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Confessions of an ACC Poster Child

22 Mar

Occasionally, a friend or classmate of mine comes up to me and says, “Hey, I saw your picture on the ACC website recently.” This line is always a no-fail conversation starter for a generally reserved person like me.

“Yes, I’m an ACC poster child,” I proudly reply before enthusiastically regaling my unsuspecting listener with story after story about all of the wonderful experiences I’ve had during my four and a half years at Arapahoe Community College.

When I started out as a part-time student pursuing an associates degree, the end goal of graduation seemed like a speck on the distant horizon. I was so intensely focused on each step of my educational journey and the pleasurable pursuit of immersing myself in so many interesting classes and activities that it didn’t really hit me until last week that my graduation is just around the corner.

Instead of feeling euphoric though and ready to move on to the next stage of my life, I’m surprisingly feeling a bit down, reluctant and confused. I’m not so sure I’m ready to give up the comforting intellectual environment of what has become my academic “home” or the attendant connections I’ve made with the amazing faculty members and friends I’ve met along the way.

George Santayana said, “We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible.” My mind knows it’s time to let go and embrace what the future has to offer, but my heart wants to delay my leaving and enjoy every last moment I have left.

Going back to school at Arapahoe Community College has been the best thing I’ve ever done. The warmth and personal attention of excellent instructors, the small class sizes and the intimacy of such a small campus has provided the nurturing environment I needed to rebuild my scholastic confidence, develop leadership abilities and hone my writing skills.

I’m proud to own ACC as my school and will always be excited to tell people about my experiences there. I will always be proud to be an ACC poster child and graduate. Just don’t be surprised, if like the irrepressible Bob Wiley, I never completely leave. I may be back there this summer or fall, lingering in the hallways and taking a class or two–just for fun.

Sigma Phi Rocks!

11 Mar

This past weekend, I had so much fun with my Phi Theta Kappa friends! My chapter, Sigma Phi, hosted the Colorado Regional Convention at Arapahoe Community College and we had a blast. On Friday night, the officers of Sigma Phi and Alpha Gamma Alpha staged an 80s Highschool Reunion Murder Mystery. I chose the role of Sally Sax, the band dewey/nerd since that was exactly what I was in highschool. I even dug up my old Thornton Highschool band jacket for my costume and borrowed my sister’s saxophone. It was a little harder to dig up 80s clothing than I thought it would be, though I did find some leg warmers and boots in my 14-year-old daughter’s closet. The upturned collar of a pink polo shirt, tacky earrings and the Sheena Easton up-do completed my fairly authentic look. My husband played the role of Danny Drums and my advisor and good friend Erica played a pom-pom girl. In this photo, we’re doing our “interpretive dance” routine (an inside joke from our trip to Virginia last summer…LOL!) I have WAY too much fun at these events…I’ll be SO lost without Phi Theta Kappa and my Sigma Phi friends when I have to transfer to a 4-year school next fall…WAH!

Sigma Phi swept the Regional awards again this year, too. We won the Colorado Distinguished Chapter award, first place in the Scholarship and Service Hallmark categories (I wrote the Scholarship Hallmark Essay for this award), Distinguished Chapter President award, Distinguished Chapter Officer award (that would be ME!!! 🙂 ), and the Horizon Award for our AMAZING advisor.  One of our members is also campaigning for International President this spring.   I am surrounded by a truly wonderful group of people–many of whom have become my dear friends.

Here we are with all our awards…aren’t we a good-looking group? Go SIGMA PHI!

And here I am receiving my Distinguished Chapter Officer Award from my good friend Adam, the now former Colorado Region President.

See? Nerds really DO know how to have fun…:-)

Live Like Bananas

30 Jul

 

The other day as I was tidying up the kitchen, I happened to notice the back of the Post Selects Banana Nut Crunch cereal box. “We should all aspire to live like bananas,” it said. “They are on a permanent vacation, living in lush, tropical rainforests. From high above, a canopy of trees provides the perfect balance of sun and shade.”

