Tag Archives: College

No…I’m NOT that guy…

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So I’m here. I’m an officially registered UC Berkeley undergraduate student. I’m a Bear. A Golden Bear.

Yesterday, I participated in day-one of the largest orientation session for new students ever to be undertaken by an institution of higher learning. Let’s just say there were some glitches. Any undertaking of this scope is bound to be flawed, and this one was no exception. One thing I’ve already learned about Cal is that while the “systems” may be flawed at times (okay, a lot), the humans behind these systems are humble servants who genuinely care about their students. It’s truly awe-inspiring to witness.

Here’s my beef: during a wonderful and quite inspiring welcoming address from Chancellor Carol Christ, she mentioned some of the age ranges of students…from a 14 year-old, to a 64 year-old. Fair enough. Right up until the last event of the day.

We were herded like sheep into Memorial Stadium to set a Guinness World Record for the largest human letter formation (http://www.dailycal.org/2017/08/15/campus-breaks-world-record-for-largest-human-letter/). All good despite the logistical and technical snafu’s. However…remember the fun fact from the Chancellor? About the oldest student?

On five separate occasions I was approached and asked if I was THAT guy (turns out it’s a 64 y/o woman).

Now I’m the furthest thing from a snowflake, and for the tenure of my college career I’ve experienced the inevitable looks on the first day of class from my fellow students wondering why I’m sitting with them and not beginning the lecture.

I get it.

But at Cal I’ve been asked by staff on two separate occasions if the documents I was processing were for my student…my child.

And then last night…

After the first query, it got to the point that when stranger started to engage me I calmly said, “no, I’m not that guy.”

So being a Wonder bread white guy my whole life I’ve never experienced…being different. It’s an interesting perspective.

I strive to represent older (we are officially termed “non-traditional” or “returning students” or OWL’s–older, wiser learners). But we are proudly called “curve killers” too…something I take a great deal of pride in.

You see, embracing higher education with some life experience under one’s belt is an entirely different animal. The subjects come to life…they have meaning and context…they are real.

I’m a proud “non-traditional” student. I’m okay with the funny looks and awkward questions. But others may not be so thick-skinned.

Let’s remember, life doesn’t end after 40 and societal roles are just that…roles, not realities.

GO BEARS

 

 

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#Berkelly

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So the “Berkelly” thing happened on the day I announced on social media that I had been accepted to UC Berkeley. My friend Greg tagged me as “Berkelly” in my Instagram post. I’m honestly not one to toot my own horn or draw attention to myself–yes I know this is a personal blog, thank you very much–but somehow the tag felt…right.

Much like the decision to finally commit to Cal. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s take a leap back–

Agoura High School, 1979. I’m graduating from High School and all my friends are going to UCLA. I felt a nagging urge to join them, but dreams of becoming a firefighter pushed aside the ache–for a while.

My first college class was my senior year at Agoura HS. I took an EMT class at Los Angeles Pierce College.

Fast forward, Spring 2013. After a career in the fire service, I’m looking for another direction. As documented elsewhere in this blog, I thought a career in drug and alcohol treatment would be rewarding. I enroll in the Addiction Studies program back at Pierce. Shortly thereafter I start working in the field, and while your mileage may vary, I find the industry to be long on financial outcome and short on actual treatment. I’m disillusioned.

What I’m surprisingly inspired by however is my US History class at Pierce. After decades away from academia I need to write a research paper. Throat tightens, sweat glands on overload…I get this:

IMG_0036 This was it. This was all it took. Validation. The fire was lit. These words from my instructor changed the course of my life and resulted in the picture you see at the head of this blog post.

I immediately sought the advice of a school counselor and began my transfer program. Since the ache to attend UCLA had never quite subsided, I set my sights on transferring. The next two semesters found me enrolling in english and history classes. My transcripts were reflecting all A’s. I eventually started the university enrollment process and my counselor advised me to make some other choices beyond UCLA.  I decided to add UC Irvine and UC Berkeley in as whims. Irvine has a world-class english department, but Cal is recognized as having the BEST english program in the country. So naturally there was no chance of me being accepted. In fact I embraced that thought so firmly, I took absolutely no prep courses at Pierce for the major, clearly still under the impression that it was a wasted enrollment fee (an academic price I am paying my first semester at Cal).

