Rochester: Farmer's Markets

It turns out that the term “farmer’s market” has many different meanings, stretching from a giant warehouse of goods to a tiny stand on the side of the road. In the past few years, I’ve explored many of them in the Rochester area. Though the ones I chose to feature are on the larger side, don’t pass up an opportunity to stop at a cute little fresh fruit and veggie stand— their crops are cheaper and tastier than anything you’ll find at a grocery store.

 

Powers Farm Market

161 Marsh Rd., Pittsford

Though Powers is open multiple times throughout the year, it is best known for its Fall activities. A trip to Powers is an annual tradition for many families, which includes hayrides, a petting zoo and walking through the World’s Largest Teepees containing intricately carved pumpkins. Powers has any shape or size pumpkin you could possibly want, with hundreds to choose from. Before you go, make sure you go inside and grab some delicious homemade treats including candy apples, fried cakes and fresh apple cider.

 

City of Rochester Public Market

280 North Union St.

The Public Market is an obvious classic. Making a weekly trip to the Public Market is a great way to spend less and get fresher food. Public Market vendors sell ready-to-eat meals to energize you for your morning of shopping, and a wide variety of groceries and merchandise to take home. It consists of three sheds, two covered open-air and one enclosed, so it stays open rain or shine. On the busiest days, the Market sees over 300 vendors and independent local businesses. There’s something for everyone!

 

 

Gro-Moore Farms

2811 E. Henrietta Rd.

After a long day of driving all over Rochester to various “farmer’s markets”—most of which ended up being just stands on the side of the road—I was feeling less than motivated. Finally, I pulled into Gro-Moore’s parking lot and my eyes lit up. I spent the most time in Gro-Moore than I had spent in any of the other markets. Not only do they have any type of plant and gardening tool you could ever need, but they also carry kitchen supplies, decorations (indoor and outdoor), and a wide array of fresh fruits and veggies. I bought raspberries and a super cute cat mug, and was dangerously close to buying a large gnome. It was definitely worth the 20-minute drive from Penfield.

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Whittier Fruit Farm

219 Whittier Rd.

Whittier is my go-to place for apple picking, especially when you’ve got kids to entertain. After riding around on the tractor to the various types of apple trees as well as the pumpkin patch, the farm has a mini playground and plenty of fall-themed goods to purchase. Though they don’t consider themselves to be a farmer’s market, they provide goods for many local ones.

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reputation ★★★★

In fifth grade I went to a Rascal Flatts concert—my first concert, besides the American Idols LIVE! tour. Gary Allen opened for the main act, but even before he came on, a cute teenage girl with blonde wavy hair and glittery cowgirl boots played a few acoustic songs about middle school heartbreak. By school the next day, I had forgotten her name, but luckily my friend Margot remembered and bought her CD for my birthday.

I was ten years old, which means I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan for 12 years. I’ve seen her ups, downs, and way, way downs, from an obsessed fan and borderline stalker perspective. I will always and forever love The Old Taylor. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m not ready to embrace New Taylor and love her equally but for completely different reasons than her predecessor. 

I feel that I grew up at the perfect time to experience Taylor as I needed her in those stages of life. When she released each album, I was just a couple of years younger than she was when she wrote the songs, so I always had heart wrenching music to turn to when I needed to hear the words of someone who just went through the same thing. She changed as I did. She’s growing up while I am, which is why I defend her when she does something stupid. Because we’re all stupid, and she’s just figuring it all out like the rest of us. 

Anyways, this album pleasantly surprised me, and I hope everyone gives it the chance it deserves. Though the average of the ratings I gave each of her songs is just 3.27 out of 5, I give the album as a whole 4 stars because of the cohesiveness of the album as a whole, and the statements it makes. It can’t be compared with The Old Taylor because they’re two different people. Though I am not typically a pop fan and this album is 100% pop, it will stand out in the mix of 2017 pop albums. It makes me want to dance and run and scream and cry—all the things that make her Taylor.