“Live like bananas”–what a concept! My mind certainly feels like it has been on a permanent vacation this summer. As soon as my last Philosophy paper was turned in and my final Psychology exam was over at the beginning of May, my brain has pretty much been on a leave of absence. Since then, I haven’t done anything remotely intellectual.

For the past two months, I’ve fought against my lack of ambition and pummeled myself with guilt. Now that I apparently have more free time to write, the desire is lacking. Why can’t I seem to pull myself out of this ennui? Stacks of unread books sit on my bookshelf and bedside table while my writing output has been a dismal nil.

I think Anne Morrow Lindbergh knew about this kind of lethargy when she said, “The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think. I should have remembered that from other years. Too warm…for any real mental discipline or sharp flights of spirit. One never learns. Hopefully, one carries…the faded straw bag, lumpy with books, clean paper, long over-due unanswered letters, freshly sharpened pencils, lists, and good intentions. The books remain unread, the pencils break their points, and the pads rest smooth and unblemished as the cloudless sky. No reading, no writing, no thoughs even…the tired body takes over completely. As on shipboard, one descends into a deck-chair apathy. One is forced against one’s mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore…One becomes…bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today’s tides of all yesterday’s scribblings.”

Yes, I feel the particular beguilement of that deck-chair apathy. In my search for the “perfect balance of sun and shade,” the primeval rhythms of summer have erased all resolution, all hopeless straining, all the good intentions and all mental discipline. I know in two short weeks, that will all change. The empty hours will become all too full again. For now, I’ll live in the moment–like a banana.

Phi Theta Kappa Honors Institute

26 Jun

The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky…

(From “The Mighty Task is Done” by Joseph P. Strauss, Chief Engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge)

I’m back from my fantabulous, 6-day, all-expense paid trip to San Francisco with the Sigma Phi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa and I have so much to blog about that I will probably have to break this up over several posts.

The Golden Gate bridge was lovely shrouded in wispy layers of fog the day we arrived. Here I am with our new chapter president, Roxanne and a former chapter officer, Derek on the coldest June 16th ever in the history of San Francisco. Seriously!!! I wished I had brought my winter coat instead of that thin jacket I’m wearing. Rox and Derek walked part way across the Golden Gate bridge that day, but I was a total wimp and enjoyed views of it from the car instead. With the humidity, I just couldn’t get warm! Thank goodness the sun came out the next day and the rest of the week was probably the warmest weather in San Francisco’s history.

Rox was my roomy at San Francisco State University and we got the “Penthouse suite” in the Towers on the 15th floor. Since I lived at home when I attended the University of Colorado as a young student, the experience of living in a dorm was fun–for a week! I slept surprisingly well considering we had to sleep on what we ended up calling “crib mattresses” (probably because I was so exhausted at the end of each day!) And although the cafeteria food was pretty lame, it was rather nice not to have to plan, prepare, or clean up any meals. For six days, my life was reduced to the simplicity of taking care of “numero uno” instead of me times 7. I did a lot of walking, socializing, learning, eating, and sleeping (and I savored every moment of it!)

In the lecture hall, I got to sit in the middle of a row–a simple pleasure that only mothers of toddlers can truly appreciate. Normally quite reserved, I even learned to voice my opinion, make comments in small group settings and take part in discussions relating to our Honors Study Topic, The Paradox of Affluence: Choices, Challenges, and Consequences. I enjoyed participating in courteous debate with my peers, wrestling with personal agendas and biases and grappling with the complexity of political issues–something I rarely have the opportunity to do in my everyday “mommy” existence.

In six days, I learned that a positive attitude goes a long way, that Ghirardelli chocolate hazelnut ice cream in a chocolate-coated waffle cone is just about the closest thing to heaven on earth, and that it’s not a good idea to laugh at homeless people…(more about that in my next post!)

A Tight Rope Daily

6 May

 

 

What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us. We run a tight rope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now!

–Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Last night was my last class of the spring semester and now I can finally let out a huge sigh of relief! WHEW, what an ordeal! Taking Philosophy and Psychology simultaneously was very taxing not only on my brain, but on my family. And so after yet another meltdown last week, I am seriously reconsidering my schooling going forward.  It’s time to reevaluate some things and regain some balance in my life.