I also applied to USC (my girlfriend’s alma mater) and Stanford (and was told by my counselor that this was truly a long-shot as their acceptance rate for transfers is only one percent).

Along this path, my counselor introduced me to a recruiter from Columbia University. He encouraged me to apply. I did.

My last year a Pierce was characterized by the loss of nearly $800 in application fees, documents, tests, and materials. Yes, Stanford made me take the SAT again–that experience could easily be a subject of another blog post in and of itself.

Lots of work on my UC personal statement ensued. I had to take the english-only portion of the 2013 SAT for Columbia.

Decisions were due in April of this year. But Columbia was notifying in February. On the day of their notification, I opened the web page…I read the words from the dean saying that he would like to congratulate me on my acceptance to Columbia University. I was reading this to my girlfriend over the phone. This was as far as I could get into the first paragraph before I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. I had been accepted into an Ivy League. My life had been a series of struggles and opportunities to overcome adversity. These words put me down. I was so proud. The inspiring words of my US History teacher paved the way for my acceptance. I had been mentored. I had been inspired. Education matters. Teaching matters. I am a living and breathing example of the power of education and mentor-ship.

Now thoughts of moving to Manhattan danced in my head. The music ended on that dance when the reality of the cost of attendance intervened.

April came. I was accepted to UC Irvine. Awesome! If UCLA doesn’t come through, I’ve got an option.

April 26. 5 p.m. UCLA is set to release their announcement…I got in!!! I immediately donned the UCLA cap that I purchased a year prior and put it squarely on my head. I had vowed that it wouldn’t touch me until I got in…that day had arrived. I was over-the-top! My nagging ache since 1979 had been satisfied…I was finally a Bruin.

Almost as an afterthought, 48 hours later I opened Cal’s admission page to see that I had been accepted. I was incredulous. This wasn’t part of the plan! And their offer of financial aid was highly competitive.

Less that a week later my mom died. She was in the Bay Area so I decided to at least make a campus visit to Berkeley so I could justify my decision to attend UCLA…

I set foot on campus on a Friday morning. I sat in Sproul Plaza by myself. It was overcast. It was quiet. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t know right then and there that I was home. I took a guided tour later that day and attended the Chancellor’s welcome the next day, but honestly, it was a formality. I was home. I felt it in the core of my being. UCLA had always been my dream, but I was walking on the campus of my reality…my future…my home.

Berkelly was home…

I was awaiting 2 more acceptance notifications. USC had requested my spring grades from Pierce prior to making their decision, which I found odd since I had carried a 4.0 GPA throughout my tenure at Pierce, but nonetheless I provided them (4.0 cumulative) and found out three days ago that USC had indeed accepted me.

But Stanford was the only significant roadblock…I received a letter from them stating that although I was highly competitive, and they wished they had more space, I did not receive an offer of admission.

Within two minutes I committed to Berkeley.

I’m a Golden Bear. My girlfriend and I move to Albany in July. I’m about to enter a buzz-saw of grade-deflation and challenges that I’ve never experienced. But I’m beyond excited. I plan on earning by BA in English, possibly double majoring or minoring, and then finding a doctoral program upon completion.

I’d love to steer the focus of this blog towards my experience as a non-traditional/returning student at Cal. But we shall see…I will do my utmost to report from the front lines AFTER I get all my assignments completed.

To those of you who have patiently followed my adventures, I thank you. You are all part of the community of inspiration that has made me a Bear.

#gobears

#berkelly


A Brief Detour to the Other Side of my Brain…

 

So the dearth of posts here recently can be explained by something other than my general lethargy or reticence to engage.

For the last year-and-a-half, my academic career (community college) has taken me from one side of my brain to the other.

I originally re-enrolled at the community college that I took my first class in 1979. Yes kids, you heard that right…1979. It was an Emergency Medical Technician class I took as a senior in high school. That class led to a 26 year career as a first responder (EMT, Paramedic, Fire Captain).

When life intervened in 1999 and my world turned upside down as the result of my step-son’s car accident…all the best laid plans I had flew out the door before I realized they were missing. Without rehashing the last two decades (artfully hidden elsewhere in this blog), in the spring of 2013 I decided that a degree in Addiction Studies would afford me a stable career in a field I believed deeply in.