1. …Ready For It? ★★★

I have mixed feelings about this song. Old Taylor peeks in for the “in the middle of the night, in my dreams…” chorus but quickly runs away as New Taylor asks us if we’re ready for her. The song is catchy, but I think New Taylor becomes much more interesting and successful later in the album.

2. End Game (feat. Ed Sheehan and Future) ★★★

I don’t love the intro which is also the chorus, but I love what comes immediately after the intro, which is Taylor pretending she’s not the whitest pop princess in America. I have no problem with her experimenting with this style of lyricism; she puts her Taylor spin on it, which I’ll always be a fan of. The hilarious trio make this a very enjoyable song. 

3. I Did Something Bad ★★★★

This song has the perfect amount of Taynger and belongs on every runner’s playlist, which justifies her use of a cuss word (If a man talks shit then I owe him nothing…) for the first time ever in one of her songs. 

4. Don’t Blame Me ★★★★½

Maybe it’s because I’m engaged and her heartbreak songs don’t resonate the way they used to, but I get the chills every time I listen to this song. This certainly isn’t a classic Old Taylor ballad that has every girl everywhere in tears, but this song fires me up in a good way. It makes me want to scream the lyrics and dance with my friends instead of journaling about the boy that broke my heart this week. I. Love. This. Song. I love this song! I will shout it from the rooftops for the rest of my days. 

5. Delicate ★★★

Some lyrics from this song bother me because it feels like she’s trying too hard to be hip, but at least she’s acknowledged that her reputation’s “never been worse.” Still, the softer beat is a refreshing break from the intense beats of the rest of the album. 

6. Look What You Made Me Do ★★★

Though I cringe at the fact that she borrowed the chorus from “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt,” this song really establishes the album perfectly. It was crucial for her to release this as the first single, establishing the New Taylor of reputation. The music video also really adds to this song—I instantly liked the song more once I saw the music video, and I like the song more every time I listen to it. 

7. So It Goes… ★½

This song truly does nothing for me. Sorry, Tay. I still love you. 

8. Gorgeous ★★★★

After the first two singles she released, this one gave me hope for the album. Some lyrics in this song seem pretty mediocre (it makes me hate you so much, I hate you so much) but I love the vibe and beat of this song. Also, the hilarious bridge (Guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats… Alone…) reminds us of Tay’s great sense of humor that only comes out when we’re lucky every once in awhile.

9. Getaway Car ★★½

This song is growing on me as I listen to it more, but something about it doesn’t sit right with me—maybe it’s because I can’t imagine Taylor Swift committing any real crimes, or because she basically admits to being a total backstabber (I put the money in the bag and I stole the keys, that was the last time you ever saw me…). 

10. King of My Heart ★★★

The lyrics of this song are very Old Taylor but it’s set to totally New Taylor beats. She’s adapting a sort of EDM style throughout the album, and especially in this song. 

11. Dancing With Our Hands Tied ★★½

This one also belongs at an EDM concert. Now that I’ve listened to the album nearly a dozen times, this is one of the first songs I’m getting sick of.

12. Dress ★★★

Tay releases her sexuality! She does a great job portraying the sexual tension. New Taylor definitely doesn’t belong in the hands of middle- and high-schoolers like Old Taylor’s music did.

13. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things ★★★½

This hilariously petty song reassures us that, even though Taylor’s doing her best to avoid social media and fellow celebrity haters lately, she’s not above holding grudges. 

14. Call It What You Want ★★★★

The fourth and last single Taylor released before the rest of the album came out reassured fans of Old Taylor that all hope is not lost. It’s a healthy dose of Old Taylor vibes while incorporating New Taylor beats. It’s also refreshing to hear she’s deeply in love with a stable relationship.

15. New Year’s Day ★★★★

This is the closest we get to an Old Taylor ballad, but now that she’s madly in love and in a long-term relationship, we get this New Taylor ballad which tugs at the heartstrings but without the heartbreak. 

