My Tufts Daily Column (4/25): It’s Complicated…But Not Really

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Guys, so many feelings about all this, and updates on my role at the Daily. Know that even in this column, I was censored and threatened that my words wouldn’t see the light of…print…? For now just read and tell me what you think.

Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders It’s… complicated. But not really.

By Brionna Jimerson

Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013

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Question: How do you exist in this system without allowing it to consume you? How have I existed for four years at Tufts and in the Tufts Daily, and how will I exit both, not necessarily at peace but intact? By “complicating” — that is, questioning and assessing — them both, and always with a spoonful of salt.

This is my last column before the Commencement issue, and I want it known and marked that with this column, there is power in “the record,” in claiming space for language and experimentation, and I think I am outgrowing these three inches. But there is success — if this space for critique and voice was not open before, it’s open now. Please, fill this echoing void with consciousness, purpose and fun. A little fun.

You have probably never been to the Daily office. It is below Curtis Hall — down the driveway, next to the UGL office. Pop in sometime — the office is small and the walls are painted teal. This is where the editorials are discussed and written and the phone calls for additional sources go unanswered. This is where the writers and editors — all students, and none of them paid for their time and energy — work for upwards of 40 hours a week on end to inform a campus dialogue. The Daily has an institutional history, and it has been largely absent of brown folks, not for a lack of trying or interest. I was the first black managing editor of the Daily, and though I’ve been loved and cared for I feel I have been severely disrespected. I have watched and helped the Daily operate for four years, and I’ve worked alongside some of the strongest women I know. They came, saw and left. Why did they leave? Why did I stay?

I stayed because you deserve better. You deserve to read great articles about complex “issues” that don’t speak about you as a subject or topic in a policy report. I stayed because we require a prominent place at the table, not for representation but for respect and autonomy, because I have known too many women of color to take “medical leave,” their lives compromised after spending four years on this campus. How did we let that happen?

I stayed because some of the most opinionated people on this campus with the most to say literally cannot afford to pay the fee (time) because they are — you guessed it — already overbooked, overlooked or overwhelmed. I have lived in two worlds at once, and right-minded editors of semesters past — Alexa Sasanow, Gabrielle Hernandez, Bianca Blakesley, Amsie Hecht, Laina Piera, Annie Sloan and myself — have tried to make the Daily into a respectable house, though it is built on privilege and systematic supremacy of the “Tufts in general,” not “Tufts in ‘particular.’” Yes, my language is coded. No, “safe spaces” do not exist. Yes, you can break the code. Just try.

If you notice the impact my body has made in the Daily, know that our impact is there. I saw them trying to erase me, you and us and decided it was time to let them know. In the words of Kenya Moore, the queen of fan-induced shade-throwing showdowns, “Do not come for me unless I send for you.”

If you are brown and are interested in working at the Daily or, better yet, maintaining a literary and historical space of your own, tweet me so we can figure it out.

Now this is the hard part, letting go of the frustration and imagining and building a future beyond the scope and traumas that Tufts students, administrators and bystanders have enacted on its own community. We are moving from property and into personhood. Your silence will not protect you, but maybe we can find your voice. Yes, I just said that.

Dedicated to N., V. and K., and the great John Kelly, who, reminded me that we can be Christians and “radicals” at the same time.

My Tufts Daily column (4/11): Seeing through the optics of whiteness, a love letter to Black Tufts, and the erasure in “incidents”

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My Tufts Daily column, about Black people at Tufts, the white gaze, and the erasure in  “incidents”, complete with honesty (how refreshing!) Check back tonight about the process of writing this column, and more candid musings on the difficult miracle of, well, being. 

Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

A truly purpose-driven love letter

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013

I have been truthful from the beginning about my not quite knowing what I am doing with this column, but I have not been completely honest with you for a while. I think with the first column I had an intent to be the “true Brionna,” but I wanted to welcome you (but not all of you, not every voyeuristic eye that’s consuming me as a Tufts black woman for my “story”) on the journey as I explored myself and this (ex?) plantation we call the Medford/Somerville campus (look up that Tufts history, the Royall House and Ten Hills Farm, and sit with it).

