December 2, 2013 by Daniel Reichwein
A fireman, a lawyer, an astronaut, a scientist, a professional lottery winner, a philanthropist, even a male model were all on my list of future careers as I was growing up.
Being homeless for three years certainly wasn’t on the list. Nor was the hereditary health problem that caused me to become homeless, be discharged from the U.S. Army reserve, and withdraw from Indiana University – where I used to study on academic scholarship. No, that sure wasn’t how I envisioned my future as I stared blissfully at that fire engine birthday cake. Those events stunted my academic career to the point where I am now an undergraduate student 10 years older than my peers.
The basis for my idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up matured as I matured. When I was in a foster home (the picture above is from one that was initially good), I wanted to be a fireman because that fire truck was just so cool. It had a ladder and could spray a ton of water everywhere. I could ride that truck on my way to rescue kittens in trees and save people. Then, when I was adopted into a family, Miles, the lawyer who arranged it, became my hero. I wanted to be like him – making things right, saving kids from bad people.
In elementary school, I started learning about science. What’s cooler than firetrucks? Being an astronaut in outer space, of course. It would be the grandest adventure ever. Exploring the stars, visiting all the planets, exploring the unknown, leaving the familiar behind. My mind seemed suited for science as I learned about Newton’s & Einstein’s work. There was so much depth and knowledge to uncover in our own world too.
As I got older, I became more aware of the need for money. My adoptive father worked a low-paying job at a bakery an hour away trying to provide for five children. Times could be tough back then. It showed in the disparity between us and the middle class kids in school. I knew the perfect solution: to become a professional lottery winner! In my late high school years, I became selfish in my career ambitions and thought of becoming a male model. They made a lot of money, looked good, and were smooth with the ladies.
Then, while I was in my second year of university, I began to experience the health problems that ultimately led to my homelessness. That journey is long enough to fill a whole book, but if you’re interested, you can check out an old blog I started in the twilight of my life on the streets. Being homeless opened my eyes to a part of the American population that most people disregard as self-made poverty cases. I didn’t find that to be true. Eventually I was connected with a homeless support organization where a social worker helped me get back into college and find a job. At my new job a co-worker discovered I was homeless. She let me live with her, and I found a new, “adoptive” family.
This exposure to a sometimes overlooked socioeconomic problem and the kindheartedness that strangers showed to help someone in need truly inspired me. It inspired me to my newest aspiration of what I want to be when I grow up. I want to use my new passion and experience with the homeless community and current alleviation solutions to help the homeless people throughout our country. I plan to repudiate negative stereotypes by telling people about my experiences and to utilize the kindness of others in intelligent ways.
The College of William & Mary recently helped me explore my passion by paying for me to attend a social entrepreneurship convention in North Carolina run by the Sullivan Foundation. During this “retreat” weekend, students discussed and contemplated big questions such as what are you truly passionate about and what would you do if money wasn’t a concern. Those who had an idea that they wanted to manifest into a positive change in the world got to sit down in a small group and exchange ideas with each other and a facilitator who works for a non-profit. We also had a crash course in design thinking and formed some mock business plans for socially-conscious firms. Through this exploration I came to the realization that while helping people was my passion, I was not willing to make sacrifices to my personal financial security.
I don’t want to have to worry about paying my bills just because I choose to make a career out of helping others. Starting my own venture would be too risky, and I don’t want to grind years of experience to get a decision-maker/change-maker job helping people. Thus, I plan on attending graduate school and then either working full-time in a professional law or business career while manifesting my philanthropic aspirations on my own time OR earning an MBA then working full-time in management for a large, well-funded organization that helps Americans in need.
It’s tough knowing what you want to do with your life at such a young age. Some people are fortunate enough to find their passion as a kid with college just serving as credential development to get their dream job. Other times, you have to learn about different subjects or explore different jobs to find your passion, and that’s perfectly fine. A retiree turned business professor told me recently that sometimes you even find that what you’re passionate about changes every decade. Unexpectedly, I figured out what I wanted to do through a painful experience.
