November 14, 2013 by Skyler Paltell
As I’m sitting here in Swem for the fifth night in a row, procrastinating on a paper I should have started yesterday, I’m thinking about how quickly this semester has gone—it has been, undoubtedly, the best semester I have had thus far.
Junior year, with graduation becoming now more of an imminent event rather than a vague possibility (providing I pass art history), has forced me to consider my growth as a person during the past five semesters. In the past week alone, I’ve pushed my comfort zone, met some amazing people, been to the Career Center, and conquered a fear. I’ve seen the leaves change from green to gold and then fall, gleaming, to the brick paths; I’ve engaged in leaf fights and stayed out till 2 am on a Monday.
The things I have done, the experiences I have had this week, this month, this semester alone, would have been unimaginable before my time here at the College.
Two years ago, I was shy. I had acne, slept with a pillow pet, and I doubted my abilities. I was afraid to look people in the eye for fear that they would instantly recognize my insecurity, and I realize I was not the “perfect” shell I projected. I lost sight of myself for a while, jumping between groups of friends and various clubs until I found the people who would help me realize my potential when I could not.
This semester, something changed, something clicked—a missing puzzle piece fell into place, and suddenly, I became the person that I had wanted to be, but was too afraid to find. This semester, I am myself—I say awkward things, I laugh loudly, I break rules, I eat copious amounts of tater tots. I’m not afraid to be nonsensical, to say the things that I mean, to relinquish the death grip on my GPA and have some fun.
I have found, unsurprisingly, that being yourself does not mean that your friends will desert you—instead, they will come to know you better, to appreciate you for who you are, to see your genuineness as a gift and know that when you speak, you speak from your heart. This semester, I have comforted friends on their bad days, and been comforted by people who I never expected would reach out to me; I have failed a test, and I have accidentally killed my pet fish.
It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to accept that you are not perfect, that you are young, you are human, and the world is infinitely beautiful and terrifying. It’s okay to be teased, and to tease others, and its okay to allow yourself to be vulnerable. By putting yourself out there, you are taking a chance—but the rewards are innumerable. It takes too much energy to wear a mask, to hold tightly to a persona that does not allow the world to see you for who and what you are.
You are wonderful. This place–this college–is wonderful. We are a school filled with brilliant, quirky, driven people—just be yourself, and let it rip. There are people waiting to embrace you with open arms.
October 4, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
Walking through the streets of Washington, D.C. there is an air of uncertainty that permeates all that we do these days. This uncertainty is accompanied by a skepticism and distrust in government that I have never felt before. It is disheartening, this feeling of uncertainty, yet I understand the frustration that many people are feeling. People are disenfranchised by the inability of the government to compromise or agree.
Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg Address that the United States should be a government by the people, for the people, and of the people. Our public officials were elected to office to represent the voice of their people, to stand for bills and policies that would help the American Public, not put 800,000 people out of work. So, who is to blame? The media has pointed fingers at our congressmen and women- the people who are slaving hours on end to negotiate a resolution to the budget and debt crisis. Yes, congress is polarized with strong personalities who have made the news for their opinions, but I am optimistic they are working on our behalf to make positive change. Many people say that it is Obama’s stubborn stance on Obamacare that has created this mess. The truth? No one REALLY knows… It’s not the answer that any of us want to hear. Everyone thinks that there has to be someone or something to blame in order to put those pent-up emotions somewhere.
Well, here’s the truth: it’s the system. The system that allows us the freedom to debate. The system that allows us to share our opinions. The system that gives Congress the power to decide our fate as a country. The success of our country is built on this system. The liberties we have are a result of this system. The problem is that as well as this system functions, there are occasional mishaps that cause major Government shutdowns.
This is not the first time that the government has shut down, and I can guarantee that it will not be the last. Rather than become jaded by the United States government, I have decided to take a different approach. What I recognize, is that in order for there to be some sort of change, people are going to have to let go of their ego; something that will not happen voluntarily. Instead, come October 17th the threat of defaulting on the Debt will be so great, and there will be so much external pressure on Congress to act, that they will have to compromise. My hope is that there will be an agreement sooner, but there is no way to know. The best I can do is put my faith in the people who are working their hardest to make things right.