Kylie Mitchell: ImmaEatThat

This month, Registered Dietician and Master of Public Health Kylie Mitchell came to Syracuse University to talk to Nutrition students about being a non-diet dietician and maintaining a popular blog, ImmaEatThat. Though there must have been at least fifty people in the room, I would guess that I was one out of about three people in the audience who aren’t Nutrition majors. Though I can’t say I’m surprised, and it wasn’t heavily advertised to non-Falk students, I’m still incredibly disappointed in the lack of turnout.

Mitchell talked about issues that are already on the forefront of Nutrition students’ minds, and that need to be talked about with the general Syracuse student population. She explained the spectrum of how people eat, ranging from instinctive eating to disordered eating to eating disorder – and that intuitive eaters start eating at the first sign of hunger, and stop eating when they feel satisfied. She said that the only purge she endorses is a social media purge, which involves unfollowing any account that makes you feel bad about your body in any way, suggesting that you “create a bubble of coziness for yourself” with body-positive accounts.  

Ophelia’s Place, a nonprofit in Central New York committed to redefining “beauty and health by empowering individuals, families, and communities impacted by eating disorders, disordered eating, and body dissatisfaction,” partnered with NEPA to bring Mitchell to SU. "There is no such thing as 'good' food or 'bad' food. Food does not carry with it a moral judgment,” said OP Director Gillian McGann. “Essential fuel for our bodies? Yes. Pleasure? Yes. Opportunities to be with the people we love? Absolutely yes. A statement about our worth, value, or righteousness? Nope. Not even close." 

According to Intuitive Eating, a book Mitchell mentioned in her lecture, “eating doesn’t occur in a void. Regardless of your weight, food usually has emotional associations.” According to Registered Dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche, intuitive eating involves being compassionate with yourself about how you use food to cope with your emotions, and understanding how to handle pain in healthier ways. There are four key thought processes which help minimize emotional eating habits:

•           Ask yourself if your body is physically hungry.

•           Assess your emotional state. What are you feeling?

•           Figure out what you need based on your emotional state.

•           Ask for help.

Tribole and Resche say that “the first task in learning how to cope without food is to acknowledge that you are entitled to having your needs met.” But we often fail to meet our most basic needs, such as: getting rest, getting sensual pleasure, expressing feelings, being understood and accepted, being intellectually and creatively stimulated, and receiving physical comfort.

Mitchell touched on this in her lecture by using a bucket metaphor. We have two hunger buckets: one for physical hunger, and one for emotional hunger. She encourages us to inventory our buckets, and to acknowledge whether we’re using food to fill our emotional hunger bucket, which can and should be filled with life’s delights other than food.

McGann says that she knows what her body needs, she just has to trust it and listen. “Our bodies tell us when they're hungry. They tell us when they're full. They tell us when they want a chocolate milkshake and when they would prefer some grilled salmon. Our bodies are amazing, and when we feed them well, let them sleep, and give time for ourselves to listen, they will tell us exactly what they need.”

Once we process what we need, we seek nurture, deal with our feelings, and find a distractor other than food. Emotions – such as boredom, procrastination, excitement, frustration, anger, sadness, connection, anxiety and stress – too often trigger our eating habits, rather than biological hunger itself.

“I’ve definitely used it to cope with stress. Like, I’ve over-consumed with stress but I’ve also under-consumed with stress,” says Katy Davis, one of the Nutrition students at Mitchell’s lecture. “I feel like food is the only thing I can control when I’m stressed.”

Davis seeks a graduate degree and certification as a Registered Dietician, and believes that food has a different power for everybody. “I think it has a lot of potentially good power, like I think food can be the most empowering thing when I think of health disparities or inequality – food is what people can own and what can empower people. But at the same time, food can be the biggest demon to people. I’ve definitely lived that and experienced that and still do sometimes but I think I’ve found the freedom in it and I think it’s the most profound thing. It doesn’t have to be such bondage that it is.”

McGann challenges us to imagine how much we could accomplish if we stopped eating away our emotions and worrying about food. “Imagine all the time we spend thinking about what we can eat and won't and when and how much, and imagine all of the other things we could do if we had that time back. We could literally change the world.”

