Tag Archives: University

Day 2

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I’m sitting here on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. As an undergraduate student. Specifically, I’m on the fringes of Lower Sproul Plaza. From where I sit I spy the steps from where Mario Savio ignited a movement decades ago…when I was in kindergarten.

 

But I’m not so much in a place as I’m in an organism. A living, breathing organism. Sitting 3 feet from me is the smart Korean young woman–clothing and make-up impeccably styled. A few moments ago, as I lunched, my personal space was invaded by a young Chinese man, acutely unaware of the fact that he had made me physically uncomfortable as he nearly knocked my food off the table. He was simply sitting down to eat—as he has done so many times in his own crowded culture and space. And he respectfully and quietly ate his meal. Profoundly unaware of the “American” cultural rule he had broken.

Berkeley will never be a place for me or for any American that has heard of it. When I was admitted, I needed to look on a map to find the “place” where the organism lived. As I sit in the heart of this living phenomenon I witness the fluidity of the movement—the suburban Caucasian freshman, Jansport slung over his shoulder, plodding to his next class. I see the first-generation Hispanic student, defiant and proud, staking his rightful place in this body, this being. Here now is the Japanese boy in the library, painstakingly reviewing an encyclopedia on American History…that same part of the body, that same student earlier asking the renowned professor if the class he is taking will be too hard for an ESL student.

I was assigned to a Facebook group for Transfer students. Yesterday, after the first official day of classes, the posts generally reflected a profound angst—an anxiety concerning if we really belonged here. Is it too hard? Are we really supposed to be here? Can we make it? Are we imposters? Will this body, this organism, like a white blood cell attacking a foreign invader, reject us?

I felt none of that. As a 56-year-old white male, I felt at home. Yes, the coursework is brutal. Yes, the academic expectations are astronomical—far greater than any we have previously experienced. But I feel home. This is what I’m drawn too. This is what I crave. This body. This intellectual curiosity. This beautiful mixture of cultures, and ethnicities and ideas. This…” place”.

That is not to say it has been a seamless transition. Just as I experienced discomfort with the student at lunch, I’ve also felt discomfort in the long lines and the nearly total invasion of personal space in the ill-fitting lecture hall seats. I’ve felt, generically, out-of-place based simply upon my age–a disparity that I’m reminded of by some young person or administrative employee here on a nearly daily basis.

But these are small prices to pay for admittance to this body…to this organism. To this center of intellectual growth. Without question, aside from the birth of my children, my first few days here, attending lectures, and peacefully reflecting on this campus dynamic have been the happiest moments of my life.

Fiat Lux…

 

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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

 

 


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.


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…


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