You might think that I am living under a rock speaking favorably about the Government in this time of crisis, but I still have hope. Hope persists despite the uncertainty, despite the shootings, the riots, the shutdowns and the crises – hope persists when the real world shuts down, because hope is all that we have.
July 18, 2013 by Andrew Schwieder
The second weekend after arriving in Kingston, I joined three other interns who work in the office and their roommate on a hike to the highest point in Jamaica, Blue Mountain. The trip up was treacherous, the lack of sleep was strenuous, and the hike itself was arduous, but it was the experience of a lifetime and one that only a few people, apparently not even a lot of Jamaicans, get to enjoy.
Our trip started on Saturday morning, leaving from the north side of Kingston we had to catch a route taxi to Papine, a mini-bus to Mavis-Bank and then from there a rocky, steep climb in a Land Rover to the camp where we were staying. This camp was run by a family of Bobo Rastafarians who have a certain laid-back life style that made time at the camp run at a slower pace. The man who ran the camp was called Jah B and despite the slow lifestyle he lived he was as shrewd and sharp as any business man that I have ever met.
He and his family had constructed a cabin way up in these mountains for groups like ours to use as a base for hikes to see the sun rise from the peak, starting at 2:00 am. This was our plan, to get some sleep that afternoon/evening and then get up well before dawn so that we could be the first people in Jamaica to see the new day.
I caught a decent nap in the afternoon so that evening I joined some other tourists, two Czechs and a Colombian for a drink at probably the most remote bar I will ever go to. The bar seemed to be more of a hangout for the locals because of the TV, showing Fast and the Furious, rather than the drink so we moved our conversation outside where we had a great view of the clear night sky. At around 11 or so I returned to the room I shared with the others on the trip until about midnight or so when we found a rat climbing around our room, I figured sleep wasn’t going to happen at that point.
We started hiking at around 2 am, giving us just over three hours to make it to the top in order to see the sunrise. The trip up was fairly treacherous and exhausting, plus we only had our flashlights to rely on for light. Despite all of that, and by pushing ourselves to the point of collapse we were able to reach the peak just five minutes before the sunrise was scheduled. This we unfortunately still did not see because the peak was actually encompassed by a cloud, limiting our visibility to roughly zero.
But still despite our disappointment of missing the sunrise and having all our effort wasted, we were still able to get a great view after coming down off the mountain a little bit.
All in all, Blue Mountain was a completely different experience for me, but it was also the ideal way for me to get acquainted with local Jamaica by talking with our guides and going to a place that was very far off the beaten track. The trip also showed me a part of Jamaica that I have realized is unfortunately a rarity on the island, an environment that is nearly unmarred by human interaction, and demonstrated to me that the work conducted by the Caribbean Environmental Programme is vital to ensure that others can have similar experiences in the future.
July 9, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
Belonging. It’s the thing that defines us, controls us, consumes us and encourages us. It’s the reason that we push ourselves to be something that we are not, the reason that we work hours on end to come up with the image that we hope to project to people and the reason that we are motivated to do what we do. There is no better feeling than the belonging that comes when you have successfully attained a goal or proven yourself. There is also no better feeling than belonging simply for who you are.
Whether or not you chose to admit it, everyone has a brand that they subscribe to; everyone has a lens through which they define themselves. You might be the book nerd, the architect, the politician, the dreamer, the enthusiast, the comedian, or any combination, but how you define yourself is important to the success you will achieve and the person that you will become. The first step to belonging is believing that you are capable. Confidence is crucial in belonging, because the more you believe that you can, the more likely that you are to become. A brand might be the office you work in; your company culture, identity and environment might define the person that you are and hope to become. Your brand might align with your morals and values and present itself through the activities you chose to pursue in your free time. You might be the activist or advocate who stays up long hours to write on behalf of their cause. You might be the religious individual who bases their actions and choices on a scripture or text.
Some brands are built around something that we hope to become. We strive to follow the model or brand of someone who has gone before us. Whether it is someone in your field of interest, an inspirational figure, a fictional character or role model, we try to emulate the actions of those who have already experienced the situations that we are encountering.