Live Oaks & Dead Folks

            I arrive for the “Live Oaks & Dead Folks” Oakwood Cemetery Tour twenty minutes early after giving myself enough time to casually stroll to the entrance, avoiding speed walking into a pool of sweat. I see a little silver car parked along the grass and I can see a moving head in the driver’s seat. I peel my sticky bag off my back and put my things down by a tree behind the car, pulling out my notebook. A tall, decrepit woman steps out of the car with a confused face. “Are you in Melissa’s group? You’re a little early,” she grumbles. She walks toward me as I fumble with the tour pamphlet and the Historic Oakwood Cemetery Preservation Association newsletter, “Grave Matters”, which I received from Melissa the week before. She makes a few more remarks about how early I am and asks how many people would be coming as we see Melissa drive up in her red Subaru. Moments later, Maddie and Khloe arrive. Melissa walks up wearing a t-shirt, baseball cap and sneakers, greeting Sue. After a brief period of small talk, Melissa decides to shuttle the early birds to the tour starting area. I eagerly put my things in the trunk of her car and climb into the front seat without offering it to anyone else – I was sticky enough without being squished in the back seat.

            It’s 2:05. Four other girls and I are meandering, waiting for the rest of the class to arrive. We follow Melissa’s instructions to check out the lion statue on the hill. The bronze lion’s frail figure is evident by its prominent ribcage. The only other clues around the statue are a bench and a plaque on the ground which reads “HAGGERTY”.*

            The cemetery evokes Ruby’s cliché, spooky excitement. She tells us about when she and her friend strolled through the cemetery and found a wire noose hanging from the tree we’re all standing next to. She goes on to talk about her friend’s haunted house which frequently produces sounds of laughter and voices from the unknown. “These are pretty tall tales,” Khloe says with an eye-roll, just before going into a lengthy monologue about how she believes in “energies” and how cemeteries fascinate her with their residual energies from deceased corpses. “And this is why I’m single,” she says when no one responds.

            The second group of students arrives at the meeting spot and we all stand in a circle chatting about the cemetery. Khloe starts telling everyone about the town she grew up in, and how the Sword family and Harriet Tubman are buried in the cemetery there. She then goes on to share a story about how she was interviewed about her hometown the day after Mayfest one year, hung over and likely still stoned from the brownie she had eaten the night before.

            Perhaps my first smile of the event breaks through when Chaz steps out of Sue’s car and greets us, saying he got a private chauffeur. The whole class is finally here at 2:22, and we wait for Sue to get ready for her tour. “Gotta get wired. Bear with me,” she says as she hooks up her headset which wires to a portable speaker on her hip. She’s wearing a wicker hat with a green ribbon which matches her Oakwood Cemetery t-shirt that’s tucked into her khaki Dickies, secured with a black belt. She tops off the haggard zookeeper look with circular, thin-rimmed glasses and a pair of dirty white New Balance sneakers from the nineties. Her gray hair is almost shoulder-length and probably hasn’t been washed in days – an assumption which was reinforced when I get a whiff of her odor. As she walks she trails a funky, acidic scent of sweaty old people. She turns on her microphone and holds her notecards in her hand and turns to Melissa. “Well, where’s the introduction? Please!” she says to Melissa, who gives us the brief information she knows about Sue, in the most exciting way one can possibly describe a volunteer cemetery tour guide.

            Sue begins the tour by boasting about the cemetery. She provides the history of the buildings in the cemetery, and tells us that the “windows” in the old church building are actually just plywood painted to look like stained glass. “Cemeteries have two nemesiseseseses…,” she proclaims. “Mother Nature and vandals.” Sue repines over this fact throughout the tour as we encounter broken statues and spray-painted tombs.

