July 6, 2011 by Casey Sears
Hey there, “real world.”
I’ve been training with Teach for America for about a month now, and it’s only just now starting to feel like I’m anything more than a college student masquerading in teacher’s clothing.
I joined Teach for America to become part of a professional social justice movement. Before graduation I did the vast majority of my work with LGBT Rights Advocacy, Pro Choice Advocacy, Sexual Health Advocacy, Sexual Assault Prevention, and Mental Health Advocacy. All of those different movements mean an incredible amount to me, but I felt like much of the time I was having to shortchange one effort or the other in order to make gains toward a greater good by shifting where I spent my time. Eventually I found education as an outlet by which I could work to use what I already know about advocacy and mental health in order to help those who are legitimately in need.
Reading that last paragraph makes me laugh as I think about where I was four years ago at this time. Then I was sitting at home, wringing my hands in anticipation of what would happen to me in college and wondering how I would change as a person. I had no idea then that I would find a real calling in the service community. Honestly, I didn’t even think I would fit in with a service community until W&M received me with open arms. My alma mater shaped the way I think of myself and the world around me. At one point I thought that I would want to be a doctor so that I could make buckets of money and live the “glamorous” life that my family and teachers all but demanded I pursue. The W&M community held my hand as I came to my own conclusion that there are better ways for me to spend my life; there are better reasons for me to give all of my energy and my compassion.
Now I’m looking at a stack of papers from my students remembering their faces when I showed them a picture of the Crim Dell Bridge. ”It’s beautiful. Did you really go to school there?” I’m still just as in awe as they are, but now I’m pouring out my heart and soul so that they too can have the opportunity to grow and change in the most nurturing and welcoming community I’ve ever experienced. All of my students deserve the chance to have their lives altered for the better. All students deserve that.
Four years ago I had no idea that I would be grading papers on a Sunday so that I could be ready to greet my high school students with a firm but caring smile in the morning. Four years ago I had no idea that I could feel such a sense of urgency. Four years ago I didn’t know that I would find myself completely consumed by community service. Four years ago I didn’t know that I could be simultaneously so overwhelmed and empowered by the ability to change futures.
Four years ago I hadn’t yet been a student at William & Mary.
November 5, 2010 by Casey Sears
You’re a stellar student. You stand out at the top of your class. You make complex titration equipment look like tinker toys. You have the ability to memorize chemical names, to maximize equations, and to name all of the bones in the human body. Simultaneously. Blindfolded. With your arms tied behind your back. While water-skiing over a pond filled with laser sharks.
You’re wearing two pairs of ultra-polarized to shield your eyes from your own bright future, but there is one fact that may still knock you flat on your butt. You don’t have to go to medical school to be successful.
I say all of this because I came into college thinking that I was the next Doogie Howser. I took all of the science classes I could handle, I joined the health careers club, and I had picked out the most affordable med schools in Virginia before I had even finished my freshman year. Then something magical happened: I actually developed a passion for something.
Getting involved with reproductive rights and sexual health education turned my life around. I started spending my days thinking about how I could have an impact on my friends around me, on the students at this college, and on the entire state I’d grown up in. I felt empowered to make change and I felt inspired to get out of the library. No longer were visions of acids and bases dancing in my head giving my nightmares; I had a mission.
Then one day I finally worked up the nerve to ask myself why I had wanted to be a doctor in the first place. I knew that I wanted to do something with my life where I could help people, but that was really the only reasonable evidence I could find springing from my own personal motivations. Everyone had always told me that I was a smart kid and that I should go for “the best” career possible. What I found was that medical school wouldn’t lead to the best career for me. I might be intelligent, and I could very well apply to medical school today, but I genuinely don’t think that a career in medicine would make me happy. Sure, I might end up in a career which pays less than the wages of a plastic surgeon, but that can’t scare me away from happiness.
Today I’m less likely to be the next Doogie Howser than I am to be the next Neil Patrick Harris, and that’s really okay with me. I’m applying to Teach for America in the hopes of making a difference in the lives of kids who need change. If all goes as I’m hoping for, I’ll attend graduate school for public health in the future. It might not be the job which will have guys fawning over me at parties, have my mom praising my life choices, or have people throwing money at me, but that’s okay.
Hopefully I’ll be making a difference in a way which feels right for me and which makes me genuinely happy.
If public service announcements about sexual health education make me jump out of bed in the morning, why in the world wouldn’t I grab a camera and start filming?
September 1, 2010 by Casey Sears
A few nights ago I had the relatively novel idea to turn the TV on while I was working on some research for a class. I used to study with the TV on all the time in high school. Within a few minutes I’d turned the volume completely off having adjusted it in small increments every time it seemed to loud for me to concentrate. Then I looked up, saw the screen, and realized that the last time I’d just watched TV on my own had been over the summer one night while I was doing some mindless task. Before that I couldn’t even remember the last time I had watched a TV show in entirety.
College will do that to you. Things that were once pretty common slip out of your routine and other things you find important will quickly take their places.