Just because you have a brand, or an identity doesn’t mean that it isn’t changing. The way that you present yourself develops and changes as you grow and discover more about yourself. As you become enlightened or captivated by a topic or interest, your brand might shift to make that interest a larger part of your identity. As your preferences shift, and your priorities change your brand molds to fit the person you have become. This process might be slow and developmental, or it may change rapidly with a single incident. In the moment you might not recognize the shift, but inevitably you will look back on the person that you once were and realize that the person you have become is different. In this process, it is important to remember that you are your own harshest critic. There is no right, wrong or better brand. Your brand is the best label that will ever be.
The way that we find our light and inspiration is in our search for purpose and belonging. Every struggle and uncertainty shapes your brand and further defines the places where you belong.
As of this May, I am a twenty-two year old William & Mary graduate. I am searching for my purpose and belonging while I reflect on what I value and find important. I have big hopes and even bigger dreams, and I am eager to embark on the rest of this journey called life. I have surrounded myself with people who I admire with hopes that I will make a life similar to what they have created. I am driven by a deep desire to create change and make the world a better place. It sounds simple, but my drive to do good is the reason I wake up each morning and do what I do. My journey so far has taught me that finding your light is the greatest gift you can give to the world. For it is through this belonging and with this light that you discover your place of greatest impact.
June 6, 2013 by Edward Irish
Among the many complex paths of financial aid procedures, perhaps no other rivals the multitude of repayment options for student loans. New federal legislation seems to appear almost weekly, which makes keeping abreast of the rules challenging for many borrowers. Compounding the changes is the unfortunate and frustrating fact that Congress has decided to select winners and losers in the process. The difference between falling into a “good” vs “bad” federal category can be staggering.
Federal student loan repayment regulations greatly favor those who go into public service employment and non-profit employment vs. those in a regular private sector position. Consider two students, Amanda and Sam, who both graduate with a $50,000 federal student loan debt. Amanda decides to become a public school teacher with a starting salary of $40,000. She qualifies for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which will allow her to pay off her loan by making 10 years of loan repayments based on 15% of her discretionary income.
Since Amanda did not work during her last year in college and therefore had no income, her loan repayment per month for her first year will actually be $0. For the second, it will only be about $27 per month as her second year will be based on the September-December (approximately $13,333) portion of her first year of teaching. In years 3-10, she will repay $360 per month. Over the ten years, she will repay a total of $34,884.
Sam accepts a job a manager in a retail store. For his repayment, in contrast, he has several options, all of which pale in comparison to the bargain which Amanda receives. The standard 10-year repayment term for him is a loan of 6.8%, which results in a $575 per month repayment for a total repayment amount of $69,000, just about twice of that for Amanda. He can lower his monthly payments by repaying over 25 rather than 10 years, but the total repaid will be even larger. Moreover, depending on this plan, he may have to pay taxes on any amount not repaid at the end of 25 years. Amanda’s Public Service plan does not have a similar requirement.
Unfair…you betcha!…but those are the rules. Take advantage of them if you can.
See you next time.
April 1, 2013 by Admission Ambassador
Though I may not be singing about them during a storm while dancing through curtains as the governess of seven children, here are a few of my favorite things:
- Finding a bobby pin. They are literally EVERYWHERE. Except when you’re out to dinner or in class or at the gym and those few hairs slip out. This is when you can never seem to find one. And then, there in the depths of your wallet or backpack, you find it. Kelley: 1, World: 0.
- An old ratty t-shirt. Everyone has one. That t-shirt that you’ve had since you were in braces sitting in ninth grade biology. You can hardly even see the writing on it anymore and you don’t have a clue how it doesn’t have a single hole in it. What a trooper. It’s been with you through homecomings, proms, regional track meets, mission trips, and still not a single patch needs sewing. Mine is an old W&M shirt I stole from my mama, who I think stole it from her brother back in the day. Talk about against all odds.