Whatever you want to be when you’re grown up and out of William & Mary, make sure it’s something you’re passionate about and don’t forget to take some time to help the community in which you live and work. And if you haven’t figured out your passion, it’s okay. Try a class that sounds interesting; talk to our wonderful faculty advisors or the Career Center; and don’t forget about your professors. They are fountains of knowledge and experience, eager to pass that on to you.
October 31, 2013 by Katie LeCornu
As stated in my bio, I’m a Texas resident. When I got ready to apply to college, I wasn’t interested in the schools in my state. I figured I would end up at a private school – if I wanted to go to a huge public school I could find plenty in Texas for half the price. But in the end, the small, prestigious, yet public W&M married all the things I was looking for most in a college. It was undeniably the right place for me and being directed to it has been an awesome blessing.
Of course, it’s hard to call W&M a public school with all the opportunities to thrive on campus. It’s been our tagline for decades – “the public Ivy.” I’ve always taken pride that our public school has such a private school feel. However, lately I’ve also been grateful that there are a few significant ways where we are NOT like a private school.
First of all, our diversity policy is not like that of a private school. I have a large group of friends who ended up at a small private college in the Midwest that expels students who are openly gay. The students have started fighting back against this policy – establishing a Gay-Straight Alliance on campus and petitioning the administrators. The fight has gotten pretty nasty because the students have no leverage against the crusty old Board of Trustees with outdated ideologies. The students truly have no voice in the matter. The student government is only a “government” in name, not in practice. At William & Mary, administrators take our concerns to heart, as exemplified in the annual opportunity to submit revisions to the Student Code of Conduct. Also, there are student representatives on the Board of Visitors to voice campus opinion. Administrators, alumni, students and board members alike are dedicated to making this campus a happier place. Activism is a responsibility encouraged for all parties.
This brings me to another aspect of W&M that makes us awesome as a public school, rather than private: free speech codes. I recently attended a forum with a speaker from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). The speaker talked about some college campuses with horrific rules against free speech. Many campuses have a designated area, a free speech zone, and only there are students allowed to pass out pamphlets and flyers for their causes. This area is usually small and in a secluded part of campus. Students who pass out flyers in other parts of campus have disciplinary action taken against them. A ridiculous example occurred a few weeks ago when a student at a college in California was prohibited by school officials from passing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day.
I listened to this presentation in disbelief – I couldn’t imagine going to a school that violated such fundamental individual liberties. Nor could I imagine the student body of William & Mary accepting such limitations on free speech. We take for granted being able to walk across Sadler Terrace and listen to various student groups advertise their causes. Free speech on campus, however, should not be considered a privilege, but a right guaranteed by the very men who walked the streets of Williamsburg centuries ago.
After the presentation, I went to the FIRE website. William & Mary has consistently been rated as a school with some the of best free speech codes in the country. This honor of a “green light” has only been given to a dozen other schools. Perhaps it’s because we are public, perhaps it’s because we’ve had 320 years to figure this out, or perhaps it’s because those men who structured our school also structured our country. Whatever it is, we are lucky to go to a school that values diversity, human rights and the pursuit of happiness.
In sum, W&M adopts the characteristics of a private school, but remains public for the sake of the issues that matter. Our school is the ultimate hybrid, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.
October 28, 2013 by Melody Porter
Branch Out held a Homecoming reception this weekend to welcome back alumni who participated in alternative breaks while they were here. It was quite a crowd, with people buzzing in from all over the world. Some of those I talked to had come from places as far away as Ireland, San Diego and Tanzania recently.
