June 16, 2012 - 8:42 PM
Well, friends and readers, this is it: the final blog.
It's been quite the run. Tomorrow I graduate with a Masters of Arts in Conflict and Dispute Resolution, to be added to my previous UO Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Comparative Literature. I arrived in Eugene for the first time seven years ago, an almost-senior in high school, searching for a college experience. Six years ago I was already counting down to my first day at the UO. Five years ago I was tortured by my first college farewell: moving out of the dorms and back to Colorado for a summer. Four years ago I was finishing my study abroad in Valdivia, Chile. Three years ago I was preparing for a fabulous summer in Eugene, working with Inside-Out and developing my undergraduate thesis plans. Two years ago I was preparing my undergraduate commencement address and then closing that college experience. Last year I was getting ready for my fieldwork and research in Honduras.
It's been an extraordinary time.
I began blogging the fall after I returned from Chile. I remember agonizing over that first entry, knowing it would stand for the duration of my UO blogging career. Now a blog is second-nature to me: it is a way of adding meaning to my weeks, and to marking the important events of my life. But this last blog is a bit of a challenge: it is the final record of my University years. I've written well over a hundred blogs, and this one is the last.
So allow me to indulge myself a bit, and go over these last few years.
I am leaving the UO knowing that I have made a difference here. If you have followed my blog, you have tracked my start as an Inside-Out intern, and how that developed into my work as a Graduate Teaching Fellow, a member of the Oregon State Penitentiary Think Tank, the editor of the first Inside-Out Magazine, a founder of the Serbu Book Club and Youth Re-Entry Project, and as a creator of a now-flourishing Inside-Out alumni student group. If you have read me over the years, you know that I arrived at a crucial moment for Inside-Out, and I grabbed the opportunity and made some exciting things happen.
You have also followed me through my work in immigration issues, beginning with Volunteers in Medicine and progressing through my trips with No More Deaths to the Arizona border, and in working with local activist groups and in research/internship trips in Central America. You have seen this develop as an academic interest and as a focal point for my social justice interests.
In these years of blogging, I've shared what it has meant to be a UO student, from coursework to thesis writing. I have shared my experiences with faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates. You have watched as I've come into my own as a member of this campus community, and with the work I've done in Eugene at large.
On that note, I know I am graduating with the well-wishes of so many wonderful people. I am leaving with the blessing of Sister Helen Prejean, a dozen fabulous professors, the men I know at the prison, the students I've served as GTF, the student and community organizations I've taken part in, and the many people who have become my friends in these years.
Soon I am leaving in pursuit of this next phase of my life. It begins with travel throughout Europe (Prague, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Amsterdam, Scotland...?), and then will resolve into a year studying International Human Rights Law through Queen's University in Belfast. I will have both adventure and a chance to continue my career and my passions in this new setting.
I guess I should wrap up this blog. I want to end with some kind of snappy words of wisdom, or an invitation to a certain understanding of these years. But the truth is that I am here, sitting in my nearly-empty apartment on the eve of my graduation, and feeling a sense of quiet satisfaction. I don't have any grand words. I just feel that I have accomplished far beyond what I set out to do: I came to the University, I loved my years here, and I know I am leaving a fair chunk of influence and inspiration behind.
So on that note, friends and readers, I'm going to take my leave. Thank you for your presence over these years. I hope you've found my words worthwhile.
This, along with so many other things, has led me to who I am today. Watch me launch.
"Tell me, what is it that you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
from "The Summer Day"
June 10, 2012 - 7:21 PM
My sister came to visit this weekend. From one perspective the timing was atrocious: this is the midst of my packing, leave-taking, and general process of bidding farewell to my college years. From another perspective, though, I got to have one awesome last hurrah in Eugene, with Kelly here with me to share in the fun.
And it was really, really fun.
Kelly and I are remarkably different people. She is short with dark hair, while I am tall and blond. She is a musical theater major at Colorado Mesa University, singing and dancing her way toward a degree and a future as an actress. She's all drama, all the time, with a mixture of extroverted showmanship and startling shyness in certain social situations. Her enthusiasm for theater makes an odd combination with my (in comparison) rather stodgy love for schoolwork, research, and the academic path. We are each making our way through the world by unconventional paths, but with a real passion. After a childhood of being close friends, it is startling to emerge in such different fields and divergent futures. We are very truly different people, the Little Sister and I.
But, as several friends commented this weekend, we have the same voice-laugh, speech patterns and all.
