part of the government.

     “I had no idea it was possible to even get in to college not knowing that. Would such a demonstration of stupidity have been so easily forgiven if I had written the paper, being that I am not allowed to bring my dog to class? I doubt it,” Palin said.

     Phillip Peepys is in an english class with Nastoff this semester.

     “Class had just begun, I mean JUST begun, when Allison and Lynda Dillard started giggling. Now if my friends and I had been giggling amongst ourselves during class Dr. Webster would have asked us to leave for being disruptive,” Peepys said, “but when Dr. Webster found out they had been laughing because Gilbert was already snoring loudly, she laughed herself and stopped class, not to reprimand her but to rub Gilbert’s belly! Now I don’t care what anyone says. Laughing while the professor is giving a lecture, even over a cute dog is rude and the fact that Allison was able to get by with it is so unfair!”

     Yet the administration has also gotten wind from a student who is in Nastoff’s senior capstone class this semester that this unfairness has gone beyond the campus boundaries as well.

     To graduate, all students in the communication program are required to have 150 hours of internship experience and are expected to seek out and apply for their internship independently.

     “I found an internship, but only after sending out over fifty applications and attending numerous interviews,” said Norah Rawls, “Allison used to be my best friend until I was chatting with her on the first day of school while waiting for Dr. Johari to start class and learned that she only sent out three applications, two of them resulting in interviews, both of these interviews resulting in internship offers!”

     One of these offers, and the one Nastoff ended up taking was an internship with the governor’s office. Rawls acknowledges that Nastoff is smart and an excellent writer but “come on! No one gets such an impressive internship with such little effort these days. I personally feel these offers had more to do with Gilbert’s cuteness than Allison’s intelligence.”

     We contacted the Dean of students who declined our request for an interview but sent a written statement.

     “Our investigation is still ongoing, but at this point we do not intend to discipline these professors, partly because the same students who filed complaints later asked that they be recanted because they love Gilbert too.” We were able to confirm that this is true.

     “I regretted filing that complaint as soon as I did it,” Truman said, “he’s a dog after all! He can get away with not paying attention to the professor.”

     “If I had a choice of either playing with an adorable dog in my dorm room or doing the research that would have shown the Peace Corps is part of the government, I cannot say I wouldn’t have chosen to play with the dog, so I realized I shouldn’t fault her,” Palin said.

     “Even professors admit lectures can get boring,” Peepys said, “it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be complaining about a momentary diversion from a lecture, a glimpse of pure innocence from a dog who can do what we all wish we could do without any consequences.”

     “If I were a hiring coordinator, I suppose I would have hired someone who can bring a dog every day to lighten the mood of the office,” Rawls said.

     “I do sincerely apologize for any bitter feelings Gilbert and I may have caused for my peers, especially regarding the prestigious internship. But the reality is that in a society where the unemployment rate for blind people is 70 percent, I’ll take any advantage I can get,” Nastoff said, “and frankly, given how much Gilbert has made life easier for me by charming professors and employers, I don’t understand why only five percent of blind people choose to have a guide dog.”

     So while most of her peers are already fretting about how they will find a job after college, Nastoff is confident that Gilbert’s charm will land her any job and any promotion she wants. Her ultimate dream is to get a job that pays enough that she can spend two weeks a year in the Gilbert Islands.

Let Season 8 Begin!

Well readers, it’s the second most wonderful time of the year, the first being Christmas of course! This second most wonderful time of the year though is the beginning of a new season of LJ Idol! Yes Idol contestants, I’m coming back!

     For readers of this blog who may be new, LJ Idol is an amazingly fun spin-off of reality shows like American Idol where each week, you are given a topic to write about. People vote for their favorite entries and whoever has the fewest votes for that week is eliminated, or should I say, “sent home.”

     Last year, Season 7 was my first experience as a contestant on LJ Idol. I had a wonderful time, but unfortunately was sent home on week 10. But this season, I can officially call myself a veteran. In other words, things are going to be different this year.

     I would like to say with confidence that I will win, but I won’t be that arrogant. I hate how every contestant on shows like American Idol introduce themselves by saying they are confident they will win. While it is great to project confidence and think positively, the reality is there are a lot of excellent, and for that matter much more experienced writers in this community and only one person can win. If I win, that would be so amazing, but if I don’t I am alright with that too. However, it is my goal to at least make it further than week 10 this year.

     Finally, I should apologize to my fellow contestants for not being able to read everyone’s entries or respond to all the comments regarding my own entry. I know that when I signed up to be a contestant last year, I mentioned wanting to meet other writers and make new friends. I genuinely would love to do this, but unfortunately, I quickly discovered last season that being a full-time college student doesn’t allow me to be as social as I would like to be. I could catch up on entries on semester breaks, but it feels kind of awkward to comment on entries after everyone has moved on to the next topic. So what I ended up doing last year was reading the entries of contestants on my friend list and then go to the polls and read a couple of the entries receiving a lot of votes in my tribe. If I don’t read your entry, it is not because I don’t care about your writing. I simply cannot read them all, and I don’t think my parents would be pleased if I failed college classes over LJ Idol! No offense.

     The same is true for responding to comments on my own entries. The braille computer I use is kind of slow, so even replying to one comment takes forever. I could reply to one or two of them but don’t want it to appear that I appreciate some people’s comments more than others. So since I cannot reply to all of the comments and don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I typically won’t reply to anyone’s comments. But please know that I do read and appreciate them all. I will graduate college in May, so by season 9, I should be a college graduate with a job and no more homework and therefore a lot more time for an online social life.

     With that being said, some of you readers are probably understandably asking, “if you don’t have time to read everyone’s entries or respond to comments, why compete?” My simple answer is that life can be pretty dreary this time of year where I live. It is midway through the semester, right when classes are at the height of boringness. My trek to class often involves cold damp wind or rain and since I am too old to get dressed up and go trick-or-treating and our neighborhood is so spread out that trick-or-treating is no fun anyway, there is nothing to look forward to until Thanksgiving. But reading comments about my writing, having the opportunity to read as many entries as I can from other amazing writers and the thrill of watching the polls is just enough to put a spring in my step and give me something to look forward to amidst the monotony of school life, and although I have no way of scientifically proving it, I feel like when I have something to look forward to, I have an easier time staying motivated to get my school work done.

     So I understand the reasoning that “if you may not be able to read my work, why should I read yours?” If you don’t read my writing, that is fine, especially since I would really have no way of knowing. But if you would like to motivate a student to keep writing and study hard in school, I sure would appreciate it and I promise that next year I will pull my weight and more actively support you. On that note, let the games begin!