Things I wish I knew before, during, and after college.

With my senior year having come to a close this past May, I realize it only makes sense to reflect on my college experience in a way that could be useful to others. There were a lot of ways I could’ve gone about making this list but I decided to break it into 3 sections: the bulk of college, the end of college, and what happens after. I’ve also decided to leave out some obvious–but important–advice: ex. advice on selecting a major, reminders to take advantage of the free gym, etc.

Instead, I wanted this to be a list of the most important ideas I carried with me throughout college. I had some of these in mind when I started, in the fall of 2012, but most of them I learned from experience. And all of them are things I wish I had known earlier. But ain’t that always the case.

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College ~ Freshman to Junior year

1. Your GPA matters, sort of. Just do your best and take care of your physical/mental health.

In my experience, I’ve found that people who tell you “your GPA doesn’t matter” usually have low GPAs. Does everyone need to be on the dean’s list? No. But for a sticker price of over $100,000 you should probably be working hard. And to go beyond the “get your money’s worth” mindset, you should’ve come to college because you love learning or–more specifically–are passionate about a career in your field. If neither of those are true why are you enrolling in the first place.

In short, do your best and solid grades will follow. In the end a “good” GPA is a nice feather in your cap: something you can add to your resume and a way to qualify for awards/honors while you are on campus. But nothing is worth killing yourself over.

Take care of your mind and body above everything else. It took me too long to learn this. Skip class occasionally and responsibly as a way to replenish your mental health. If you’re working hard who cares if you get a B or an A. The few extra points to your GPA isn’t always worth the amount of effort it will take. Be realistic with yourself and, above all, be kind to yourself.

2. Keep your extracurriculars within reason.

Get involved on campus but don’t get too involved. Where’s the line? Look at your calendar and imagine something unexpected coming up. If you’re panicking, you are too involved. Pick what you care about most. If you still feel the need to be in a lot of orgs only take 1-2 leadership positions. Extracurriculars become a lot more stressful when you’re running meetings instead of just attending them, even if they’re “not that hard.”

3. (From one POC to others:) Get involved with a race-related cultural organization on campus.

While being involved in race-related cultural organizations can certainly benefit all students (allies are important) I highlight people of color because I am one, so I can only speak from my perspective.

For a long time I didn’t, personally, feel the need to be involved in race-related cultural organizations. I wasn’t involved in the Latin American org at my high school so when I got to college I didn’t get involved in our Latin American org either.

But having attended a predominately white private college in small town Iowa has its downfalls. And one of them was my school’s inability to deal with race issues in a way that made me feel respected, supported, and heard. I’ve mentioned this before when I talked about how Cornell College fails students of color, a post written in response to the phrase “Build a wall” having been painted on our community announcement kiosks.

This occurred during the end of my Senior year. I felt stressed, hurt, and isolated. As a Latina, that’s when I realized the importance of having close friends who are also Latinx. This is not to discount the support of my white friends or other POC, but when incidents that target your specific racial group occur part of healing is having safe spaces with that specific racial group.

If I could go back I would definitely join this organization (and others) so I could get more support and offer more support to others.

4. *Wine Wednesday or any tradition with friends goes a long way.

I started doing Wine Wednesdays my senior year, after a semester off campus Chicago. Every Wednesday me and 2 of my best friends would drink a glass of wine together while catching up, watching movies/tv, or playing videogames. Wednesdays were actually one of our busiest days of the week with some of us doing workstudy or having org meetings but we always made time for this. Whether you do this, or make your own tradition, it was really nice to have a set date with friends–especially in the middle of week (which can be a stressful time). It was a weekly reminder of what’s really important in life: spending time with people who make you happy.

*Please do not participate in Wine Wednesday if you are under the drinking age. It is illegal and any wine you get while under the drinking age is bound to taste awful so please just don’t.

5. Start working in/towards your field while you’re in college. If you go to college in an area you plan to live in you basically start your career before you graduate.

Pretty self explanatory. While student-teaching automatically gives me some time in the field, I always looked for summer jobs related to education or (my other major) English. It really helped build my resume which I desperately needed since I still don’t have any full-time work history and finding a job after graduating is hard enough.