In the beginning, I wanted to feature and connect with the often institutionally neglected black population here, because I wanted to speak to you publically, in one place at one time and on the record. I wanted this column to be far-reaching, but it can’t be at once universal in its message and critical. Every week when I started to write with intent and purpose — to talk to you about greatest triumphs and the disturbing underbelly of the college experience and the difficult miracle of existing at Tufts — I could feel the sincerity draining from my words.

I became preoccupied with how I’d be perceived by the white oppositional gaze of Tufts and the high schoolers visiting the school, clutching the Daily and their visitor brochures as they shuffle around campus while someone walks backwards and spouts about pre-major advising and meal plans. I am having that “Simba, you have forgotten me” moment, and now I am in the middle of the part where Simba has all kinds of epiphanies.

Even though I do a lot with this oppressive language (English), I fear I haven’t been doing enough, because I haven’t been honest, and even now I can’t be, but I need this on the record.

I love you, black people at Tufts, even (especially!) strangers, and I smile and say “hi” because I know that some days we feel like we are disposable at Tufts, like we are numbers, counting and learning tools on which our administrators and classmates work out their personal and academic development. So I smile at you, so you know I see you, and the least I can do is acknowledge your presence, because being present here isn’t always easy or healthy.

I do not think that survival can be understated in this moment, on this Thursday, when I still live in Sunday night, when my friends and I were dispersed around campus and, collectively, our worlds stopped with an email that announced the white supremacist “graffiti” on campus in Bello Field. The email read as coolly as an announcement about parking closures due to snow. What followed — a plea that members of “our” community  “reach out to friends and colleagues in the Tufts community as sources of support and comfort” — said to me, “If your feelings are hurt, if you’re not safe leaving your house, if you’re having violent, real flashbacks and recalls of what this is, try to feel better even though there’s no black counselor at the Counseling and Mental Health Services to turn to, even if you needed to.” The “graffiti” on Tufts’ property is not an “incident.” An incident exists as a singular moment. This is just the most recent (or publicized) manifestation of a symptom of the disease of what exists.

With these 600 words, I wanted to make this space in this Daily, so you could see and know that you are here, lovingly made and remembered by me, on the “record.” But I have acted, at times, under a constant optic of whiteness and fear, and my friends and fellow survivors deserve better. So over the next couple of weeks, I am giving you — not all of you — my best, as much as I can.

My Tufts Daily column (3/28): Degrees of Separation

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Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

Degrees of separation

 

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013

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What's gonna keep me warm at night? That's right. Those degrees.

When I was applying to colleges, none of my potentially first−generation college−bound friends had the nerve to entertain the thought of a gap year. I never thought critically about the prospect of volunteering on a political campaign or working full−time at an internship before delving into the overpriced pressure cooker that is higher education. “College is not an option; you will go to college,” my grandmother would say at the outset of any conversation we had about higher education.

A lifetime of being looked over and professionally punished for not having completed a college program had taught her that, while academic pursuits and interests were just dandy, college degrees breed opportunity, for better or for worse.

In my high school, the graduating seniors wrote their university acceptances on paper stars outside the college counselor’s office. I watched for weeks as stars were decked out with bubble letters of household name institutions and filled up like laundry lists of acceptances. I asked a student why he had not written anything down (as if he had to explain his decision−making), he said, “College isn’t for me.” I realized that I, like most of our peers, had assumed that the college would bring with it the promises of its magical symbolism. We had not taken into consideration the fact that so many of us truly are not “cut out” for endless lectures, rote memorization or academia.

But what about our peers, the foot soldiers who maintain that college isn’t the right option, and the strength it takes to actively reject the social flogging that comes along with actively deciding against college?

A great friend of mine inspired this column about the foot soldiers who opt out of college in pursuit of work, stability, discovery, duty or an unknown number of other quests and decisions and how they are judged without any regard to the internal work required to make such a decision. It is as monumental a choice to choose, at 18, an institution where you will live, study and be molded as it is to choose to be shaped in the “real world.”

Not until relatively recently in Western educational history did lawyers, doctors, journalists and architects pursue higher education to learn their trade instead of the usual route of apprenticeship. An added emphasis on “formal” education instead of vocational skill makes it easy to judge the individuals who choose not to go to college because they know that it’s not the only option.