Well, two things happened: when I began my coursework, I also found a job in the field and was quickly disillusioned at the profit-making nature of the business; but more importantly, while taking my basic coursework for the AS, I found a passion for learning again. Not to say that as I younger student that I craved knowledge (far from it), but I found that as an adult with some life experience under my belt, that what I was learning about politics, world history, literature, and mathematics simply enthralled me.

Yet again, I steered a course change and decided to obtain a BA in English at UCLA (other fantasy universities include Berkeley and Georgetown).

Based upon by GPA, I was accepted into my colleges Honors Transfer Program for UCLA, and for the past three semesters I’ve been slogging through Math and Spanish courses. I dreaded Math and looked forward to Spanish. Both expectations were misguided.

It turns out that in order to attain fluency in a language, immersion and more than three semesters of the language is required. So after 3 semesters I can read and conjugate verbs like a boss but am panic stricken if I actually have to form real sentences in my head. Still, I managed to get A’s all three semesters.

Math was the surprise. I have always suffered from profound math anxiety, and frankly was dreading these classes. What I found was a real “duh” moment. If you put in the work, study, ask questions, seek outside help, that math is actually pretty stimulating. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments in Logarithms where I was sure the nuclear anxiety would take me out, but I persisted on and moved onto Honors Statistics last semester; another class that 4 years ago I would never have even had the courage to attempt.  I’ve received A’s in all 3 math classes the last 3 semesters. No one is more shocked than me…

So here I am…finished with the core work to get into university and back to my true love…general knowledge. This semester is going to be very challenging as I have three Honors classes: Physical Anthropology, Cinema, and English (persuasive writing). It also means a boat-load of research papers and familiarity with MLA/APA that I haven’t used in the last year-and-a-half.

So, of course the panic has set in…but it’s a panic that has enabled me to maintain (fingers desperately crossed) a 4.0 GPA during my time here. I didn’t set out to do this by any means; it has simply been a by-product of my thirst for knowledge and has now become self-perpetuating.

Three more semesters to go and I’m hoping to report my entrance into UCLA (or CAL or Georgetown or, as my life seems to arc, somewhere else I haven’t planned) as a junior.

Until then, my brain has shifted back to the other side, the non-math/language side and I’m hoping to crank out some more Conversations with the Moon…

 


Skool Daze….

I’ve ruefully neglected this blog for the last several months.

I just finished 2.5 years at a community college (no really, I took my last final less than an hour ago) while in pursuit of a transfer to UCLA and the ever popular Bachelor of Arts in English.

To date (today), I’ve managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA. Um…pretty sure that ends this week when grades are released.

I’m 54 years young, work full-time and have been carrying just under a full-time schedule in school. This year, in order to satisfy the requirements of the Honors Transfer Program I’m in, I needed to take Elementary and Intermediate Algebra (all the basic Algebra leading into Stats, Calc, etc.) as well as Spanish I and II.

Two distinct languages to learn. Two VERY hard classes for me. Although I’m an English major, I triaged my time and concentrated primarily on Algebra. I’ve always suffered from major math anxiety, but through a ton of hard work, have actually learned to enjoy math this year.

Well right up until last Saturday when I had to take my final that would release me to UC level math (I need to take Honors Stats next Fall)…

Thank God I walked into that exam with a 96% because after the first problem, all the formulas in my head magically disappeared behind a veil of clinical panic.

I simply couldn’t remember simple formulas after I saw a problem I specifically decided NOT to study for…certain it wouldn’t be on the final.

I could go on and on about my anxiety and depression after the test, but suffice it to say I pulled my head out of my ass and put things in perspective.

What I did learn is my ego has carried my through this 4.0 journey and as with all things pride, I needed a knock upside the head. Time to quit relying on my ability to “see” the answer during these tests and actually put in more hard work than I have been willing to exert.

At the end of the day, if I do that, I will excel. If I don’t, I’ll continue to ride this tenuous GPA right into the ground.

So hello blog world. I’m back for at least the summer on a semi-regular basis to hone my writing and try desperately to forget logarithms and rational equations…

Goodbye 4.0…hello humility.