            About halfway through the tour, Chaz sees a boy sitting in a tree and runs over to him while Sue walks onward, unfazed. “There’s something about that tree,” Melissa tells me. “Almost every time there’s some sort of shenanigans.” For the next half hour of the tour, about half the class becomes just a bit too engaged in the presence of this boy and his friend, who arrives to the scene shortly. I’m feeling excessively judgmental today, bitter towards all of my classmates who are getting over-involved in the lives of Brian and Nathan as Sue tries to continue the tour. I start to worry that maybe I should be as obnoxious as them. Is this what it takes to be a journalist, interviewing the stupid college kids on the outskirts of our tour? I breathe a sigh of relief when Melissa says the boys aren’t worth more than a minute of attention, shaking her head.

            We reach the next grave of the tour and half the class is still talking to Nate and Brian. Sue takes this opportunity to sit on a tombstone and catch her breath. The microphone carries the sound of her heavy breathing. After a few moments, she starts without the rest of the class, gossiping about Alonzo C. Yates, Jr.’s death. “They say he died of Lyme disease. I think he died of cirrhosis from alcohol,” she says. Once she finishes the tale of Mr. Yates, Sue tells us to “cross the ravine,” a river of mud from the previous night’s storm. We reach the monument dedicated to Syracuse’s founder and first mayor. At this point, most of the class is burnt out and finally stops writing down everything Sue says. I tune her voice out and enjoy the beauty of the ancient cemetery. The leaves on the branches above us are mostly green with yellow peeking out, easing their way toward autumn. On the whole tree which shades us from the sun, I count thirteen fully yellow leaves.

            On our way to the final gravesite, Sue warns us not to fall in any holes. “We’ve got woodchucks the size of small ponies,” she says, confirming Melissa’s theory that Sue mentions this metaphor on every tour.

            We arrive at Amos Westcott’s grave, where I lose concentration on Sue’s story. All I can focus on is the way her bicep wrinkles jiggle as she motions a train chugging along.

            The tour finally ends at 3:29 and we all thank Sue quickly and disperse. I snag shotgun again and impatiently endure Khloe boasting about the detail she captured in her notes about Sue’s appearance. I realize that I’m a total Teacher’s Pet because Melissa’s the only person I feel like talking to. Melissa drops us off near campus and I speed walk to class, blowing past the rest of my classmates.

 

 

* I later find out from Melissa that a sculptor’s brother died so he made the lion for his brother’s grave.

 

Profile: Tibor Palfai

May 26, 2016

In his spare time, Dr. Tibor Palfai sits at his desk on the fifth floor of Huntington Hall browsing through his favorite iPhone application, Drugs.com Medication Guide.

 

“It tells you everything you ever want to know about drugs,” says Palfai. “I punch in the app and put down the name and I get all the information I ever wanted – dosage, side effects, everything I want to know.”

 

Though Palfai is arguably one of the most knowledgeable scholars in the field of drugs in the nation, he says there’s always a new one coming out that he needs to know about.

 

Dr. Tibor Palfai has worked at Syracuse University for 46 years as a professor in the psychology department. His favorite thing about his job is the young people.

 

“You never get old if you’re with young people every day,” says Palfai. “And you also become quite modern, you move with the age. I know some of my age compatriots are completely lost, but I still know how to use a computer and apps and all that stuff. I keep up with the youth.”

 

Dr. Lewandowski, chairman of the psychology department, has known Palfai for 36 years. He says that, when people ask Palfai why he’s done this for so long, Palfai responds, “what else would I do? This is what I was born to do, why would I stop doing it?”

 

But Palfai has decided that he’s ready to retire in the next couple of years.

 

Lewandowski says that he thinks Palfai is finally seeing that it’s time to pass the baton. “I think we all, as we get older, we hear a voice inside – that is probably no one variable but a number of different things – age, energy, interest in doing some other things before it’s all over. Giving way to younger people, realizing that maybe you don’t want to work this hard anymore,” said Lewandowski.

 

Since he’s planning to retire soon, Palfai is only working on one study right now, which has been ongoing since 1978. It’s a questionnaire about students’ knowledge of drugs. “Just to see how life changes over time, that’s why it’s longitudinal,” says Palfai. “1970 students versus the 1990s versus the 2010s and the trends of drug use: what they liked before, what they like now.”