The concept of a college education is extremely complex, way too intense for 600 words, and every day, it’s being further complicated, glorified and debunked by those inside and outside of the “ivory towers.” College degrees try to connote that a person has chosen one life path over another, aligned herself with another set of goals and expectations over another, and the parallel is to be drawn stiffly between those with degrees and those without who instead attend the school of life.

We are going to call these degrees of separation. Let us consider the self−knowledge (or −awareness, or a lack thereof) that it takes to do that and the people who are not in college because it was not for them, because it was not made for them. These spaces weren’t made with everyone in mind — we can be honest about that. From what is taught to which programs are funded and underfunded to how dissent is “managed,” it is clear. So when someone can break from that and know it’s not for them, that is why they are they judged, put down as “go−nowhere” people. They are seen this way because they refused to enter into situations that could do more harm than good, because they don’t subject themselves to these environments.

My Tufts Daily Column (3/14): To Do: do.

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Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

To-do: Do.

By Brionna Jimerson

 

Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013

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I refuse to believe I am alone in this, so, question: Do you spend more time making to-do lists than doing?

I will be very blunt right now: The absurdly vague task “figure it out” has shifted from one of my “to-do” lists to another for the last few weeks, but it has gone virtually untouched. I rewrite a new list every day. As part of my daily “to-do,” I carve out 10 minutes to write a round-up “to-do” list, then parcel that list out into manageable (read: could possibly happen today) tasks and “long-term” (read: this should happen — “should”) tasks.

But I have not “figured it out” because, honestly, I have been too lazy and depressed at times to muster up the energy to think critically about anything, let alone myself. This is where self-care circa column two comes in. The menial tasks of the “to-do” continue to pile up, and they’re small enough to power through, but what about that glaring “read all the bookmarked articles” and “figure out life” tasks I write on each list?

A smart person I dated once told me, “Brionna, it’s like you’re the toast, and your to-do is the butter on the toast. If the toast is cold, it will not melt the butter, and it will not be yummy. You have to warm up the toast by getting things done and feeling good about yourself so that the butter melts easily” — meaning the tasks come naturally and you’re not as overwhelmed. This person and I communicate mostly through metaphors and carbohydrates and occasionally through combinations of the two. Soul mates.

See, it all ties back into the idea from two weeks ago, when we played the “should” game (we all lost, by the way), and the thought that we “should” be able to do more, when the reality is that we cannot. Fact: Doing great things takes time. Finding yourself takes time, and the atmosphere at Tufts does not make it an easy — hell, even an enjoyable — task most of the time. It feels like we have to break down to absolutely nothing (involuntarily) to even see a glimpse of who we are or who we could be.

The friend I mentioned in last week’s column, we’ll call him “11:30 in the J Field,” stopped me outside of Dowling Hall last week, and we stood around talking. Within seconds we were talking about how all he wants is to decompress and find out who he is outside of Tufts, outside the context of school and from underneath the oppositional gaze. His face lit up when he spoke on thinking of his future, but then I could see reality settle in again: Taking “time off” after graduation will not be restful for him at the start — it would not be financially feasible. For him, a job is not an option, it is a necessity and self-discovery/self-realization, and the slow process toward getting to a place of content will not come for a while.

This is real, and it is everywhere.

So, here’s your only spring break assignment: Chill. Do, and chill. Get around to it. Not all of it, just some of it, whatever “it” is, and when you do, stare at it from all angles, then breathe and move on. I will be out of the country, so tweet me if you need any help or less vague guidance. We will see what we can d

My Tufts Daily Column (3/7) — 73 Days, but who’s counting?

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Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

73 Days — but who’s counting?

By

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brionna Jimerson column

One of my best friends’ Twitter byline reads, “May 19, 2013, 11:30 a.m. in the J Field,” the time and place of his graduation ceremony. I think he is over the 76 Days celebration.