Kelly and I accomplished what I rarely do in a weekend: we got a bit of work done, but mostly hung out eating good food, watching nerdy TV (Blue Planet from the Discover Chanel as well as Firefly, the ultimate sci-fi experience), hanging out with friends, and going out for a great night of dancing in the "Barmuda Triangle" part of downtown. We laughed, we talked, we said a couple of goodbyes, and we essentially did what we've always done as sisters: we hung out together.
Next year is Kelly's final year of college. She'll graduate and then be off to some grand next phase of life, whether that's theater performance on cruise ships or voice-over acting for children's audiobooks. She'll be singing, tap dancing, obsessing over Shark Week, and making my fashion sense look ridiculous as usual.
I have always felt grateful for having a cool little sister. I've always thought she was this great companion through our years of growing up climbing trees, swimming, doing crafts, making up imaginary games, and then going through school-me always three years ahead. Some people become more alike as they age, and I don't think there's a single person who would say that about the two of us. Instead, the Little Sister and I have become our own people: two strong women looking to make a splash in the world.
What's wonderful, and what has left me with such a sense of hope and happiness at the end of our weekend together, is that we're going to live all our future adventures as friends. And that's a remarkable thing.
Thanks for the weekend, Kelly! I'm so lucky to have you.
June 7, 2012 - 5:44 PM
My time is growing short.
I've been saying that for a while, but it's finally starting to be real. I've said my goodbyes to the folks I know at the prison. I've had my last day of the re-entry group. I've attended my last Steering Committee meeting for Inside-Out. I've run my final Inside-Out alumni group meeting. I've attended my final day of class at the University of Oregon. I've completed my immigration internship. I've turned in my last paper, logged my last hours, and turned in the final-final version of my Master's Thesis. In a week and a half I will have my diploma, and will be jetting off into the next phase of my life.
It's a strange, strange time.
I'll be writing two more blogs: one more this week, and another for the week of Monday, June 18th. Then I'll have blogged my final blog as well.
As I'm saying my goodbyes, I am reminded constantly of my years here in Eugene and the times I've had. I'm going through old class notes and finding gems both in the lecture notes and in the scribbled margins. I'm going through letters received and photos on my walls. I'm getting rid of clothes I loved my freshman year and which I haven't worn since. I'm looking sadly at my collection of mugs, and getting that feeling that it's time to let some things go.
It is strange to walk on campus these days, knowing my time is so limited. How many times have I crossed the quad over these past five-and-a-half years? How many times have I walked into the EMU? I'm getting nostalgia at the strangest moments and beyond my power to control: I get choked up when I'm waiting in line for coffee, or when I'm crossing the street at 13th and Kincaid, wondering if Frog will accost me to purchase a joke book. When I saw the LTD Shouter today (still angry, and now wearing a tutu for a reason beyond my knowledge), I realized that Eugene has become a part of my imagination, and my deepest sense of identity. For the rest of my life, I will be looking for a home like this.
I'm doing my best to honor all my farewells as best as I'm able. I'm writing thank-you notes and bringing small gifts to the people who have offered their support and love over these years. I'm taking lots of pictures. I'm writing some, and keep intending to write more. I want a record of these last days on campus and in my home here. I want to take a moment to pause as I see this chapter rushing toward a close.
Time is speeding up, and I am still here, desperately trying to hold onto this last bit of my college years. Very soon, I'll be launching joyfully into a summer's adventures, and then into a next phase of my studies which I look forward to more and more as the time gets closer.
But this is also a time of mourning. I am grieving over the loss of this place as my everyday habitat, as my home. I've grown into this town, and this community is part of me. I don't know exactly what the future holds, but I don't imagine it will be as plucky, as strange, as welcoming, as challenging, and as full of tie-dyed spirit as Eugene has been. For my readers who are alumni themselves, I imagine that you remember your departures as a time of frantic logistical arrangements paired with quiet moments of intense nostalgia.
Anyway, that's how I feel tonight. Off for a stroll (last stroll?) down by the Willamette. Let's try not to get too dramatic, folks. The future's unfolding, and water keeps rolling under that footbridge.
It's finally my turn to take my leave.
June 3, 2012 - 10:12 AM
Tonight is the last time I'll be at the Oregon State Penitentiary, at least for the foreseeable future. We have a Think Tank meeting tonight, with the group of inside guys that is helping to train new Inside-Out instructors and has taken an enormous leadership role within the prison. Alex and I have been part of the Think Tank for over a year now, and I was there to see its early formation as a focus group, then an emerging set of leaders, and now a permanent and powerful force for education and change within the prison and the broader community. I know many of these guys from previous classes: some have been fellow students and others I've known as a co-facilitator in their classes. All are people who have had a profound impact on my life, and whose friendship I value deeply.