- Tacos. I don’t even know what to add to that. I get so happy when I know I’m going to a Mexican place for lunch or dinner, something that happens far more than my arteries would like. Honestly though, have you ever seen someone angry in a Mexican restaurant? But life is short, so I’ll eat the taco(s).
Sometimes it’s the little things in life we have to stop and remember. There are the obvious things like travel, and freshly cut grass and old friends that we all love, but I think it’s important to count the little victories we have every day. That way when your test didn’t go so well, or that 10% chance of rain actually happens, you can simply remember your favorite things, and then it won’t feel so bad.
April 1, 2013 by Laura Manzano
All my life I’ve been raised as part of a very Catholic family, in the best possible way. In today’s world, I suppose it’s hard for a lot of people to hear the word “Catholic” and make positive associations. But in retrospect, I can say with confidence that some of the best memories of my childhood came as a result of the faith I was raised around. I went to Catholic elementary and middle schools the years I was not home schooled, and it’s only in coming to college that I have found a community as supportive as the one I had when I was in 5th grade, during those formative years when happy songs about loving Jesus really got stuck in your head forever. In my relatively short life, I have seen my parents to be a prime example of all the good that living a life in a particular faith has to offer. They have raised me and my four siblings, I like to believe, in such a way that promotes the many positive aspects of our religious convictions – teaching us to be honest people, to treat others with the same love and generosity of family, and most importantly, I think, to be mindful and conscious of the world we live in and the people that live in it with us.
I guess it was a combination of those things (and a masochistic penchant for brutal physical activity before the sun rises) that drove my older brother Michael to join the military. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point for the same four years that hundreds of thousands of 18-22 year-old students attended “normal” college, where skipping class is totally a thing we can do, and weekends are spent drinking really bad beer from plastic cups at awkward parties like life was definitely meant to be. Almost a year after his West Point graduation, I was lucky enough to attend his graduation from Ranger School, as it conveniently coincided with this past spring break. Ranger School is one of the hardest there is – my family and I were virtually unable to communicate with my brother for 9 weeks, while he was out doing all those cool army things you see in commercials, just without sleep and food and, you know, toilet paper and stuff. Michael talked to us a lot about his experience – the good, the bad, the enlightening. He told me the second phase, in the mountains of Dahlonega, Georgia, was the hardest thing he’s ever done.
The next morning, on the pull-out sofa bed in the hotel, I had one of those existential life crises that always come at the worst times. I realized that I only really think about the men and women that serve in our military as frequently as I do because my brother is one of them. Because honestly, what reason would I ever have to otherwise? My daily life is almost completely unaffected by the war we’ve been a part of for practically half the time I’ve been alive. I’m not living in World War II era America, where things like sugar was rationed, tires and gas were often unavailable to operate cars, and women even gave up stockings and leggings. (Could you imagine? A life without leggings?!) But that’s what life was then – it was a matter of accepted sacrifice, and it was all accepted in the name of patriotism, for the good of others.
During my weekly 4:00 AM crisis, I often find myself thinking of the super constricting and inclusive bubble I’m in here at “normal” college. The life I’m living right now is for me. Everything I’m studying, every email I’m sending, every move I’m making is for my own personal gain: for my career, for the family I hope to have, for wherever I hope to live, for my future. It’s paralyzing and frustrating, coming to the realization that so many people like my brother make sacrifices and live the unique lives they do because they are living not for themselves, but for others, just as my parents stressed to me throughout my life, by both their teaching and their example.
My perspective on the Catholic faith in which I was raised has changed a bit since coming to college, as perspectives on so many other things tend to do upon entering a new phase in one’s life, filled with new people and new experiences. But I think one aspect of my religious beliefs that has remained the same, if not strengthened by my talks with my brother, is the notion of sacrifice. I made the decision to give up alcohol this lenten season, and it’s definitely been a tough one. Hanging out with the friends on the weekends generally leads to at least one polite refusal and certainly a short explanation. The whole concept behind giving up something for lent is a symbolic gesture – deriving from the forty days and forty nights Jesus spent suffering in the desert, likely without modern comforts like toilet paper and cocktails after a stressful week of tests and papers. I suppose my religious ties to this sacrificial tradition served as my initial catalyst, but if I’m being completely honest, my real motivation comes from people like my brother and people like my parents – people who sacrifice something every day, people who compromise their lives without a second thought. Because in the three years I’ve been in college, I’ve never really had to live that way, even a little bit, and that kind of makes me feel selfish, and that kind of makes me feel angry.