Anyway, last Sunday we celebrated the 76 Days Celebration after Blizzard Nemo pushed back the 100 Days Celebration to last Sunday’s less symbolically trendy date, and members of the class of 2013 (and some subversive and hungry 2014 kids) filled the Alumnae Lounge, dressed in the most semi of semi−formal and ready to mingle awkwardly with classmates. It felt like pre−frosh orientation all over again, except this time there were free Jumbo magnets, sunglasses, portfolios and muffulettas.

I did a couple of laps, talked to some acquaintances, gave awkward hugs to folks I haven’t interacted with since freshman year, stood around a table with my friends, made firm plans to get lunches and dinners (finally! No more “should!”) and watched the slideshow of photos that all looked the same. It took a while for the gravity of the moment to sink in — that in 76 days I would be referring to Tufts in the past tense, and my friend’s Twitter bio would come to fruition. While we are angst−ing it out over the next few stress−filled weeks, my friend is planning — at the ready and excited — to put Tufts in his rearview. But how did we get here?

The 76 Days Celebration probably had good intentions — an excuse to enact “tradition” and get us all feeling warm and cozy about our Tufts career, just in time for alumni giving, before we forget some of the emotional and physical trauma that accompanies growing as people in a foreign environment on our own. We were nostalgic for 2009 in that lounge, but tradition and the whole thing is making me feel claustrophobic, like there’s something expected of me, and unless I agree with all of the fluff I’m unworthy, when in reality I’ve worked my ass off, and it’s a celebratory time. I’m alive. We’re alive. Where is the dance floor?

I expect that I will feel more anxiety in the coming weeks than I felt in the whole of 2012. The countdown was initiated on the day I boarded the plane for pre−orientation in August 2009, and now I am coming out on the other side (yes, I have been in a portal−bubble for four years). The event may have been good in its intentions, but in my experience initiating countdowns brings with it the “should,” and we know how useful that is. But I don’t feel tethered to the Hill, the dining halls, the traditions; I’m ready to practice what I’ve been learning and to see what sticks. I’m ready to live on my own terms, sans a block schedule. Cue the claustrophobia.

When it’s “tradition” time, we don the brown and blue in the name of “community.” I think of my friends at Tufts, many of whom I’ve seen fall apart and shed themselves, only to come out stronger — and traumatized, to be honest — on the other side, ready to pack Tufts up and run for greener (and hopefully less steep) hills.

Between the celebrations, senior nights, senior dinners and other forced and inauthentic bonding moments, I’ve realized that so much time has lapsed between mindlessly wandering to the dining halls three or four times a day (remember when that was an option?) and now, fretting over projects, research, financial security and the simple things, like where the heck do we go from here? I motion for a collective nap and reassessment of life. Who’s with me?

http://www.tuftsdaily.com/features/brionna-jimerson-respect-your-elders-1.2815757#.UXa-vLXvvzx

My Tufts Daily Column (3/1) — The S-word

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Brionna Jimerson | Respect your elders

The S-word

By

Published: Friday, March 1, 2013

Brionna Jimerson column

Should.” The hell. Seriously, why do we still employ this word when talking about ourselves? I should have written this column five days ago, but here I am, after deadline, piecing my thoughts together in some 600-word cohesive something. Sorry to shatter the illusion (was there ever an illusion?), but I am 100 percent a procrastinator and the s-word revolution starts … tomorrow.

Yes, the s-word. One of the most crippling and ineffective words in our lexicon when referring to ourselves and our shortcomings.

Maybe it’s the senior-year nostalgia kicking in, combined with my longing to go back and rethink my college decisions, but I’m finding that everywhere I turn, either I or someone else is lamenting on personal failures — “I should update my LinkedIn page,” or “I should’ve majored in American Studies” (save yourself the trouble — reference the turmoil I mentioned a couple of columns ago and explore that major now) — and it’s kind of seductive, in a creepy, wallowing way. “Yes! Reminding myself of what I’m not doing is a surefire way to kick myself into gear!” said nobody ever.

So much of what we “should” do is driven not by personal fulfillment but by projecting onto ourselves what we see and admire in others, without taking into account the process folks go through to become who they are. We see it, we covet it, we want it and when our “shoulds” just aren’t enough we fall to pieces, and then blame ourselves because we “should” be stronger? See? See how gross and creepy this is? We should start a “should” support group. But actually.