Mid-Term Malaise…or How I Found Courage in the Gallows of Boredom

No, this post isn’t about the midterm elections this week, although I do have a whopper brewing in my head vis-a-vis my utter disappointment with the incumbent president’s performance.

This is about the space I find myself currently in.

Sheer boredom. Malaise. Mind numbing…nothingness.

I’m just slightly halfway through my fall semester at college. I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I’m slogging through core class requirements as I muddle my way towards my final two years at UCLA.

I worked 88 hours the last two weeks while studying for two exams in my Spanish and Algebra class respectively.

I have no life.

I have no time to blog/write anything other than vapid responses into the lamest online Spanish software ever created. Software that the instructor admits is inferior and responds to our concerns with “it’s not my problem, it’s your problem”.

Welcome to junior college.

This sucks…

I had an extraordinarily rare day off today that I spent getting a flat fixed, driving to my old college to begin the academic renewal process for an “F” I received 29 years ago in a Poli Sci class; and riding my bike 20 miles. I then spent well over 5 hours grinding through my Spanish exam and homework.

And it hit me.

Courage isn’t what happens when you are facing an immediate threat. Courage is borne out of the little things.

The willingness to persist when giving up would be so much simpler; when you can find a hundred reasons to rationalize your decision.

Courage is faith. Being willing to put one foot in front of the other when you can’t see the finish line. When you’re not even entirely sure where that finish line is and what it will look like.

I walked into the middle of a physical altercation the other day outside my apartment. A fight was in progress and I was in the midst of it before I was even sure what it was. I responded forcefully and decisively and defused the situation. Not because I have courage, but because it was reflexive, muscle memory gained in a previous lifetime.

Courage is simply not giving up when you’re not entirely sure what the outcome will be. But you know you’re doing the right thing, despite the sheer pedestrian nature of the task. And the long hours. And the absence of a social life.

It’s a quality problem to have. As tough as this road is right now, I know how fortunate I am to be on this path.

So to all those erstwhile meek students out there, grinding out those core classes, quietly tolerating those professors who are phoning it in while they collect their checks…I salute you.

In your own redundant ways, you’re displaying a great deal of courage.


Selfies Are Tough With Tears in Your Eyes…

Sean Newport
A little over two years I birthed this blog while I was on leave from work after hip replacement surgery. My first and second posts concerned the reality that my first-born was off to college. She’s now a successful college junior in D.C. I made sure to memorialize our last moments together with a (sort of) selfie of her and I together. Actually, the man taking the picture was my son.

My son. The man that less than a half an hour ago I kissed and embraced very hard as I said goodbye to him. My youngest begins his collegiate journey tomorrow. I meant to take a selfie to continue the tradition but a couple of things happened.

At some point in the evening after our awesome “guys” dinner at a local steak house and our post-feast visit to Starbucks, I needed him to go. Not because I wanted him to go but because the reality was starting to set in. And so were the tears. And the lump in my throat that is still present.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t about me at all…it is. The empty nest just showed up at my door and for the first time in my life, I have no genetic family within driving distance. But it’s so much more…

It’s the sadness of physically parting with my best friend. My son. My little guy who is now bigger than me.

It’s the joy of and excitement shared of watching him embark on what I am absolutely certain will be a wonderful experience at a Division I school and the promise of a bright future as he studies Biology and Pre-Med.

It’s the sadness of seeing the sands of time fall in front of my eyes. Each grain hitting the sand pile like a hammer on marble. It was acutely present tonight.

It’s the joy of accomplishment. My son and daughter are each talented and unique individuals who have set off on their own paths with enthusiasm and discipline. Four eyes on the prize for sure…

It’s the sadness of loss. Of saying goodbye to a man that means more to me than I could ever express in words. To a young man that carries my hopes and dreams for him along with his own.

So…any selfie I took tonight would have been smeared through the eyes of a proud father…

I miss you already buddy. Vaya con dios my son…


Coming Up for Air

Phew. That was tough. Tougher than I thought.

I work full-time and go to community college carrying just under a full-time unit load. I’m currently in the Honors Transfer Program with an eye towards enrolling at UCLA in the Fall of 2017 as an English Major (an admission I realize is suicide on a blog).