One student director alumna is working with migrant workers in North Carolina, developing education sessions on health and safety practices to share with them to mitigate the high risks they face in their labors. Another alumnus is studying for his master’s in higher education, and continues to be involved in alternative breaks – no longer as a site leader, but as an adviser. One former site leader talked about her work, which isn’t quite in the field she wants to be in, but she is busy finding ways to connect her experience in environmental sustainability to what she does. Another alumnus, who is now a community partner for one of our national trips, told me about his meeting earlier that day with the site leaders he’ll be working with this March. And one alumna wasn’t part of our program but stopped by to tell us about her recent time in East Africa, and to see about ways that she could support our two international alternative breaks that go to countries where Swahili is spoken.
The vision of Branch Out alternative breaks is to create a community of active and educational individuals dedicated to the pursuit of social justice. Throughout the year, I see this happening in different ways. I see it when our site leaders gather and work together to develop trips that will support community-driven work for social change. I see it when participants on a trip laugh together over simple meals eaten in community center basements, and later struggle together in reflection about how to tutor better tomorrow. And last night, I saw how this community continues even when it is dispersed across the world, as breakers who continue to live out their unique commitments to social justice met up with current program leaders and participants who welcomed them back with gracious hospitality, eager to hear their stories and glimpse into their futures as active citizens.
May 28, 2013 by Ryann Tanap
It’s been a year since I graduated from W&M, took a leap of faith and moved to Thailand – completely on my own. Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most inspiring people. I teach English at a school in the mountains. It’s a remote village, and the nearest city is a six-hour bus ride away. The hotspots to go to during the day are the 7-11 and a couple of coffee shops in town. It’s quiet here. There are no tall buildings, lanes of traffic or smog hanging in the air. Instead, I see mountains and rice fields in the valley below the school. But I’m not alone. In fact, I feel more immersed in a community than I ever have before. I didn’t think that was possible, especially after going to W&M for four years – the College will always be my second home.
It wasn’t easy to get here, to this point of contentment, to this place of peace in my life. I have never lived on my own before (with the exception of a summer internship, but I had random roommates for that experience), let alone move across the world to a completely foreign environment, only to immerse myself in a culture far from my own. Here, the languages I hear the most are Thai and northern Thai. My students come from hill tribes and their native languages are Karen, Lawa and Hmong. English and Chinese are taught at the school where I work, though no one is fluent in either languages other than the native speakers (I’m the native English speaker at the school, and we just started our Chinese program so we have university students from Guanzhou, China on rotation here to complete teaching internships).
Moving abroad for an extended period of time (though, now that I’ve been overseas over ten months, I feel like it’s just short-term), can be a big change. If you’ve never been out of your comfort zone before, this is certainly the way to do it. I’ve encountered a variety of hurdles along the way, but nothing was impossible. Everything until now has been an experience or lesson for me, and has certainly made me more open and understanding of the world.
So, if you’re preparing for a big move (be it to a new city, a new part of the country, or halfway across the world), do not fret. And if you’re thinking that one whole year overseas is a long time, I would say it most certainly is not. Time moves a lot faster than you’d think. If I could, I would stay here even longer. I feel like I just arrived and my job here has just begun.
Just the other week, I was talking to one of the teachers here.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea if you go back to your country. You have to stay here,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I’ll miss you,” she responded.
I’ll miss her, and all of the teachers and students here at my school, more than she’ll ever know.
May 13, 2013 by Anne Charity Hudley
Dear Class of 2013 and those who love and support you,
I am so honored to have been asked to speak to you tonight on behalf of my faculty colleagues. This weekend is filled with such joy and celebration of your accomplishments—all that you have achieved leading up to and during your years here. I speak on behalf of the entire faculty when I say to you, “you are fabulous!”
You will get asked a lot of questions this weekend and in the weeks to come. Questions about your degree, your future plans, probably even your final GPA; did you graduate summa cum, laude, magna cum laude or thank you laude.
Rightly so—most of the weekend focuses on what you have accomplished: undergraduate and graduate degrees, achievements in departments and programs and your activities, which are too numerous to mention. And I am all for celebrating your achievements. You’ve attended a tough yet wonderful college during a tough yet wonderful time in history and came out ahead! So since for most of the weekend, we’re going to celebrate your achievements, I’m a take five minutes here and celebrate from a slightly different angle—I’m a celebrate you! Just you—who you are—and who you will become. For the next few minutes, you are you and not your major, your degree, you are not your class year, you not even your future plans.