Honestly, I think “should” is great for impeding progress, the sentiment being that whatever you are doing now or whoever you are now is inherently wrong, and there’s something better for you waiting if only you’d be better.

“Should” never leads to actual change, or a hint of it. It simply leads to more uncertainty and perpetual frustration. “Should” doesn’t take into account that we’re human beings who are capable of change in our own time. “Should” reigns at Tufts. Should is the reason why so many people graduate and continue on with jobs that pay the rent but neglect the self. If we are going to play this game then we “should” not have come to college, because we “should” have already acquired the skills, research abilities, knowledge and wisdom to transcend the need for higher education institutions. You see there? “Should” denies reality and discounts us as individuals.

As someone who lives in a perpetual state of “shouldacouldawoulda,” I can tell you in earnest that “shoulding” on yourself does more harm than good.

Telling yourself that you “should” study more effectively will not help you study more effectively. Telling yourself that you should spend more time alone getting to know yourself won’t lead to actual self-awareness, it’ll lead to self-shaming once you fail to carry through with what you “should” be doing, and it leads to judging yourself. And when this happens, all roads lead to Häagen Dazs and Netflix.

So, it is time to try something different. To change, we have to acknowledge how we’re feeling and thinking and make an honest assessment. “Should” makes us aware of what is wrong, without giving us the tools to fix it. Are your actual values in line with this desire? If you want to change, avoid “should” and work on doing. When you learn how to do this, let me know.

But seriously, we should get coffee.

My Tufts Daily Column (2/21) – Where is the symposium on family diplomacy?

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Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

Where is the symposium on family diplomacy?

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013

Brionna Jimerson column

Welcome to spring symposium season at Tufts. In the coming weeks, you will be flooded with scholars, panels, invites, experts and roving students in search of their next free lunch in the Cabot Auditorium lobby or catered reception in Alumnae Lounge. No judgment here: I will most likely be beside you, eating my fill of cheese squares and pita pieces.
But where is the symposium that teaches us how to navigate our family lives and emotionally one-sided relationships while keeping independence and self-esteem intact? I’m starting to feel like I need a conference on what I call “family diplomacy.”
To me, family diplomacy is the careful and strategic implementation of obligatory phone calls and feigned interest for the sake of some semblance of peace. I have studied alongside the best (equally despondent friends) and I have practiced in the field (Tufts — keep up!), but I still feel like a novice when I make small talk with my Midwest relations.
I treat home like I treat the annual Emerging Black Leaders (EBL) Symposium or Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) Symposium: I go, sit, absorb, listen, smile politely, ask a question and then off to the airport again. I’m a few hundred dollars lighter and a couple of weeks older, emotionally and fiscally spent, wondering if the consequences of enduring a less-than-thrilling jaunt to the Midwest are worse than the judging that accompanies choosing not to go home.
It is a constant side-eyed cease-fire. The battle lines are drawn via Skype, passive-aggressive Facebook comments or tense texts. Or, if you are like me, you do not draw lines at all and hope that that brilliant explosion on the horizon distracts everyone … but it doesn’t.
A recent conversation I had with an amazing friend reaffirmed to me the significance and complexities of kinship and how family does not always connote positivity. We mused on our mutual sacrifice of our sanity for the “greater good of home.” The alternative of asserting yourself can be worse and potentially more dangerous, especially if you depend on family for social or financial support.
“I’m tired of being hopeful and being hurt in the process,” he said. When he left, I cried and then watched “Scandal” because that’s kind of where my life is right now.
So, what do you do when your warped sense of familial respect and duty is one-sided and all-encompassing, with no room for growth or adaptation? What do you do when being “respectful” to your blood is being repressive towards yourself?
Answer: You take care of yourself. You love yourself so hard and so deeply that you can’t even stand it. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I have found, in my misadventures of only-childhood, that when there is an artificial sense of obligation to family, it’s hard to separate my own thoughts from those projected onto me. I try to remember that I have to live with myself for the rest of my life and that I make any of my peripheral relationships on my own terms. That is why I am in the middle of breaking up with key members of my immediate family. It is not me, it is them.
It’s toxic and dangerous and we need to talk about it, because it’s so multifaceted and because I have no answers. But I have a feeling that we are all walking around with these questions. Now, fill out an R25 for The Danish Pastry House and email me, and we will find the answers together over carbohydrates and tea.