The Spring Semester ended yesterday and I got my ass handed to me. It wasn’t unmanageable but it seriously kicked my butt. 9 units, three core UC/CSU classes.

Poli Sci was the easiest of the three. I’ve been a political wonk/news junkie my entire life so a lot of the material was intuitive. Pretty sure I aced this class. The irony here is that in a former life I was a radio reporter and interviewed my professor 35 years ago when he sat on the local Board of Supervisors. Pretty sure this guy is at least 83 and still pretty darn sharp. Very inspiring.

Intro to Western Civilization was brutal but ultimately, fascinating. I had no idea I would have an interest in Ancient Civilizations, but now I’m hooked. That the teacher was rated on RateMyProfessor.com as one of the hardest history profs was something that eluded me prior to enrolling. She was extremely difficult. Her tests (minus the Final) were all essay. She required a 10 page research paper with 3 original sources. Suffice it to say Rate My Professor is now my first stop before I enroll. I did learn quite a bit in her class but ultimately was frustrated by her lectures. They were schizophrenic and didn’t seem to follow any form of structure that I (or my classmate) could discern. But at the end of the day, she had a passion for history and knew the material. I got an A.

Finally (and here’s the tricky part as this professor follows this blog and I’ve yet to receive my grade), despite the fact that I didn’t use Rate My Professor the last two semesters, I’ve scored big-time in my choice of instructors. My English 101 professor was fantastic and superb at the art of creating cogent research papers.

But this semester, serendipity caught up with me in my choice of English 102 instructors. Dr. Gino Pellegrini received his doctorate in English Lit from Purdue and specializes in multicultural studies. He is brilliant and personally inspiring. He is “that” teacher. The inspirational one. I have had only one other; Mrs. Doi in high school developed a love for English in me that continues today. Dr. Pellegrini nurtured that. His teaching style was engaging and the 3 hour class flew by. And did I mention he was incredibly hard? Early on in the semester I had a come-to-Jesus moment where I realized I was in way over my head and had no business being in his class…I was caught for the fraud that I am. But I persisted and worked hard. He made us write our asses off in class. Although I despised the handwriting, I loved the pressure, the immediacy of collating ideas and doing my best to make sense of them. It was a lot like blogging. For his final, he required a rewritten portfolio of our work and a research paper on an author. I chose my literary inspiration, John le Carre and had a literal blast writing it. I know he’s considered a genre writer, but I hope my paper changed that image. The Final was a 3+ page hand-written essay on Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I had prepared an outline in my head prior and felt pretty good about what I wrote. What I didn’t expect was the emotion that welled up within me as I wrote the paper. This is an extremely bleak work and as I wrote I suffered for the characters. It was emotionally draining. When was the last time your professor pulled that out of you?

Dr. Pellegrini demanded the best of me and I can’t thank him enough. I needed that. It has given me the inspiration I need to continue on the path I’m on and face even greater literary challenges.

You can check out his blog here.

So for better or worse, I have more time to blog. And I intend to, as the next 3 semesters will be void of any English classes. Maybe it’s time to get rolling on my novel too.

Either way…I hope you all had “that” teacher that inspired you. I’ve been lucky enough to have two in my life…

 

 


Higher Education…a Family Affair

Lillis_Complex_(University_of_Oregon)

 

Greetings from Eugene, Oregon. My son and I have just completed “Duck Days”, otherwise known at the University of Oregon’s sales pitch to students and parents attempting to get them to enroll. Trust me, you didn’t need to. One foot on this historic campus and we were done.

My son was officially “accepted” here last fall, but wanted to (wisely) wait until he had heard from a few other colleges before committing. It wasn’t too long after we had crossed over the California/Oregon border that I think his commitment was cemented. I could go on and on about what the last 48 hours have been like for us, but suffice it to say it’s been epic.

And then this: while we are awaiting the welcome remarks yesterday from the President of Admissions, my phone rings…it’s my daughter who is a sophomore at George Washington University in DC. She announces that she has been chosen as only one of four students to receive a fully paid scholarship opportunity to go to Israel and study this Spring. To say I was blown away and infused with pride would be a tragic understatement. To be on the majestic campus of U of O with my son and then to receive this mind-blowing news from my daughter was almost too much to comprehend.

