I’m setting out to do something that I fear. I’m working to get to where I want to go. And it terrifies me. Over the summer I am taking the maximum allowed credits. Twenty-one. Most of my classes are online and I’m nervous to begin classes that have so much weight in a format that I don’t like. Not only that, but I have to do good. I need to succeed in these classes to the point that I am an overachiever. To many people this will be silly and unnecessary. They will tell me I should just complete my associates degree before transferring. But I don’t want to do that. I want to get the majority of my course work done on the campus that makes me feel accepted and wanted. I want to be pursuing my dreams with people that I care about and that care about me. Some people are telling me that where I want to be is too pretentious or that I’m not preppy enough for it but then I have others who tell me that I would fit in really well there. I’m even mistaken for a student there all the time. With a split group of support, I feel uneasy that this would be the concern. I’m nervous about so much that I feel queasy about education for right now. It’s leaving me terrified.
Facebook has a habit of reminding me of some bittersweet things. Today it was the memories of people that left this world too soon. My nephew and two of my friends. All three in a row.
The first that left was my nephew. He was 12 years old. His death was terrifying. He was skateboarding one evening and he swerved out. The truck driver didn’t see him in time to stop. It was brutal. He was so young. It was one moment that all of us wish could have gone differently. I spent the day with my family. My friends sent me pictures of Prom.
The second that left us was my friend Clayton. He was a light in this world. He was happy and always smiling. He did theatre at my high school and was a true love to another friend of mine. His death was horrific. It was unnecessary. It truly could have been avoided. I think that’s what makes it so painful even after two years. His death was avoidable.
Then Iris. Sweet, compassionate Iris. She was at the river with her family. The current was picking up and no one saw her fall. She was laughing and having a carefree afternoon. But the water quickened and the rocks were sharp. Her boyfriend tried to get her. Everyone was too late. She was under for too long. I did theatre with her. She told me her hopes and dreams. She confided in me. She was only 15. I couldn’t do anything.
All three of them impacted me. The end of my senior year was a bittersweet time. Instead of enjoying most of the senior activities like Prom and the after parties, I said goodbye to people I cared about. The heartbreak was very real. Facebook reminded me about the last show I did with Iris, the balloon release for my nephew, and the memorial for Clayton. These memories were hard to stomach.
I live in the United States. It’s a great nation (sometimes). We have a lot of freedoms (sometimes). For the most part we are a nation filled with wealth and prosperity. Until you walk a mile in the shoes of a student. Let me paint you a little picture.
It’s six o’clock in the morning. The sun is just barely peeking over the mountainous terrain around me. I’m awake. I’m walking out to my car so I can drive to work. I get in my older car, a 2005 Ford Taurus, and head down a one-way street. On my right, I drive past a pivotal part of my community. Gonzaga University. Higher Education. I’m almost drooling as I see the early morning sun starting to kiss the edges of campus. I drive up a little further and I go towards that lovely sign that says Dutch Bros. I see it and smile because it’s not the first time that day that I’ve been there. This is one of two trips already. All nighters sure are the best. I smile as I get my coffee and head back towards the road so I can continue my commute to work. But a part of me pauses, my smile falters. Should I have spent this money on coffee? Or should I have put it in my college fund. I think as I drive about the multiple mornings I’ve purchased coffee. I think about the times that coffee is the only reason I could make it through the day. Sure it isn’t healthy, but it was necessary to have to get through my SAT’s, state testing, double performances, tennis tournaments, and finals. The constant stress and the need for heightened productivity is getting us stuck in a caffeine induced haze. As I think through all of those mornings, I think about driving to school with mom and enjoying my morning coffee, getting coffee with my friends, meeting with people over coffee for work. The positive moments with that cup of coffee is what makes me want to enjoy it everyday.