6. At the end of junior year (or 1st semester, senior year) quit almost all your organizations and leadership positions.

It doesn’t make sense to be focussing your energies intensely on campus organizations when you’re on your way out the door. If you have an incredibly relevant leadership position (ex. Editor of the school paper and you’re going into journalism) then keep that, but drop everything else.

College ~ Senior year

1. Apply for some jobs/programs 2nd semester of senior year but don’t go crazy. You have plenty of time after college to have adult angst, what’s the rush?

Exactly how it sounds. In fact, many people don’t look for jobs at all until they graduate. The only reason I advise against this is that some positions/programs run on specific timelines, so it can be worth a few google searches on your end. Plus it’d be great to have a job lined up for after graduation, or at least some leads.

2. Have money saved up or shop the summer before senior year because everything seems to require “nice” clothes. 

Between special events, celebrations amongst friends, senior reception, college awards night(s), and graduation, you’re going to need to look nice. A lot. And if you’re like me and hate wearing the same dress over and over again you’re going to want to invest in a few snazzy things.

3. Second semester is the apocalypse semester: everything is made up and the points don’t matter. You will never live this life style ever again so spend time with your friends and enjoy everything college has to offer while you still can. 

This is where that good GPA comes in handy. It takes the pressure off being perfect senior year. Oddly enough I still did really well in all my classes. I’m still not sure if I had gotten better at being a student or if I was just working way too hard the first 3.5 years… Anyway, senior year was great! I said yes to every invite out and spent as much time with my friends as humanly possible. I only had one org meeting a week and my work-study so life was pretty simple.

I spent my last few months enjoying the “free” (albeit repetitive) dining hall food, working out a bunch, going into town as often as possible, and always having plans with friends. Meanwhile, all my freshman, sophomore, and junior friends were always stressed about something and I was just chilling. It was incredible and I totally earned it.

Post Graduation ~ First 6 months

1.Celebrate the achievement

You did it! A lot of people don’t. So celebrate that. Go out to dinner, have a party, do something!

2. Know what you want and actually go for it

If you want to work at a museum apply to museums. If there are no museums around your small home town move to where there are museums. I know that’s easier said then done but it beats working somewhere that has nothing to do with your field. Which brings me to my next point:

3. Don’t take a crummy job out of fear (this early in the game).

Your loans kick in 6 months after you graduate; yes you might need to settle when you’re a month away from these bills but why settle early? As someone with a maxed credit card or two I understand the stress. And being broke in “the real world” feels a lot worse than being broke on campus.

But its been almost 2 months since I graduated and I’m already seeing peers working at retail stores or getting involved in pyramid schemes (No joke). And I’m like it’s been 2 MONTHS.

I understand everyone’s financial and post-grad “housing” situation is different but if you’re like me and are lucky enough to start out in your family’s house, rent free, until you get a job then you have no reason to panic so early on. A lot of people get a whatever job “just to make some extra money” during their job search but then they stop searching for a job. Because who wants to sent our resumes and cover letters after an 8 hour shift? Eventually bills kick in, maybe they get a car, and now they feel stuck at their job.

Be patient and have faith in yourself.

4. Apply for jobs and keep copies of all your resumes/cover letters/application answers.

Recycle, recycle, recycle. I swear some of the applications I’ve done are so involved I feel like applying to schools all over again.

5. Tell everyone, in your social circle(s), what you’re doing

Telling people your goals makes them feel “more real.” Plus, getting friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, etc to associate you with X career can help send leads your way.

6. Don’t make applying for jobs a job in itself

I had a really hard time with this. I would wake up and spend hours on craigslist, indeed, and other job search engines. Then I would have dozens of tabs of potential jobs. Then I would read through the qualifications of each and delete any I was unqualified for. From there I would pick ones I’d actually like to have. From there I would start to apply.

It was exhausting. Plus working so hard on job apps made me feel discouraged that I wasn’t getting any offers (but I’m working so hard!” I’d think to myself). It wasn’t the healthiest approach to job hunting and my brother would tell me not to make applying for jobs a job itself.

He reminded me the time between college and my first full-time job is the last time (until I retire) that I can not have a job and still be completely okay. That really put things in perspective.