I suppose in giving up alcohol, I’m not really benefiting anyone other than myself. So in reality, maybe this process is actually achieving the opposite of what I had intended to do. But there’s a part of me, after these forty days have come and gone, that still believes that the act of simply “living without” helps to gain yet another new perspective. It has certainly helped me to see past the insular lifestyle I’m a part of now – the world that is greater and bigger than just myself and my classes and my own future. Obviously, it’s no one’s fault in particular – that’s just the way college is. But who’s to say that’s all it has to be? I’m definitely not trying to preach here, or say “hey everyone, you should be more like me,” because goodness, if everyone on this earth were like me, there’d be no way sports could exist, and government leaders would make significant decisions based on how happy or sad they were that day. But in making such a simple sacrifice, a part of me has changed in a way I definitely didn’t expect – the kind of change that I’d argue is just as important to one’s college experience as drinking those bad beers at those awkward parties. Maybe even a little bit more important. But only a little bit.
March 19, 2013 by Admission Ambassador
There are many intangible things in life that bring happiness: a pull-through parking spot, your favorite song coming on the radio, and finding money in random places. Similarly, for me there are three really simple objects in life that somehow just make me ridiculously happy (so if you need some happiness I suggest investing in any of the following)!!!
- Balloons: Ever since I was an itsy bitsy I have LOVED BALLOONS. There are so many colors and so many sizes, plus don’t even get me started on balloon animals or balloon hats!! In addition, seriously who couldn’t entertain themselves (or small children) for at least three hours with balloons, they are the perfect distraction no matter the circumstance!
- Bubble wrap: Yes, it keeps fragile items safe while shipping, but did you know that bubble wrap is also AMAZINGLY ENTERTAINING!? Competitions to pop as many bubbles as fast as possible are always good for multiple laughs. Plus, bubble wrap is a GREAT stress reliever! If you’re frustrated and need to decrease your frustration just pop some bubble wrap!
- Play-doh: Just like balloons, the colors are what make play-doh wonderful! You can also mold and shape it in so many different ways to make so many different things. Do you want to make a venomous snake or try to get fancy and make a giraffe—your mind is the only thing that limits you with play-doh! Just give me some play-doh and ill be entertained for hours upon hours!
SO there they are! Three things to play with that will definitely make you smile. And yes, you may now think that I am an eight-year-old child—and honestly I would not disagree with the statement at all. COME ON… wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we were all eight-year-old children at heart?
February 19, 2013 by Madelyn Smith
One of my favorite songs goes, “There will be a day with no more tears
No more pain, and no more fears…”
I often wonder what the future holds, but feel liberated by the fact that I will never know. Like great theorists and intellectuals who have come before me I can postulate about the state of the world years from now and hope that I will be accurate in my attempts to explain the future, but in actuality the best I can do is guess. Through discussing and hypothesizing our thoughts about the future, I believe that we can take preventative measures sooner rather than later to understand the human species and our place in this world. These ideas are no use in the time capsule of my own computer, so I will share them with you.
By 2063 we will have an advance understanding of medicine with a cure for cancer, AIDS and HIV. Cloning, blood analysis and other accomplishments will have been made in this world, however the ramifications of modern medicine will be great, potentially creating diseases that cannot be cured. The primary health concerns will be carpal tunnel, arthritis, vision problems and hearing defects as a result of the many hours behind a computer typing away and staring at a screen and listening to music at high volume.
Violence will take new shape. States will not be invested in war the same way that we are today, because in 2063 human capital will be of little value to war. The crux of war will be man-made machines such as drones that will be so advanced that they will require little operational skill or ability. The tactic of self-sacrifice through suicide bombing or plane-crashing will be archaic and the spread of lethal diseases and chemical will be our greatest fears. Terrorism will be more advanced and networked in many areas all over the world. By 2063 North Korea will have tried to detonate a bomb on the United States, but failed in their attempts to blow up the country. As a result of this catastrophe the international community will understand the severity of nuclear weapons and will agree to thwart all nuclear programs. An international government will be established between countries where states are self-policing and mutually accountable to one another. The United States will not be the hegemon that it is today.