After a good talk with my husband (along with a good cry on his shoulder), I realized I’m trying to do too much. (Big DUH!) Very gently he pointed out that because of the way I’m “wired,” I feel compelled to give 100% to everything I do. (Not sure where I’d get that trait from….hmmmm, I wonder?) He wasn’t critical, only supportive and concerned about my mental well-being.

I thought about the stupid mental errors I’ve made over the past few months trying to keep track of my own crazy schedule along with six other busy people in my household. (Most days, it seems like we’re all going in about fifty different directions!) There were the little things like forgetting my daughter’s hip-hop dance lessons two weeks in a row or forgetting to pay tuition two months in a row at my son’s preschool.

Then there was a big thing…Last week, I bought up a bunch of meat at Safeway because they were having a great sale and for once in my life, I was thinking ahead enough to stock up. I brought the groceries into the laundry room fully intending to put everything away promptly, but then the boys started whining because they were hungry and so to appease them, I fixed their lunch. Then I had some great thoughts for an essay I was working on and before I knew it, three hours had passed. I was out watering the flowers in my front yard and thinking about how I was going to prepare all that meat when…oh no! The meat! I didn’t put the meat away! I ran into the house and there it all was, still sitting there. $50 worth of groceries that had to go out to the trash can instead of the freezer…aarrgghh!

I learned in my Psychology class that the short-term memory can only successfully manage seven (give or take a few) different things at once. Obviously, I’ve had too many things vying for attention in my brain “que” lately. It’s time for a mental vacation me thinks!

And so come fall semester, I’ll probably be cutting my schedule back to just one class. I’m also evaluating whether I should keep pursuing an English degree. I don’t have to have a degree to be a writer. I can just keep take writing classes at my community college or online and keep enjoying my association with my mentors in the English department at ACC. At this point, I’m not sure what I’ll do, but something has got to change. For those of you who often say to me, “I don’t know how you do it,” now you know that I DON’T do it very well. The juggling balls can’t stay in the air forever–they’re going to come crashing down sometime.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh puts it so perfectly in my favorite book Gift from the Sea: “…to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mothercore, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need, and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living. How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint–the inner inviolable core, the single eye.”

I’m not giving up on my dreams–to do so would be a death sentence to my soul. I just have to find a better way of pursuing them in moderation. Steady now!

Brainy Mama at Work…

24 Apr

I’m taking a short hiatus from my blog while I enter Finals week.  After having enjoyed the “summits” for awhile, I am now “down in the valley” as I struggle with essay tests, papers, and exams in Philosophy and Psychology. These lines from Coleridge sum up my feelings today:

A grief without a pang, void, dark and drear,

A drowsy, stifled, unimpassioned grief,

Which finds no natural outlet or relief

In word, or sigh, or tear.

Thanks for checking in. I’ll be back after I make it through this morass!

Another Little Summit Reached…

15 Apr

Okay, this is just one of those “ka-ching” kind of weeks when everything good seems to converge all at the same time.

Yesterday afternoon, I was honored at an awards ceremony for placing second in the English 122 Essay Contest. This is me with Dr. Lewan, the head of the English department and one of my favorite professors and mentors. She has been such a great encourager and champion of my writing since I took her online English 121 class my very first semester at ACC. She read parts of my winning essay aloud and I will post it below in its entirety for anyone who would like to read it. Along with the lovely certificate, I get $25! Yahoo! For someone who never has pocket change, $25 is a windfall! And guess where that money is going? Yep–into my walking tour of England fund.

 

Reading: The Key to “Critical Literacy” in the Digital Age

 

“Where is the wisdom we’ve lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we’ve lost in information?”

—T.S. Eliot, “The Rock”

 

Like a homing pigeon returning to its loft, I find myself circling back through the doors of my local library again and again. From the age of four, I have sought out the comforting companionship of books, gleaning from their open pages insights into life’s marvelous complexities. Reading has always been an integral part of my life. For me, books are so much more than just wood pulp and ink. They provide a mental lifeline, an intellectual retreat, and a continual source of knowledge that nourishes my rich, inner life and keeps my mind active, engaged, and invigorated.