July 29, 2010 by Casey Sears
Today I was answering phones in the admissions office. Generally people pick up, ask a few questions about the summer interview program or campus tours, I answer their questions, and then we’re both on our merry ways. This afternoon was a bit different however…
Me: “Hello and thank you for calling the College of William & Mary’s Office of Undergraduate Admission. My name is Casey. How can I help you?”
Caller: “Oh sorry. I was waiting for a beep. I thought you were an automated voice system or something.”
I’ve been told that I come off as robotic or rehearsed every so often, but this level of cyborgery hasn’t happened to me since I was in seventh grade and someone thought that my reading aloud for class was actually an audio-tape.
For me college has always been about coming to terms with my own imperfections. Sometimes I’m quick to judge, sometimes I let myself get over-involved, and sometimes I let me own sense of morality get the better of me to the point where even I can tell that I’m being self-righteous. Other times apparently I come across as being so calculated that I sound like an actual robot.
I think that this for me means that senior year will be all about reconciling the desire for perfection in applying to the work force with the necessity of remaining humanly imperfect. Especially having worked as a senior interviewer, I know that it’s my quirks and imperfections which make me interesting, but that’s still sort of a hard concept to integrate into my general functioning as a subdued perfectionist.
I suppose that not being able to accept imperfection is an imperfection in and of itself. Whatever the conclusion may be about the necessity of imperfection and reconciliation, I’m still going to be the guy who honks when he laughs, who trips when he walks, and who falls asleep at the breakfast table. That’s just going to have to be okay with me, and for the time being it really. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember this when I’m sitting in my own job interviews in the coming year.
Hey, maybe some people will actually like talking to what could easily be mistaken for the bizarre love child of an admissions intern and the Moviefone operator. To each his/her/hir own imperfection.
July 27, 2010 by Casey Sears
Home isn’t a place for me anymore, but rather it’s a feeling. I don’t like the concept that Home is just a location to which you return at the end of the day or a place that you’re safe with people who love you. For me it’s the people and the sense of belonging that are making a time a Home and not the walls that surround me.
This idea first hit me when I was on the phone with my mother in my freshman year of college. I was just calling my mom’s cell to do a routine weekly catch-up session. The sun was setting behind me and night was just beginning to fall upon my freshman dorm. It was warm enough that I didn’t need a jacket that evening, and for some reason I felt like everything was exactly as it should have been. Against the rapidly darkening sky I saw Monroe Hall’s windows glowing in the near distance as I crossed past academic buildings and parking lots, statues of men long dead and fallen orange leaves.
“Hey Mom, I’m actually almost Home now. I’m sure I’ll talk to you soon.” I’d just called the dorm I’d lived in only for a few months Home to the woman I’d lived with for over eighteen years. There was undoubtedly a moment of hesitancy in her voice that night when we said our goodbyes and hung up.
That’s when I really started to feel like there was no possible way that Home was a finite place with walls and borders. Instead, Home had to be a shifting feeling, an emotional location rather than a geographical position. There aren’t global coordinates for the feeling of safety and acceptance. This is what I felt as I walked in the front doors of Monroe Hall that night to see the friends I’d known for only a few short months sitting in the lobby “working” as usual.
This was one of those nights where it was probably best that I didn’t go up to the third floor to blurt out a bunch of half-formed feelings at a room full of people who were learning as much about me as I was learning about myself. Instead, I went to 230 where I had recently finally started feeling settled in and I just sat in my bed on top of my comforter. Staring out the window I kept hearing what was probably my imagination’s combination of Betty White and Whoopi Goldberg repeating that “Home is where the heart is.” Sitting on my bed watching the last traces of sunlight disappear behind the trees near what was then called the University Center, I knew that it couldn’t be that easy ever again, because my heart was learning to expand and to occupy more than one place simultaneously.
Now I’m in my senior year at the college looking back on the many ways my heart has been split, fractured, and scattered about over the course of my college career. My heart has gone out with those who have graduated, and I’ve left my heart all over the country with the people I’ve met. I feel not like I’ve been cutting up one organ into smaller and smaller pieces to be thrown to the wind, but instead I feel like I’m growing and always gaining new capacity to connect with other people, to feel that I have a home.
I hadn’t thought about this in a while until last weekend when I went to DC to visit some of my friends for a few nights out on the town. I haven’t been to DC probably since sixth grade, and the nightlife felt completely foreign to me. You mean to tell me that not everywhere is covered in slightly uneven brick pathways? Crazy. Throughout the course of the night I ended up running into seven friends from college whom I hadn’t in any way seen that night. Even never having set foot in this new stomping ground, I started to feel completely at home with old friends popping up every few blocks. It’s hard to feel out of place when someone with whom you’ve spent years is hugging you on a crowded street.
In short, Home isn’t a place I return to or just a group of people I hang out with. Home is the feeling of belonging that comes with having friends who accept you, care about you, and manage to teach you about yourself. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but conveniently Home is all over the place when you come from a community as strong as the Tribe.