If you want to know what I’ve done, (Why she up there?) Google it up. Instead, I’ll tell you a little bit about who I am.
Who am I—I am on Route 5 through open fields trying not to get a ticket—I’m the gal whose breath is taken away every time she sees her husband walk out in a suit and tie on to Ukrop Drive through those fancy Mason School of Business doors! I’m trying to think of everything that I and the College of William & Mary didn’t get to do to support you during your time here that I can get right with the class of 2017—help me with that. I’m on a journey to make sure everyone is included here — in this place, so that I can walk around the Wren building just smiling.
So who are you, class of 2013? To me, that’s the most awesome part.
In many senses you will always be the you who you were when you first were here — several years younger, running through the Sunken Garden, I hope with your clothes on.
You are fun nights at the Delis before some of you moved over to the Crust. You are forever the one who played hooky and rode the Verbolten or the one who spent 20 hours straight in Swem.
You are rugby rough and community research strong, you are cheering football teams on and sad people up, you are driving classmates you didn’t know before home through Hurricane Irene just because someone emailed and asked you to.
You are on all sides of political activism with passion and intellect.
You are Virginia’s promise, New Jersey’s dream, China’s spirit, part of the TJ posse, and that one kid to make it here from your hometown—ever!
You are somebody’s sibling—either by blood or oath or hope.
You are about to give your mother her best mother’s day ever—even if she can’t be here with you or if you’ve never even met her—even if she is a he.
Some of you are fashion plates and some of you have had on the same sweat pants for 4 years or 8.
But OH MY GOODNESS—I can’t wait to see WHO you will become!
I spend my spare time with my students and have no shame about it. Why? Because each of you is an individual masterpiece. And that’s what makes what I do intertwine with who I am (someone who will be here years from now happy to see you on your return, no matter if you knew me before just now or not.)
A couple of things to think about as you are becoming, you—post-graduation style:
- You could become someone who cleans up your social media. Cuz you know some of that confession stuff ain’t gone look so cute in a year or two. Because who you are is likely to be slightly different and context can be everything. And if it isn’t, share on—do you, boo boo!
- You could become someone who still always takes time to write a few thank you notes. It is amazing to be someone who takes that minute and they mean so much.
- You can become someone who continues to make friends in your class even after tomorrow- you’re gonna meet new people because of where you’re standing or what names are on the chairs in W&M Hall and in your department ceremonies! Say hi all eager like you did in Orientation 2009! It’s not too late! That person may be headed to your new town, or interested in the same type of music, or job as you.
- You can be someone – who even if you don’t care for W&M as a monolith who love the people affiliated with W&M individually – the students who come after you are desperately looking to you for advice and glimpses of what their dreams may look like realized. You can become someone who walks out of here tomorrow never to return or you can become someone who doesn’t miss a reunion or homecoming and either way I hope you’ll connect with the students – come guest lecture, speak at events in your old organizations, Skype with someone from around your way who has a dream of making it to William & Mary— make it a time and a priority commitment.
I’m becoming someone right now because of who my grandmother was that wasn’t even legally possible at the time of her dream. And in turn, the spirit of my grandmother has become the grandmother of a granddaughter who is giving this talk and the grandmother of a grandson who is graduating from here tomorrow. I can think of no better example of the fact that who you will become may actually take generations.
So honestly, there are no words for who we are in moments such as these. For those times when the who and the what are indistinguishable—our ancestors live again and the future is written. And that’s the true definition of swagga.
We’re doing our best tonight to honor that privilege and experience tonight through your triumph, some silence, and flames.
March 18, 2013 by Admission Ambassador
Hermey turned to Rudolph and said, “hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?”