Unfortunately, avid readers such as myself, are becoming an anomaly in modern society. Recent surveys conducted by the National Endowment of the Arts show that less than half of American adults read anything literary (i.e. fiction, poetry, and drama) and that “the rate of decline for the youngest adults, those aged 18 to 24 was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population” (NEA “Literary Reading”). Even as young people are opening their minds to the vast possibilities of the Information Age, they seem to be closing their minds to the ageless wisdom available only through the medium of books. However, young adults cannot afford to neglect literature if they are to have the critical thinking skills needed to compete and be successful in the 21st century.

Dan Gioia, chairman of the NEA, believes this declining interest in “active and engaged literacy” is not only a “national crisis” but a tragedy as well (NEA “Reading at Risk”). He claims there is a causal connection between the rise in electronic media usage and the declining literacy rate among youth. “Reading a book requires a degree of active attention and engagement,” he says. “By contrast, most electronic media…make fewer demands on their audiences…[requiring] no more than passive participation…Even interactive electronic media foster shorter attention spans and accelerated gratification. To lose such intellectual capabilities…would constitute a vast cultural impoverishment” (NEA “Reading at Risk”).

Although today’s young people are able to adapt to ever-changing technologies, assimilate information quickly, and multi-task efficiently, the internet generation is in danger of losing the important “intellectual capability” of critical thinking. Today’s youth, comfortable with the seamless integration of technology in their lives, may not understand why older generations are concerned about the impending “cultural impoverishment” that threatens our society if this trend of declining literacy is not reversed. Many educators are seeing that “fast-paced lifestyles, coupled with heavy media diets of visual immediacy, beget brains misfitted to traditional modes of academic learning” (Guterl).

Chris Ransick, an English professor at Arapahoe Community College, agrees that the explosion of technology and the internet over the past twenty years has led to a rapid cycle of social change. Ransick, a passionate supporter of media literacy, says that over the years, he has noticed the steadily declining work ethic and ability to think critically among his students. He believes strongly that “you either use media or get used by it and there is no middle ground” (Ransick). The one question he asks all of his students at the beginning of each term is: What is the last book you read? For Ransick, this question is the litmus test that determines which students are educable and which ones are not.

Even though young people are adept in the area of “computer literacy,” many people question whether the rising generation, who has never known anything but the influence of technology and the mass media, will be able to acquire the critical thinking skills necessary for successful leadership in the future. As the world’s problems increase in scale and complexity, the minds of our young people are unfortunately inundated and overwhelmed by the immediate and insignificant. Distracted by a plethora of technological gadgets, glitzy advertisements, and entertainment options, our young people habitually opt for the path of least resistance.

In response to a feature article in Business Week about the lifestyle of the internet generation, a young anonymous person said, “…its great to hear people complain about how my generation…[is] too focused on technology…But honestly, what do you expect? In a world where everyone…wants the next new gizmo…you wonder why we do anything else. Why are we going to call a single person a few miles away when we can hold multiple conversations with friends all over the country? Why go shopping in a single store when we can shop in six at once?…Honestly, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. But technology is only going to grow, and it’s only going to get bigger. Do you expect us to resist? No, we’re moving with [the] progress of the times” (Hempel).

Indeed the lure of technology is difficult to resist, particularly for young people who, according to a study conducted by The Kaiser Family Foundation, “spend an average of six-and-a-half hours a day online” (Paulos). David McCullough, one of America’s most literate personalities, decries the fact that Americans have approximately twenty-eight hours per week to watch television but claim they have no time for reading. He laments, “The greatest of all avenues to learning—to wisdom, adventure, pleasure, insight, to understanding human nature, understanding ourselves and our world and our place in it—is in reading books…Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent, as a good book” (McCullough).