7. Take days off

I know this sounds silly because every day is a day off when you’re seeking employment but seriously, take days off. Have days where you don’t look for jobs at all. Take breaks between the interviews. Or you’ll burn out before you even start. And really that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over these past few years:

mental and physical health are my number 1 priorities. When those are in order everything else seems to fall into place.

“In the spirit of community”: How Cornell College fails students of color

I am writing this post because I refuse to go to a school that tolerates hate speech and I am not leaving.

Cornell’s administration acknowledges discrimination only in its most extreme forms: swastikas, nooses, and slurs. What message does this send? It means Cornell is all about image and appeasing the majority. The aforementioned forms of racism are so extreme Cornell is forced to speak out against them (and label them as hate speech). But when it comes to all other transgressions, Cornell shrugs and basically says, “Americans will be Americans.” Cornell ties their own hands with the first amendment and claims innocence.

As a result, they have left many students (myself included) feeling isolated, uncared for, and disposable. While I believe Cornell fails all minority groups, today I am focussing on racial minority groups.

I will begin by reporting on the incident that occurred, the student response, and the administrative response. And I will end with a personal reflection on the aforementioned events.

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A Response to Cornell College’s Campus Climate Assessment

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been taking a break from blogging. The next few posts were going to be final updates/reflections on Condor Class Libraries and a few posts about teaching. After that, I had plans of more posts on lit, thoughts I being a second semester senior, etc.

However, I’ve returned to blogging early to provide my reactions to Cornell College’s Campus Climate Assessment–as its release has caused some strong reactions from my collegiate peers.

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This blog post is broken down into 4 main sections:
1. Background Info: addressing race & higher ed (2015)
2. Cornell College Unrest: addressing issues students have raised with how the college operates.
3. Cornell College Campus Climate Assessment: a brief recap of what was studied, how it was studied, and the results it produced (for readers outside the current Cornell student body or Cornellians who haven’t read the report).
4. My Reflection: thoughts on the assessment

Those of you in the Cornell community may want to scroll down to the reflection, but if you need more context #1-3 are here.

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“My word” (for those surprised by my slang)

“I try to warp and destroy the English language at every turn. When I’m speaking, I want people to hear the flavors of my upbringing and experiences becauaaaaase my upbringing is nothing to be ashamed of […] As for [people making the argument that] “middle-[aged] white guys” [won’t be able to ] understan[d] my vocabulary, tell that to the folks jacking urban slang on mainstream tv shows. Every week there’s some ol played out slang on tv shows and commercials. When John Madden uses words like “swag” and mainstream news sites ask “What does bae mean,” my vernacular is understood. [Media like this Hefty commercial]…

It’s mocking us, but secretly wanting to be down.

Ferrari Shepard via several tweets on his account: @stopbeingfamous 

I begin with these tweets from Ferrari Shepard because they resonated with my so deeply that I had to write this blog post. It’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. Continue reading

The misunderstandings of diversity (at a glance)

“My high school didn’t have a large amount of diversity but it had some diversity”

This comment was made by one of my classmates earlier this week. This is no anomaly; I hear comments like this all the time. So I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone that diversity is not a codeword for “minority students are present,” yet people use it that way all the time. The dictionary defines diversity as “the state of being diverse; showing a great deal of variety.” Thus, the above quote can be translated to “we didn’t have a lot of variety but we had variety”… wait which one is it? Was there variety of not? By this logic my elementary school, which was 95% black and latino, was the most diverse school I ever went to. Continue reading

Poetry spotlight (revival)/#4: Questions for Godzilla by Paul Guest

It seems fitting to end my blog procrastination with the revival of an old idea: poem of the week. I originally did this as a mini month-long project, the goal was to read more poetry and share those experiences with a larger community (via this blog). It was a great month but when the month was over, like with any 30 day challenge, I found myself falling back into my old ways.

Fishouse_anthoA few months later I took my EDU Methods class and found my recent poetry project extremely helpful when it came to creating my poetry unit plan. It was reminder that, since English and Secondary Education are my practice, it only makes sense to practice them. I admit that recently I haven’t read much poetry but I’ve been listening to the CD that came with the contemporary poetry anthology, From The Fishouse (one of the books for my old Intro to Lit course). Unlike other anthologies From the Fishouse is ripe with writers who only have 1-2 books published. Additionally, they have a website, which is a self-described “audio archive of emerging poets.”