I remember my freshman move-in day like it was yesterday. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to make it across town for the earliest move in time, 8:00 a.m. All of my friends from home had left already, so I was antsy to experience what they had been talking about. I had already met my roommate at Day For Admitted Students, and we were ready to start our next chapter. So here we were, unloading everything we could fit into suitcases onto the sidewalk and waiting to have them picked up and carried in for us by move-in helpers from various organizations. We arranged and rearranged and then rearranged our room again until it was exactly how we thought we wanted it. Finally, everything was put away and in its proper place. Knowing that it would only stay like this for about a day, we soaked it in and took off for Orientation day 1.
First activity? Name Game. What adjective starts with a K? Kooky? That’s a great way to present myself…And seriously, how many Katherines and Kaitlins can we have on a hall? We can’t all be kooky. I’ll settle for clepto with a k. Klepto Kelley.
So here we were. Dupont third east. The 32 girls who would live together for a whole year. The best year. A Puerto Rican, a Chicagoan, a Brit, a Williamsburger, and everywhere in between. And somehow, we worked. We all joined different organizations and took different classes. But without fail, every Wednesday at 9:00, our hall went absolutely silent because Criminal Minds was on. With all the lights off, the smell of popcorn and cookie dough radiated through the hall, and not a single sound was heard between 9 and 10. When the clock struck 10:00, it was back to the Book of Mormon for GER 7, or Pseudoscience for a freshman seminar, or the six developmental stages being taught in Natural Psychology.
One of the foundations of modern psychology is the Gestalt principle. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This idea could not be more accurate when applied to William & Mary. You can read all the statistics and every Princeton or Forbes review that you want, but we, those 32 girls and the neighboring 32 boys and the hall after that: that is William & Mary. One Tribe, One Family. Independent together.
March 11, 2013 by Adam Labriny
As Spring Break comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about what an intense (yet immensely satisfying) month February turned out to be. Between Charter Day, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year AND midterms, it was definitely one of my busiest months here at W&M.
For Charter Day (that’s on February 8th!), the Student Assembly asked my jazz combo to perform during a special dinner in the Sadler Center. Since I don’t have a meal plan this year, it was great to re-experience the dining halls (i.e. an endless soul food buffet, a sick salad bar, and ICE CREAM!) Mainly, though, it was great to see my peers’ looks of befuddlement change to excitement as they realized their dinner would come with a serenade!
The next week, Mardi Gras was by far the most pressing thing on my (non-academic) schedule. In the past, I never really thought twice about Mardi Gras. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t understand it—it just wasn’t on my radar. However, I’ve recently had the pleasure of befriending a native of New Orleans, Naomi. Between her excitement about the holiday and the bits of New Orleans’ history I’ve picked up in my Southern Cultures class, I was determined to make an effort to learn more about Mardi Gras this year. Thus ensued a day of purple, green, and gold beads, dancing on the Sunken Garden, and (dreaming about) king cake. Success? I think yes.
With February also came the Chinese New Year! This year, W&M’s Chinese Student Organization (CSO) put on a spectacular event in PBK Hall, complete with calligraphy, dumpling making, video presentations, and a catered dinner. The event also offered the opportunity for students to mingle with Chinese exchange and international students; I was thrilled to learn more about how the holiday is celebrated in China.
The latter half of February brought with it a whirlwind of exams, papers, presentations, and obligations—in other words, it was finally midterm season (cue dramatic “dun dun dunnnnnn”). My new home became Swem. In fact, I was spending so much time in Swem that by the end of the month, I had established “study spots” around the library: the little nook near the Children’s Book section with the round, sunny window overlooking Andrews Hall and the courtyard, the strangely-placed desktop on the second floor that only a couple other people like to use because it’s vastly inconvenient, and another super-secret spot I will only divulge post graduation. (But seriously, let me know if you’re curious and I’d love to share.) I developed weird eating habits that week, too. Lunch? Who needs it—I’ll take a triple Americano and this bag of Cheez-its, please!
But as most things, midterm season came and went. Looking forward, I’ve only got half a semester left at this lovely institution, and I plan on making the most of it!