Oh and this: I was officially accepted into the Honors Transfer program for UCLA at the community college that I attend. I’m 53 years old. I’m stoked…

I desperately wanted my kids to go to college and I was the only one in my immediate family to lack a degree.

I’ve been on the wrong side of Karma most of my life. I’ve turned my life around and am realizing the sweet nectar of the right side of the Karma. It tastes good…


No…she’s not gone forever.

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(My daughter and I at dinner last night before she left for college)

It started here.  365 days ago I started this blog.

I had just had hip surgery, was out of work for 6 weeks, and wanted to start writing.  My first post lamented the fact that my daughter was going across the country to college.  As I write this post, she is on a plane headed back to college after spending the summer home (and I saw her maybe a total of 5 times in the two months she was here). So to answer my first post…no, she’s (thankfully) not gone forever. In fact, at our going away embrace last night, the feelings of melancholy were replaced by pride and admiration.

A lot has changed in the last 365. She’s grown from my high school senior into a young woman in college. She’s made some choices I don’t agree with, but has been ruthlessly honest with me and for that I am eternally grateful. And when I review my choices at her age, my pride in her increases exponentially. She’s a good kid. She will kick ass in life and I’m beyond proud of her.

In the last year, this blog was “Freshly Pressed”, I discussed my aspirations with regard to becoming a writer, I posted a lot about politics, culture and sports.

Personally, I went back to college, and changed careers.  I’m riding 60-70 miles/wk. on my bike and hope to continue to fight the inevitability of aging with every fiber of my being.  Life is good…

I gained more followers than I could have imagined and made some nice friendships here.

I thank each of you that has followed my blog and look forward to producing content here that may be thought provoking and dare I say inspiring in the next 365…


Daylight Savings and the Sands of Time…

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Daylight Savings Time is unequivocally my favorite time of the year.  As a lad, it represented the ability to stay out and play later.  As an adult, its longer days brings back those sweet memories along with the ability to…well…stay out later and play=riding my bike while there’s still some daylight out.

But what DST also brings are seasons…cycles of the sands of time that remind me that I only have a finite number of these special times left. The aging thing has spawned a lot of introspection in my life lately.  It started recently when a young twenty-something co-worker was explaining to another co-worker that “older workers let these little things get under their skin and it makes them crazy”.  She wasn’t referring to me, but might as well have been.

Here’s the deal.  I like it when people show up and on time, return from their breaks on time, and simply do the MINIMUM that they are required to do.  If they do those things, I’m cool.  But where I work, those things are not strictly enforced.  Hence, I get to do a slow burn every time one of those younger workers ignores what I consider to be a pretty basic covenant of employment.

It got me thinking about the work ethic of this new generation and the differences with mine.  Am I wrong to let these transgressions get under my skin and react?  Without a doubt…I own my response to any perceived violations of policy.  But am I wrong to expect these youngsters to make more of an effort?  Or at least care?  I’m not sure.  I know what I expect of myself and it’s up to me to do that.  I’ve put a lot of effort this year into not reacting to the actions of others…keeping my side of the street clean, if you will.  In fact, I wrote that in my performance review’s self-evaluation.

What I’m getting at is maybe this is a normal, albeit tragically sad, consequence of evolution.  Maybe this is the best this generation can do and at their age, I was held to a different standard by my elders.  Either way…it sucks as it’s an indication of the changing seasons.

And then tonight…I was again reminded of the fragility of life.  One of my professors, whom I hold in high regard and respect, had what was likely a mini-stroke during class.  I rendered assistance because of my background until paramedics arrived but drove home experiencing a profound sadness.  He’ll probably be okay, but his fragility and utter helplessness reminded me that I’m not far behind, age-wise.  I am so glad I am no longer a Firefighter/Paramedic as I have noticed a greater difficulty separating myself from these incidents emotionally prior to leaving the department.  What used to roll off my back, suddenly strikes at my core.

At the end of the day, I know that intellectually this is all part of the cycle of life.  And I wouldn’t really trade where I’m at now (okay, I’m lying, I want another shot at my 20’s) but the sands of time can still sting from time to time.

My prayers are with you Mr. S…


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