That college fund won’t miss those few dollars that I spend on remembering things that make me happy. So I get my coffee because I deserve to have that bit of happiness to mask all of the dread of the day ahead. My schedule is ridiculous because of everything I have to get done. I am up at 5:30am nearly everyday. I get to my first client at 7am and finish by 9am. Then I rush to the other side of town so I can get to class. I’m in class from 9:30 to 11:30. Then it’s back to work. I then work from about 12pm to 5 or 6pm. I do this every day. Monday through Friday. Then I work all day Saturday. Sometimes my work calls and asks me to take shifts on Sunday. Because of the bills I have to pay, I don’t want to refuse the hours. But my mental health also has to be taken into consideration. I have this internal struggle. Do I go to work so I can pay my bills or do I give myself a day to recharge and complete my classwork? I don’t want my grades to struggle but I also don’t want to have to call my parents asking for money either. I take the shift knowing that I now have to work twice as hard during the day before my shift. That struggle is a problem for me every single day. Because of the constant stress of wondering whether or not I’m working enough, my mental health starts to slide. Then when that happens, I notice that my classwork suffers. The moments of happiness start to disintegrate into oblivion.
We live in a country that values education but doesn’t value mental health. The mental health of our students, our future leaders, is sometimes in a questionable state of flux because of the cost of receiving the education they need, the stress of getting the grades they need, and trying to balance life on top of it. People in my generation have lost the ability to grow and focus on personal development because we expect them to go to school full time, work full time, and get amazing grades. The students that participate in sports and extra curricular activities are the lucky ones. The scholarships that they worked hard to get are allowing them a little flexibility, but they also are having to work to be able to pay for other things in life. We don’t see students struggling, social media is a showcase not reality. What is being posted is often a staged version of a moment of their reality. Walk through a common study area in a university though and you will find students stressing over exams, writing and rewriting essays, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. On the weekends, you see people posting about the parties they are going to. One would hope that they aren’t drinking too much. Unfortunately on a national level, about 80% of our students are drinking. And 70% of them are reporting that they drink around 4 drinks per instance of drinking. Which isn’t too bad, but how often are they drinking? After a few conversations with some of my friends in college, this number is varied but constantly over 3 days a week. Alcohol is a depressant. Is this really what we want students doing? Is this is a way to cope with the stress that’s being unloaded on them? If so, how can we fix this?
Even with the insane amounts of stress and unhealthy coping mechanisms, each university and college in this area is a force to be reckoned with. We support them. We go out and watch their sporting events and theatre productions, but we aren’t supporting them mentally or emotionally. Our country still hasn’t made it a priority to make higher education affordable enough that stress can be eliminated. Our students are leaving with educations that they can’t always use because of the current state of affairs. When you cut funding for the arts, you take away jobs for the creative types that would flourish there. When you cut education budgets, you eliminate many teaching applicants because there isn’t enough money to hire more teachers. They also aren’t being paid enough to be able to pay off their inevitable student loans. When we make working a priority and cut the creativity, we are losing people. We are losing students who can’t focus on academics, that need the creative outlets.
So, I guess my main problems with our education will always be this; we don’t value creativity, we breed stress, and we hyper focus on money making it impossible for our incoming generations to get a higher education. When we start focusing on children being children, money being put into the education system, and mental health, I will be there with excitement and readiness to continue with education. But for now, I think I’m going to go back to just working full time and trying to support myself.
We all find a place where we belong. I think I found mine. Thank you Gonzaga!
It’s been a few weeks since I wrote this and sent it to Gonzaga. But I want others to read it. Take it in. Maybe go for a campus tour. I promise you’ll feel the same way I do. It’s a wonderful place filled with amazing people.
An Open Letter to Gonzaga University:
I wanted to thank you all. You don’t know it, but all of you have touched my heart. You are all so welcoming and kind. I’ve never felt this anywhere else. I am not a student at your university, but anytime I’ve been on campus I’ve been welcomed in many ways. Sometimes it’s something as simple as holding open the door for me or something even more precious to me like smiling as I walked past. Most days I’m going across campus to seek my best friend because I know that being near her will make me feel a little better which is something that I’ve realized I crave. I crave the feeling of belonging somewhere. Being accepted for who I am. Your campus is one of the places that I feel that.