February 28, 2013 by Kaitlin Noe
After having thoroughly immersed myself in the savory world of French cuisine for about a month, I decided it was time to make my first venture beyond the borders. So for Valentine’s weekend, I and my fellow W&M member CC, who is studying in Paris through a different program, packed our bags and headed off on our first hostel adventure: to Bruxelles (Brussels) and Bruges. We arrived with very little knowledge and even less experience with the Belgian culture. Luckily, we knew three things for certain: chocolate, frites, and beer. We were not disappointed. I present to you, a Valentine’s weekend food tour of Belgium:
1. First, Chocolate
The first thing we did was head to the Grand Place, which was itself a marvel of architecture and culture… but first we stopped in every single chocolate shop along the way. We were pleased to find that they all seemed very determined to offer us free samples of their truffles. We, of course, politely obliged. It’s only good manners. Valentine’s Day also proved the perfect excuse to treat ourselves, and the Belgians brought their A game.
2. The Second Course of Dessert…
Determined on our first day to do everything possible to avoid real food, we stumbled into a Turkish pastry shop. It turned out to be a wonderland of fantastical sugary inventions in a bright array of colors.
3. Our First Taste of Frites
After stumbling (our trip was mostly filled with meandering and stumbling) upon one of the typical Brussels frites stands, we decided it was about time we tried the legendary Belgian frites. We’d been in Brussels an hour already, hadn’t we?! They were everything we could’ve dreamed of.. crispy, fresh, hot out of the fryer, and coated in an incredibly savory sauce with a vaguely exotic name (we opted out of the traditional mayo accent). They single handedly destroyed every fast-food place ever for me.
4. A Brussels Brew
Our second official destination, after the Grand Place, was the Cantillon Brewery for our first sip of Belgian beer. Cantillon Brewery is one of the few places in Brussels that still practices spontaneous fermentation, which means that the beer made there can only be made in Brussels because it ferments by interacting with the bacteria in the air. As unappetizing as that process sounds, it somehow results in the most incredible harmony of flavors I have ever tasted in a beverage. (Yes, harmony. This stuff was music to our taste buds.) Our tour included a glass of the basic Lambic, and the Kreik, which is a cherry-flavored beer.
5. Le Premier Gaufre
The second day of our trip, we hitched a train to Bruges, a small medieval town not far from Brussels. It is everything Disneyland always dreamed of being. Plus it has waffles, as we discovered when we ducked into a small café called Salé et Sucré. Picking up a pair of coffees, we carefully selected the traditional Belgian waffled dusted with powdered sugar, and a more elaborate creation loaded down with fruit and whipped cream. They each lasted about three minutes after being placed on our table before we devoured them. Belgium had officially ruined Friendly’s and IHOP for me. Also, I recommend dropping in on the specialty food store next door, for a plethora of incredible post-gaufre samples: everything from olive oil dipping sauces to salsas. The perfect savory complement to the delicious sweetness of the gaufres.
6. More Belgian Beer?
This time we stopped in a small bar in Bruges to sample some of the flavored beers that Belgium is so well known for. The Pecheresse, a Peach beer, is at the same time the most girly and delicious thing I have ever tasted.
7. Something’s Fishy…
The morning of our third day we made our way to a stray parking garage off the main touristy streets of Brussels in pursuit of a city panorama. After taking a rickety elevator up to the top floor of the garage and marveling at the skyline it revealed, we meandered around the streets looking for a place to get out of the cold. Then we stumbled upon a place called Nordzee (so much meandering and stumbling…): a small corner-side joint, with no seating and no indoors. It consisted of an outdoor counter and several tall tables where locals were standing about chatting and eating. Curious, we wandered up to the counter and were greeted by a blond hair-blue eyed Belgian angel who served us shrimp croquettes from his heavenly fryers. I think the photo might speak for itself on this one.