There’s something great about listening to poetry as an audiobook, after all, poetry is deeply rooted in an oral tradition. And as I fill my walks on campus with the words of various poets, there is one poem I keep returning to (for reasons I will attempt to describe in this blog post):  Continue reading

Giving thanks (part 1): the undergrad experience

It seems like every block I “just want the block to be over” but that’s never entirely true. Even as the workload crushes me I can’t help but marvel at how quickly time is passing… how things will never be this formulaic again. So even when I’m too deep into the block to see how easy I have it, I tell myself this mantra: at least I’m the student.

08287547b409fc0b9c4156b0cf2d59c4My last block (block 2) was one of the hardest classes I’ve had at Cornell–in terms of workload and subsequent sleep deprivation. But block 1 was my edu methods course (practicum), where I was in a real high school English classroom desperately trying to put my liberal arts education to use. Even doing casual mini lesson plans–where my mentor teacher completely held my hand–was stressful. Not in a bad way, but you always had to be “on.” To teach high school is to be a juggler: there are so many balls in the air but you have to make it look easy. You have to have it all together no matter what.

I don’t have to have it together as a student. It’s certainly in my best interest to have it together, but if I’m a complete mess it’s okay. Continue reading

My own personal Jesus: using audiobooks for the first time.

Those of you who know me, on this blog or in real life, know that I’m a slow reader. In fact, everything I do is a slow, long, drawn out process–I’m pretty much the sloth of academia. But that’s getting away from the story:

I’ve always harbored negative feelings towards audiobooks, feeling as though they are “not really reading”. In fact, it was in an act of utter desperation that I turned to them. It was last weekend and I’d spent the better half of Saturday afternoon fighting desperately to “get into” Persuasion by Jane Austen. But no matter what I did it would result in glazing over words, an utter lack of comprehension, and general fussiness on my part. So when Sunday came I was staring down nearly 200 pages of impossible. That’s when I realized the only way I’d make it out of this alive (and having read the novel) was to turn to the audiobook. One chapter in and I cursed myself for not thinking of this sooner.

audiobooksThe great thing about audiobooks is there’s a set time. As a slow reader, who also struggles with comprehension, I never know how long things are going to take me. Audiobooks may go a lot slower than a regular reading speed (ex. if I’m reading at a good pace I can complete an “8hr audiobook” in 6hrs) but audiobook time is static–it’s guaranteed. Because while I can read faster than the audiobook recording I can also read a lot slower. Another benefit of audiobooks is that they clarify the text for you: voice shifts help you identify who is speaking and the tone of the scene more easily. This seems extremely basic but when you’re reading a text that is very stilted, one you naturally struggle to engage with, it can make all the difference. Reading along with audiobooks is the literary equivalent of cruise control. It doesn’t mean you can leave the driver’s seat (you still need to consider the text’s formal elements and look for motIfs/thematic patterns), but you can relax a bit because the easy part is being done for you (though for me the easy part isn’t always so easy).  Continue reading

We are not adults: the privilege of being a typical college kid

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 1.59.35 PMEarlier this year, my Grammar & Politics professor was discussing charged language: if language can lose its charge, change its charge, or have charge that we forget to acknowledge. She asked if the term “college kid” was charged language, a term that undermined us–implying that we are not adults but overgrown children. Several of my peers agreed, a few didn’t, and one brought up the fact that some of us in undergrad are adults: who pay their own way entirely i.e have a job, pay rent, pay for their car. And to me, that does make you a full fledged adult. That being said: I’m not offended by the term college kid because I am one, the majority of us are–especially at my school where 92% of students live on campus.

To me, we are adults with an asterisk: old enough to make decisions that will impact the rest of our lives (like student loans) but still not directly paying our own way. Many of my college peers try to claim adulthood as a point of pride but our ability to postpone the very real responsibilities of adulthood is a point of privilege–one that we should acknowledge and be thankful for.  Continue reading