July 1, 2010 by Casey Sears
January 29, 2008: I was sitting on a couch in the Monroe 2nd floor study lounge studiously getting my reading done for the next day’s class discussion. Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration of my academic dedication. I was realistically either on Facebook or watching a Shakira music video on Youtube. Feel free to picture me as the studious kid who would be studying at 5PM on a Tuesday night if that’s what you’re looking for. Anyway, to my surprise two of my good friends burst into the room carrying a giant platter of brownies with what appeared to be the least evenly done frosting job I’d ever seen. Upon close inspection, the brownies had different emotions written on them in an icing scrawl. Sadness. Anger. Happiness. Ambivalence.
They were poking fun at me for saying that I always eat my feelings as a birthday gift. Best present ever? It’s possible.
It’s little things like this that I will always remember about the Tribe. As fond as my memories are of Convocation, Yule Log, and Commencement, nothing will beat the memories of inhaling a Frustration brownie with two people who care enough about me to get me to laugh at myself. I don’t need to hire the Griffin to traipse around my dorm room to feel Tribe Pride. I’m proud to be a member of this community every time that I see one of my friends succeed, every time that I see a genuine smile on a classmate’s face, and every time that I get to see someone following his/her/hir passions.
I know. It’s cheesy. It’s cliché. It’s probably romanticized. The important thing is that it feels completely real when I think about my experience at the college. I love giving tours, because I want for people to be able to experience even a small part of the amazing adventures I’ve had at the college. I want to be there for people who are just now learning what it means to be a member of a historical family. I want for other people to have their ears flush with excitement and love for this institution the same way that mine do when they talk about W&M to strangers.
I’m graduating in less than a year, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself when I finally have to leave. Until then however I’ll be icing my brownies with joy and appreciation for the experiences I’ve had and will continue to have at W&M.
June 16, 2010 by Casey Sears
Let me tell you that from looking at me you wouldn’t guess that I’d be the guy to drop his backpack only to have a few hundred condoms fall out of it and scatter all over the terrace. If you knew me however, you would know that I work with the office of health education and the health outreach peer educators as the vice president in charge of the sexual health branch.
Coming into college I had no idea that I would become so passionate about sexual health and health education. When I arrived at the college one of the many groups dedicated to protecting reproductive rights and encouraging healthy sexuality reached out to me. The more I got involved, the more I learned that the nation is in a perilous situation. In Virginia alone there is almost no regulation on what sexual health education is offered to students in high school. I’m from Chesapeake, VA and the public school system there offered a relatively comprehensive sexual health education course that steered away from fear tactics and abstinence only techniques. Our teachers were even inclusive enough to reach out to the LGBT community in my high school to make sure that students were learning healthy and safe habits.
This isn’t the norm. I was lucky that my teachers and school system supported developing a healthy sexuality when I was young. Many schools do not have this. Some schools still refuse to teach students how to be safe while also recognizing the fact that students can be both healthy and sexually active.
I don’t mean to be judgmental of anyone’s personal beliefs, but it terrifies me that students don’t come into college with knowledge about how to protect themselves. You may not want to wash your hands, because you find it morally offensive, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how to protect yourself against germs. It’s just a thought.
Anyway, this all brings me to what I’m doing with my life on campus. When I realized that this basic information wasn’t being given to students, I became concerned. When I realized that I had the ability to get this information to the people who need it, I became inspired. Now I work with the health outreach peer educators and the office of health education to teach students that they have the ability to protect themselves while enjoying a healthy, respectful sexuality.
If that means that every once in a while I’m the kid carrying a few hundred condoms around campus to give away, so be it. I’ll happily do whatever it takes to make this campus the safe, healthy place that I know it can and should be.
June 15, 2010 by Casey Sears
Rance (v): to run and dance at the same time.
Have you ever wanted to rance around campus to the music in your iPod? Have you ever wanted to rance around campus with all of your friends listening to the same synchronized playlist?
Okay, you probably haven’t, but that’s fine. I never thought that I would be one of those kids either, but then I discovered the wonders of Audio Adventure.
Audio Adventure is a new tradition at the college. The whole ordeal started as a student-run escapade that took place at the end of one semester a few years ago. I didn’t get up the nerve to strap on my running clothes and party hat until this spring for Audio Adventure 5 however.
You might think that you would get a few weird looks as you’re walking like an Egyptian, doing the time warp, twisting and/or shouting at 10PM on a Thursday night. Okay, you’d be right. If you’re going to look like a freak though, you might as well look like a freak with a few hundred others who look equally bizarre. Once the governmentally approved clock hit 10PM and the Audio Adventure playlist was synced to my iPod, I hit play and set off rancing.
The track includes detailed instructions on where to go and how long you have to get there. Once you arrive, actors appear with pre-recorded dialogue played through your own iPod. This year’s adventure walked (or ranced) the participants through a plot filled with time travel, sabotage, and exploding students.
At the time I would have claimed that this was the coolest thing I’d ever done at the college. The next day as I was nursing my sprained ankle (gained from having clumsily tripped over a tree branch), I was ever so slightly less enthusiastic. With that said, I will still argue that Audio Adventure is one of the best ways I can think of to spend an evening with all of my friends on campus.
Strap on your headphones, lace up your running shoes, and leave any sense of embarrassment in your dorm. I’ll see you at the end of next semester.