8. Thé à la menthe
Searching for anywhere to get out of the blustery cold that descended upon Brussels the last day of our trip, we entered the first café with WiFi (a precious rarity in many parts of Europe, next to nonexistent in Paris). Looking around we noticed everyone seemed to be drinking the same leafy-looking beverage. We requested two from our waiter and were delivered two fresh, hot glasses of mint tea, made with real crushed mint leaves. It was the perfect sweet cure for our frozen tourist bones.
9. The Last Supper
For our last meal in Belgium, we decided to switch it up a bit. We went to a Swiss Fondue restaurant, figuring it wasn’t that far from Switzerland. Whether or not geography had anything to do with it, it was an incredibly satisfying meal. We split a pot of cheese fondue with bread, a glass of wine each, and a chocolate cake for dessert. The dinner was made all the better by the fatherly, protective waiters and owner who kicked three Belgian men out of the restaurant for “bothering us”, and the friendly American man who shared his exotic melting-cheese-scraping machine with us. (Apologies, that is the best I can do to explain the witchcraft he was using for his dinner.) The perfect cheesy end to a foody trek through Belgium.
Before I sign off, I couldn’t resist throwing in a few pictures of fairyland Bruges, my new favorite place on earth. They’re almost as mouth-watering as the food pics.
Nothing beats a Valentine’s weekend filled with chocolate by the pound, beer by the pint, and frites by the cone. Worth every weird glance I got for whipping out my camera to capture them.
October 22, 2012 by Skyler Paltell
This is likely to be my first serious blog post, but gluten free living is an important topic to me and a small number of other W&M students. Gluten-free seems to be sweeping the nation at the moment—it is evident from the “organic” aisle at Food Lion—but most people seem to think it is some sort of new-fangled weight loss phenomenon. To be gluten free means to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat and wheat products, like bread, baked goods, and many types of alcohol.
There are two reasons why someone may be gluten free—a.) they saw how much weight Miley Cyrus lost and they had to try it out for themselves or b.) they have a condition called Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. I feel like most college students, myself included, belong to the latter category, since who would voluntarily give up pizza and soy sauce without just cause? Celiac disease is a condition in which the body attacks itself when you eat gluten, essentially destroying your small intestine, among other things. Gluten intolerance is the same basic principle, but less severe and with fewer long-lasting effects.
I went gluten free two months ago. I never found out if I had Celiac, since that involves an endoscopy and that sounds horrifying, but I find that I feel healthier when I don’t eat wheat. I also had to cut out dairy, eggs and soy at my doctor’s advice, since it is pretty common to have other allergies in addition to gluten. I won’t lie—it is really hard. Healing from any kind of long-term autoimmune condition is a roller coaster of ups and downs, and I have a whole new respect for college students who have battled medical conditions while at school. I’m almost positive that my body hates me. Some days I just want to go home—but I know that staying here will ultimately make me stronger.
For those who are gluten free at W&M and are struggling like I am, there are several resources that I have found to be immeasurably helpful. The first is undoubtedly the Gluten Freedom club, established this year by junior Hannah Boes (it’s her 21st birthday today—happy birthday Hannah!) We meet on Thursdays to hang out, snack on gluten free nom-noms, take trips to Trader Joe’s, and go out to dinner. It’s great to hang out with people who know what you are going through, and trust me when I say these people are all awesome.
The second is Larry Smith from Dining Services. He was excellent at helping me navigate the dining halls at the beginning of this semester, so if you have an allergy—be it gluten, soy, or dairy—he is a great resource. You’ll even get your own file, which I think is pretty snazzy. I actually cook for myself now since I have so many allergies, but if you’re just gluten free or lactose intolerant you should definitely check him out.
And finally, friends and peers are a great resource. This semester I joined a sorority, and all of my new friends and sisters have been so helpful and understanding when I explain to them exactly why I can’t eat that cookie. This past week I went out to Food For Thought with some of my new sisters—they actually suggested the restaurant because they knew it was gluten free friendly! The chef made me my own meal and I even got my own special bread roll. And tomorrow, I am getting coffee with the president of my sorority—she also has Celiac disease—at her suggestion, because she knows I am struggle-bussing.