Yet young people, seeking for connection, entertainment, socialization, and expression prefer to turn to electronic devices for that sustenance. “Reading is harder than watching television or playing video games” concedes writer Andrew Solomon. “It requires effort, concentration, attention. In exchange, it offers the stimulus to and the fruit of thought and feeling” (Solomon). Solomon believes that Americans would readily “exchange easier for more difficult pleasures” if they understood “that those more difficult pleasures are more rewarding” (Solomon). Because the rewards of literacy may not be as tangible or apparent as the instant gratification proffered by technology, many young people overlook, ignore, or avoid books altogether. Most do not even realize that literature is far superior to technology when it comes to meeting these basic human needs.

Nevertheless, the benefits of active and engaged literacy are real, satisfying, and long-lasting. Books offer a multi-dimensional look at humanity that technology does not. Unlike the preprocessed information available through the mass media and the internet, the concepts presented in books invite thoughtful analysis by the reader. One idea at a time, the reader makes personal connections to ideas based on the context of his or her experience. Unlike technology, books build a solid foundation of character within the reader and create a greater capacity for complex thought. During the confusing and stress-filled years of young adulthood, when monumental and life-altering decisions about career and family hang in the balance, literature can provide a foundation of principle and needed illumination for youth navigating through those turbulent years of change and growth.

If the internet generation has the perseverance and attention span to master video games and endlessly changing technology, they have the attention span and capability to develop a taste for literature. Although today’s young adults can read, they choose not to. “What is the point of having a population that can read, but doesn’t?” Solomon asks. “Readers…are active,” he says “while nonreaders…have settled into apathy. There is a basic social divide between those for whom life in an accrual of fresh experience and knowledge, and those for whom maturity is a process of mental atrophy” (Solomon).

With access to millions of books, I know that my education never has to end. I have learned that literature can always be customized to my ever-changing circumstances. Always available, portable, and economical, reading accommodates every season of life. Every time I leave the library hefting my oversize tote bag filled to the brim with books, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction, expectation, and gratitude. I am the richest woman on earth because I have ready access to information that enriches, empowers, encourages and shapes me, granting me the limitless freedom to grow and soar. The realm of inexhaustible possibilities keeps me coming back for more, week after week.

“As more Americans lose this capability [of active and engaged literacy], our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose” Gioia says (NEA “Literary Reading”). In order for today’s young adults to successfully navigate the challenges of the 21st century and solve the problems of their time, they must find a way to reverse the declining literacy rate.

Clearly, technology will continue to shape our lives in unpredictable ways. The challenge of our time will be to regain the balance we have lost and find ways to reintegrate a more substantial literary focus back into our cultural landscape. If more young people would replace a few minutes of mindless web surfing with attentive reading each day, they might discover that the immeasurable impetus of ideas found only in literature may hold the key to reversing the impoverishment and malaise of their generation.

 

Works Cited

 

Guterl, Fred. “The End Of The Word As We Know It; If you think kids don’t read now, wait until the visual media really take off.” Newsweek International (Sept 26, 2005): 95. General Reference Center. Gale. Arapahoe Community College. 24 Sept. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=GRCM&gt;.

Hempel, Jessi. “The My Space Generation.” Business Week. 12 Dec. 2005. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_50/b3963001.htm&gt;.

McCullough, David. “No Time to Read?” Perspectives on Contemporary Issues: Reading Across the Disciplines. Ed. Katherine Anne Ackley. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. 333-34.

National Endowment for the Arts. “Literary Reading in Dramatic Decline, According to National Endowment for the Arts Survey.” National Endowment for the Arts. 8 Jul. 2004. National Endowment for the Arts. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nea.gov/news/news04/ReadingAtRisk.html&gt;.

– – – . Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America Executive Summary. Washington D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, 2004. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nea.gov/pub/RaRExec.pdf&gt;.

Paulos, Leah. “Multitasking madness: are you always online, downloading music, chatting with friends, and sending text messages? If so, you’re being trapped by your own technology.(Health).” Scholastic Choices 23.1 (Sept 2007): 10(4). General Reference Center. Gale. Arapahoe Community College. 30 Sept. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=GRCM&gt;.

Ransick, Chris. Personal interview. 24 Sep. 2007.

Solomon, Andrew. “The Closing of the American Book.” New York Times. 10 Jul. 2004. 27 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nytimes.com/&gt;