My First Tufts Daily Column: Respect Your Elders

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This semester should officially be known as my “Daily” semester: I’m working as Managing Editor, I’m writing for Arts/News (when I damn well feel like it, or when there’s an exceptionally amazing episode of Real Housewives on), and I’m  a Features columnist! Cue the daily Daily overload. My weekly Features column is called “Respect Your Elders” (because I’m all of 22 years old. I’m elder.), and chronicles my Tufts experience thus far with unsolicited advice, and delves into the significance of being a first generation college student. At the outset I was worried that writing such a personal and widely applicable column would be appropriating my life/story, but I’m confident that my target audience (read: Tufts students who rarely if ever see themselves, their experiences, concerns, or thoughts reflected in the Daily) will appreciate my efforts. My column comes out e very Thursday, check it out *here* and here)

Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

Notes from a senior (active) citizen

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

BJ Column

Hi! I am Brionna, a senior at Tufts, and you are about to go on a semester−long adventure with me. I hope you brought your quest cap, and buckle up. It will be bumpy, it will be uncomfortable, but stay tuned in and keep reading — it will befan−freaking−tastic.

For starters, let’s discuss the purpose of this column. This column every Thursday will serve as a cautionary tale for some, a beacon of hope for others and a makeshift space for me (this is where it gets bumpy), but it’ll highlight and capture some of my musings on Tufts as a second−semester senior preparing to leave the Hill for greener, but perhaps equally steep, hills in the “real world.”

My time at Tufts has been peppered with bouts of activism, reflection, long nights at Tisch poring over something−or−other and midday naps that somehow turned into up−at−3−a.m.−rants, but it hasn’t been short of insight. So, let’s begin somewhere near the beginning.

I am a first−generation college student. What that means, for me, is that I am the first person in my family to attend college and I’m the closest to graduating of anyone in my family. As a result, much of my Tufts experience has been a very fly−by−the−seat−of−your−pants sort of adventure, with no road map, color−by−numbers or eight easy steps. Yes, I bought all of the “secret to surviving college” books pre−matriculation, and yes, I read them cover−to−cover. I have yet to encounter a (inexplicably) naked roommate, and being a “collegiette” for me doesn’t involve sorority life. I will be discussing and reviewing aspects and stories from my Tufts experience through the rearview mirror of my college career. We will go over how showers kept me going during sophomore year, the “major” question you field from your family (and other inane questions, like the equally maddening follow up, “What are you going to do with that degree?” We’ll discuss the degrees that nobody talks about — the MRS. and MR. degrees — and look into what it means to be an active citizen at Tufts, fighting a good fight even if it’s unpopular or misunderstood.

But let’s be clear. In May I am graduating with a B.A. in American studies, not a Ph.D. in the psychology of higher education (that is a thing), but my experiences and thoughts are still here, so that is that.

Over the years I’ve undulated between social groups, levels of activism and levels of academic engagement, but everything always comes back to that insipid Stephen Schwartz lyric from the musical “Wicked:” “There are bridges you cross you didn’t know you crossed until you crossed.” Therefore, that’s part of what this column is. It’s me looking at the bridges I’ve crossed in retrospect, bridges you’re probably coming up to on your walk through Tufts, and ones you’re dancing (or being dragged) across now. We’ll look at overcommitting, dreams deferred, G1 student life, liberal arts anxiety (I’m suffering from it now!), finding your genuine interests, activism, impact, the types of people you meet at Tufts and exactly what to do when nobody is answering your calls on a Thursday night. Because, let us face it, we have all been there. Right? Oh? Just me? Ok. I have invested myself, my heart, my joy and energy into this university, and now that I have a moment to reflect on it I want to share my musings with any lovely reader with five to 10 minutes to spare looking for a quick and interesting read. If at any point you have qualms, you know what to do — send an email or find me on campus. I’m five feet tall, so finding me shouldn’t be too hard. Challenge accepted? Ok, let’s go.