May 092013
 

Author: Mary Willson

          In the US, the average life expectancy is 83 years, according to the US Social Security Administration.

       A college semester is four months, which is .6 percent of that average. A university bachelors degree is generally obtained in four years, just 4.8 percent of the general American life.

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            Personally, I am finishing up my sophomore year. I have given 2.4 percent of my live to higher education to date.

 This identity of what I have become: class, exams, papers, extracurricular, jobs; internships seem to define me sometimes. All of the scholarly labels seem to be the aspects of me that my parent’s friends ask about. They don’t go around asking what I believe in, what I am passionate about, or what my favorite way to spend a sunny Colorado day is. They ask what I am studying, and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I find myself challenging this, wanting to lash out and rebel.  And then I remember, they are asking this because I am lucky. I am in college.

            As finals week comes into full swing, I notice social media highlights this negative conversation. Instagram snaps the scene of Morgan Library at 3 am, Facebook statuses about the burdens of hard tests, and twitter posts dedicated to hating chemistry or anatomy class. I am definitely guilty of this in one form or another as deadlines; finals and classes take their toll.

 Yet, the high traffic of this negativity we all show and feel toward the end of the semester causes an uneasy feeling every semester, and particularly this semester, as my life view has been rocked recently.

            This semester, I have completely been re-taught what education means to our world. I am from an education-focused family, my dad is a professor here on campus, my sister graduated from CU, and I have always been on the path to graduate from CSU. It is just how my middle class, Fort Collins raised life has been set. And there is nothing wrong with that, until I found myself forgetting I am lucky.

Francis and Isaya pose in December in front of a local school. Francis is finishing up his High School education this year and wants to get a degree in Agriculture and Tourism and become an educated tour guide in order to bring income back into his village.

Francis and Isaya pose in December in front of a local school. Francis is finishing up his High School education this year and wants to get a degree in Agriculture and Tourism and become an educated tour guide in order to bring income back into his village.

Brett Bruyere, Warner College of Natural Resource professor and Samburu Youth Education Fund founder talks with local teacher at a scholarship award ceremony in December.

Brett Bruyere, Warner College of Natural Resource professor and Samburu Youth Education Fund founder talks with local teacher at a scholarship award ceremony in December.

     In December, I traveled to Kenya, Africa through SLiCE’s Alternative Break Program. As cliché as it is to narrate how students will give anything to be in a classroom, to get the opportunity to have education–it is actually true. That played up sentence is not just from the Compassion International commercials. In fact, it is the reality of millions of normal college-aged students around the world.

     It is fun, energetic young adults, just like us—that are in love with education. The CSU group I was with became close with four students. These students have had their education funded by the Samburu Youth Education Fund—a donation based scholarship program set up by CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources professor Brett Bruyere.

A doctor, professor, tour guide, and chef they want to become, and they all travel hours to days to get to school, where they stay for five consecutive months to learn. And they know they are lucky, because they are the only peers from their village to get this education.

            The passion felt for having a future outside of their environment in the rural bush area of Archers Post, Kenya was invigorating after I felt worn out from a rough semester of 18 credits.

            An additional wake up call I felt mid-college experience this spring is visiting my sister, who has dedicated two years to teaching low-income students in Charleston, South Carolina through the non-profit organization Teach for America (TFA). TFA places passionate post-grads or professionals and matches them with failing schools, in order to keep skilled teachers in the system. My sister’s sixth graders are all extremely low-income, extremely below grade reading level and math due to lack of school funding, limited parental support and little educational influence. These students have never felt they even have the option to get a higher education and most don’t know anyone who has other than their teachers. They aren’t on the college track like I was, and most unfortunately will not ever be.

         My sister works hard to remind her students they can go on to be a college student, her room is decked out with Buff swag, her alma mater, and she is constantly highlighting students who have beat the odds like she believes they can. Yet, the culture shock she has felt moving from her college-dedicated life in Colorado to the juxtaposed life in South Carolina has sparked my realization as well: we are all an exception.

My sister, Laura, also coaches a cheerleading team as a TFA teacher.

My sister, Laura, also coaches a cheerleading team as a TFA teacher.

            I am currently in a mentorship program through CSU’s Access Center called the Dream Team, which was started at Washington State University, and has grown nation wide throughout the last years. The program’s objective is to give guidance, support and resources to higher education to first generation high school students in the community. Through this program, we have a weekly class in which we learn about the education system, identity and ourselves.

        Through the astonishing statistics about the nations true education system is daunting after growing up in suburbia Fort Collins, with the excellent Poudre School District.

            Overall, through these experiences, the reality of my college experience seems damn great compared to what the majority of countries, states, demographics and individuals face. I am in college, and I will graduate—just like most of us reading this.

            While the stress of school is real, and the dedication to education is widely apparent on campus, I cant help but think what if we all reframe the conversation. Together, we could change the conversation from negativity, to positivity. Instead of “finals will be the death of me,” what if we all reframe it to be “I am lucky to be working hard to get my education,” because the reality is, we are lucky.

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