And tonight I say goodbye.
The Inside-Out rules mandate that I not be in contact with any of the inside folks except as part of the program. So all these years I've gotten to keep going back, to hold meetings and events and classes and to do this work that has now positioned us as colleagues in our efforts at education. But that's all been through the program. Now that I'm moving and my involvement with Inside-Out is going to be at a distance and to a much smaller degree, I will not be in touch with these people. I'll hear about the projects they undertake and the work they do as a group, but I will no longer be able to hear of and know them as individuals.
It breaks my heart.
I'm not really sure how I'll get through this today, or in the next few days. I have been extraordinarily blessed to have this time and these opportunities, and I'll be taking the lessons I've learned through Inside-Out forward with me for the rest of my life. No doubt in my mind about that. But leaving is hard, even when you have a chance to do it right and to say your proper goodbyes.
I wish I'd kept better account of all of our classes, meetings, activities, etc. over the past years I've been involved at OSP. I've spent hundreds of hours there, and gone through those barred gates so many times I can't remember. We've shared stories and celebrations and heartache, and have watched a few people come and go from the group over those years. Five years ago today I was a freshman, nineteen years old, and preparing for the closing ceremony of my first Inside-Out class, getting ready to say goodbye to those folks forever. Now I'm preparing myself again, with some of the same people in mind. More than almost anyone else, these guys have been present for the span of my college years. They don't know me as I am outside the walls, living my normal life. But they have known me there and seen how I've changed. And I've seen the same from them.
So tonight is goodbye. I don't know if this blog has made much sense-I'm a jumble of different thoughts and emotions about things right now. I guess this is a really important marker for me too: a real ending for these college years.
Deep breath. And now I'm taking my leave.
June 1, 2012 - 5:28 PM
I haven't gotten a chance to blog about the re-entry group as much as I would like. In fact, I've just scanned back through this term and I haven't mentioned it at all. How has this slipped past me?
This term, we have piloted a new alumni project working with youth offenders who are re-entering the community. This idea arose from a conversation I had with a community leader after one of the Sister Helen events. The woman's name is Elaine and she was interested in the idea of Inside-Out and the fact that there were UO students interested in restorative justice and engaging in dialogue with people who are or have been incarcerated. She works with counceling and services for youth recovering from trauma, including youth who have been incarcerated. She invited me to get in touch and to possibly design some kind of project with her. Of course I said yes.
That discussion has evolved into something truly incredible over the past several months. Elaine and her organization, the Trauma Healing Project, designed a support and skill-building group designed to engage youth who are on parole in Lane County. The idea would be to provide them a safe space to talk about issues of re-entry, and to also discuss some specific skills to help them feel comfortable and adjust to life post-incarceration.
Where I come in is the idea that a group like this could benefit from having a number of other young adults in the dialogue. And so this re-entry group was born. In its ideal form there will be 6-8 youth meeting weekly with two group facilitators and 6-8 UO Inside-Out alumni, who will all engage in discussion of certain ideas and struggles associated with re-entry.
I love this idea.
In practice, it has been different and in some ways better than I had hoped. We have met all of spring term, and have built a true sense of community working together with our two facilitators. Because it is a new program and due to several other circumstances, we have only had one consistent participate from the Oregon Youth Authority. Despite the low turnout on the youth side of things, the group has become a high point of my week, and I've both learned a lot and had a place to talk through some things I might not have otherwise. We've discussed communication styles, delayed gratification, anger management, conflict resolution, and issues when sharing a home with family or roommates. One of the best things about the group is how relevant that list is: we all need a bit of work in communication styles, do we not?
This week we each had ten minutes to tell important stories of our lives and who we are. We talked about our childhoods, our triumphs, our challenges. We took time to ask questions of each other, and to offer support.
I believe this project will continue over the summer and on into the next school year. I hope that it might become a permanent fixture of the Inside-Out alumni group, and that future groups will include a balanced number of youth and UO students, who can come together and really discuss things, the way we have. It matters to have a space where you can be open and honest, and where you can talk through some of the struggles in your life.
It matters for people coming out of jail or prison to have a safe space like that. And as a college student with lots of friends and family support, with a well-adjusted life and secure home, with everything going for me and a bright future ahead... having a space like this matters to me as well.