It’s not easy having a restricted diet in college, a time when most people are eating junk food right and left because they’re young and they can get away with it. I know, because I used to be among them. However, I feel like I’ve learned so much in the past few months and gained so many new friends and resources. Most people out there are willing to understand and to listen, and Williamsburg has many options for gluten-free students on a budget. As for me, managing my health has been one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced—but with the help of my friends, family, and Udi’s gluten-free muffins, I feel confident that the end of the tunnel is not so far away.
October 17, 2012 by Bailey Thomson
Even though I may not contribute consistently to the W&M blogosphere, I do actively follow news from the College and greater Williamsburg. And this past week has been a massive one for Tribespeople and Williamsburgers alike! From the Dalai Lama’s visit to President Obama’s debate camp, campus and the city have been full of exciting events and celebrity sightings. As if that were not enough to make me jealous, friends in Williamsburg have started posting obligatory fall foliage pictures. Is there any town more beautiful in the world during this time of year?
As I write this, I am more than 8,000 miles from the College and springtime is just beginning! In August, I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, where I am the Director of Development and Leadership for eAdvance, a South African education organization aimed at providing equitable education to all South Africans. eAdvance oversees and provides support to Spark Schools, a network of low-fee private schools expanding quickly to ensure high quality, affordable education for primary grades students. The first Spark school, Spark Ferndale Primary School, will open in January in the Ferndale suburb of Randburg, a district of Johannesburg. Then, Spark Schools will grow to 64 schools in the next decade! My role includes curricular development, professional development, and leadership training so that our Spark Schools faculty are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to serve students and their families.
I frequently think about what it means to contribute so intimately (education, for me, is close to the heart) to a community so far from my home. The distance is geographic, cultural, philosophical, racial, and linguistic. The question of “diversity” is an interesting one: am I lending a diversifying hand or promoting more of the imperialism that damaged this country for so long? What is the impact of being a white American, rather than a white South African of English descent or a white South African of Afrikaans (Dutch) descent? How can I serve others here without imposing what I assume they need, rather than what they truly need?
Apartheid ended in South Africa less than two decades ago. Race still divides people in terms of where they live, the traditions they practice, their access to services, their jobs and income, and more. And yet, in many ways, it feels like the people of Johannesburg have progressed further generally than the people of Richmond, Virginia, my home. Our student population in 2013, according to current enrollment, will be split almost equally ethnically between white, black, and Indian students. Our teaching staff of twelve will have white, black, and Indian faculty. The investors in eAdvance come from multiple ethnic groups, as do our start-up supporters.
I recall W&M as a diverse school where students nonetheless often self-segregated based on race. (Race is certainly not the only form of diversity, but it’s worth exploring since it cuts so deeply into history in nearly every country and certainly into history on our campus.) There were very few of us white students who were active in the Multicultural Ambassador Council, NAACP, and other “diversity” organizations when I began in 2006. But from my freshman year to my senior year, organizations gradually diversified—not just in terms of racial make-up, but also in terms of broadening purpose. And we started having very honest conversations about what it meant to value every W&M student. Now, Professor Anne Charity Hudley and others are turning those conversations academic by conducting a survey that will “increase the understanding of what curricular factors, pedagogies, and other structures within higher education foster comprehensive academic participation among underrepresented groups.” This type of progress – from the cafeteria and Terrace to the classrooms and offices – is worth celebrating. It makes this alumna proud to witness the seriousness with which the Tribe takes the task of acting with dignity and respect toward all its members.
Our kindergarten, first, and second grade students next year will live by five core values: Service, Persistence, Achievement, Responsibility, and Kindness. When I think carefully about it, I know that it was the College who taught me how to genuinely and authentically demonstrate those values in a new and diverse community. The eAdvance and Spark Schools staff will strive to do the same for our students, W&M international students in the classes of 2027, 2028, and 2029.