By 2063 we will have had our first woman president and potentially our first homosexual president. In fact, it is possible that democracy will be re-imagined entirely to be more accommodating of our 21st century needs. The term globalization will no longer exist because the world will be so inter-connected that there will be no need to explain this phenomena. English will still be the language of the world, but increasingly more people will speak Mandarin and Spanish.
Due to population control families will be limited to two children in developed countries. Alternative sources of energy will be discovered, likely in the form of a natural resource that currently exists but that has not been discovered for this purpose. To combat water issues someone will create a water filtration system that will allow individuals to rapidly purify salt water to utilize the 71% water on earth. This will not be sustainable, but will be necessary for survival. Further, someone will invent a filter system for the shower that allows you to only use 5-10 gallons per shower. The system will be replaced with new water once annually.
Education will not exist in the traditional sense, but will be primarily online using websites such as Coursera. Students will spend the majority of their time participating in online classrooms with students from all over the world, and then meeting periodically in person with students in their local area. It is possible that by the year 2063 students will have holograms of themselves that will sit around the table in a virtual room to share ideas and information with one another. Questions about ethics will arise as developers create brain chips that allow someone to access computer databases full of information simply by thinking about them. Peoples’ perception of themselves and their identity will not be tied to a specific country, but rather the people that they are surrounded by in their living communities.
I realize that this is a somewhat pessimistic view of the world and where will be 50 years from now. My hope is that despite these dramatic developments and advancements, humanity will unite to create a more peaceful world. That people will be more actively engaged citizens collaborating together to eradicate social issues and reduce divides across politics and opinions. Who knows, maybe we can create a world with no more tears, no more lies and no more fears.
December 28, 2012 by Madelyn Smith
If I had just one wish it would be this:
I wish I could sit down and have the most beautiful meal you have ever seen in a dining hall with a 3 year old Maddy, a 6 year old Maddy, 8 year old me, 12, year old Maddy, and so on until the present day Maddy. I would sit at the head of the table and ask myself questions about my thoughts on the world, on my passions, my life goals, my ambitions and dreams at each stage of my life. I would sit and look around the table seeing the effects of time and change. I would likely envy the innocence of my little self, and say a prayer over the middle school Maddy for all of her insecurities. I would celebrate my accomplishments of the years, and cry alongside of the younger versions of me for the different struggles that I am facing at each of these stages of life. I would listen to my stories intently focusing on the detail taking myself back to those moments in life that were so sweet. The future Maddy would be standing just on the other side of the door waiting her turn to enter, listening through the walls and waiting for the moment when she too can join the table. Occasionally she gets to peak into the room as the servers open and close the door. She has a flash back into the past for just a moment before the door closes again and she is back in the future moment.
I wonder if the little Maddy would be proud? Would she look at me and celebrate the person that I have become; would she want to be me when she grows up? Or would she look at me and think that I’ve disappointed her because I didn’t do all that I was capable of? Whenever I doubt what I’m doing or where I’m going I think back on whether or not she would be proud of the person that I have become. I hope that she would look on me in awe and wonder impressed by all that I have accomplished and curious to know how I got there.
Time is an interesting phenomenon that continues running forward despite how hard you try to stop it. Regardless of whether or not I want it to, May 2013 will come, I will graduate from William & Mary and my life will continue moving forward. So, my hope for you is that you embrace it. Appreciate the moment where you are, here and now and don’t wait for something to happen; create the moment yourself. If you want to take a risk, embrace it. If love is what you seek, chase it. If your heart calls you to serve, do it. If you are pushed out of your comfort zone, enjoy it. If you’re broken, fix it. I do believe that you write your part in the story you create, but the little girl in me secretly likes to believe in wishes. If wishes inspire dreams and dreams do come true – for this New Year, what would you wish?