Acceptance isn’t always something that you can easily find. Sometimes it’s in the places that you fear that you’ll find it. I have audition anxiety. I always have. It’s about the fear of not knowing if you’ll be accepted for a role. My friend invited me to audition for the Student Choreography Concert. Originally it was so that I could be in her piece. The strangest thing happened though. I had a panic attack in the middle of my audition and instead of being cut because it was obvious that I couldn’t handle it, I was still accepted. The mentality wasn’t that “Oh she has anxiety and will fail,” it was “I think with enough practice, she can do it.” I ended up not having the right availability to be in hers but that was okay. I was accepted into another piece that was more of a familiar style. I was one of two people at that audition that don’t currently attend GU. But the other might have been an alumni. No one looked at me differently because I wasn’t a student. Honestly, some of them were shocked. They thought I fit right in. Between the students that let me join in their project and the instructors who helped make it happen, I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity. Dancing with all of them has been so much fun.
Speaking of dancing, how about the National Championship game? The energy at the McCarthey Athletic Center was insane! Everyone was on their feet cheering and dancing. It was amazing to see and be a part of. I ended up in the front row with some of the seniors. The other students around me just accepted me as being part of the Kennel. I couldn’t have been more excited and amazed at the inclusiveness. In the last few seconds of the game, we were huddling in the front row. I didn’t get left out because I wasn’t a student. They brought me in with them as we collectively held our breaths. I truly felt what it meant to be part of the Kennel. Then as we started the chant after the game, my heart exploded for a love of the campus culture. We may have lost that game, but in the hearts and minds of those surrounding me, I knew we had won. We won a widespread campus unity that included everyone in that building. I saw what it meant to be a Zag.
Originally my intent was to move away from Spokane and go to NYU or back down to California, but something in my heart is telling me that I need to rethink my plans. I don’t know if it’s a divine intervention telling me to get back to my roots, but I think I know that I want to be a Gonzaga Alumni now. I can’t wait to apply and become a part of this culture that’s both challenging and amazing to be a part of. I’m excited for the day that I can meet up with my sister-in-law and talk about our favorite professors on campus!
Until I meet you on campus, thank you.
What a crazy month I have ahead of me! April is Dance Month at Gonzaga University. This weekend is the Student Choreography Concert and I am part of it! Despite the face that I am not yet a student there! I can’t wait for people to see that there is just “Another Day of Sun”. The end of the month brings the Spring Dance Concert! I hope I will get to participate in that show as well but first I have to get through Student Choreo! Wish me luck!
Also, just want to give a shoutout to the Gonzaga Men’s Basketball Team. You had such an amazing season and I can’t wait for next year! That was an amazing game to watch! Next year we’ll witness history again!
SCC Music 2017 – This is the music of the Student Choreo Concert!
(Update- April 10) I’m also a little smitten this month.
I guess it’s safe to say that lately I’ve been pretty down. I’ve been working on changing up my attitude but it’s not always an easy task. One of the hardest feelings for me lately has been loneliness. But I’m never truly alone. I’m with a client, my roommates, my family, or my best friend. Yet, the only thing I feel is the sense that I still am truly alone. I could be surrounded by hundreds of people and still feel like there wasn’t another soul on the planet and while I normally love that feeling, I can’t help but feel left out. I believe that the hardest part about it all is the feeling that there is something more for me out there and I just can’t grasp it yet. I’m doing a production right now at a small theatre. It’s a small cast and a crew that nearly outweighs the cast. I’m part of the crew and there are days where I don’t want to go because there’s this tension. This feeling of not being needed. It kind of brings me down. The assistant director and stage manager usually just tell me to go home. They never ask me to stay and help reset. They always just say that they’ll do it later or do it before the show. My call time has been lumped in with the actors because I guess I’m just not that significant in the scheme of what needs to be done. Instead of letting me help, they just push me away. I guess I should be grateful that I get to leave early and go and spend time with friends but I guess I just feel so unattached to the cast and crew that me even being there feels wrong.