 

Palfai was born in Hungary and left home at the age of 15 during the Hungarian Revolution to finish high school in Germany.

 

“He made his way to North America and started his undergraduate studies with little knowledge of the English language, finished his Ph.D. in three years, and became a full professor,” said Tibor Palfai, Jr., one of Dr. Palfai’s two sons. Tibor is also a psychology professor, at Boston University. His other son, Jamie, is an attorney in Arizona.

 

Lewandowski says that Palfai’s sons are bright, accomplished and athletic, much like their father. “Not showy, not about themselves, not overly talkative,” he said. “I don’t think Tibor reveals that much of himself to people – he’d rather ask about you and how you’re doing.”

 

Lewandowski describes Palfai as interesting, charismatic, fun, smart, generous and competitive. “He’s a former champion squash player, tennis player and golf player,” says Lewandowski.

 

When one asks Palfai about what he used to do in his spare time, he humbly says that he participated in sports. “In those days in Hungary, soccer was the big thing. I also played water polo and table tennis. That’s about it,” says Palfai.

 

Palfai obtained his degree in Canada, where his interest in psychology began. He was working at a pharmaceutical company with a woman, Dr. Jane Stewart. “And she was gorgeous, I fell in love with her,” says Palfai. She was a psychologist doing animal research, married to a famous professor, Dr. Dalbir Bindra. “Soon enough I became his student at McGill.”

 

The drug that has always fascinated Palfai the most is LSD because a very small amount can send you into a fourteen-hour trip, and an even smaller amount actually reaches your brain. “It’s a miracle drug,” according to Palfai.

 

Since he arrived at S.U., Palfai has taught many different courses and initiated two new classes: Biopsychology, and Drugs and Human Behavior, for which he’s written his own textbook. On and off he’s taught the Introduction to Psychology course, and graduate courses including Behavioral Pharmacology, Drugs andLiterature, and a number of independent studies. On top of all of that, he’s the associate to the vice president of research and graduate affairs.

 

Lewandowski praises Palfai for the love and passion he has for his job, which Lewandowski says you must have to teach thousands of students for 46 years. “He’s taught more students at Syracuse University than perhaps anyone in the history of this school,” said Lewandowski.

 

Tim Reid is one of Palfai’s teaching assistants who explains that, in academia, there are certain people who you can just tell are experts in the field: “he’s that person in the field of drugs.”

 

At the end of each semester, all of Palfai’s teaching assistants get to go to lunch with him. “When he walks into the country club, they know who he is. He’s a big deal,” says Reid.

 

Reid describes Palfai as very professional, but still humor-filled. “He gives the T.A.s a lot of freedom, which I really appreciate. He does not micro-manage in any sense of the word.” According to Reid, Palfai is very hands-off, wanting his T.A.s to learn on their own. But for people who want guidance, he’s always available.

 

Palfai’s favorite thing about being around young people is “infecting them” with his biases. Palfai is a behaviorist at heart, which means that he believes the proper study of psychology is behavior, “not the dynamic components of the soul as some people do.”

 

Palfai’s proudest accomplishment is discovering the schedule-induced polydipsia in the mouse. In laymen terms, he created a situation in which pregnant mice get drunk so they can study the effects on offspring, which had a significant impact on fetal alcohol syndrome research.

 

“One 36-hour period is enough to create the symptom, which translated to human beings is the first trimester,” said Palfai. If a pregnant woman gets drunk for 36 hours, the baby will likely develop fetal alcohol syndrome.

 

After he retires, Palfai plans to write, paint and read, staying in Syracuse. “I’m not for the sun, I don’t like the sun,” he explains.

 

Palfai’s son Tibor said that his father “has a wide range of interests and a persistent curiosity about him that keeps him engaged and engaging. He has a relaxed and positive attitude and is someone who really enjoys all aspects of his day-to-day life.”

 

Brian K. Martens has been one of Palfai’s colleagues in the psychology department since 1986. “I remember being nervous to teach in front of a large auditorium and Dr. Palfai gave me a piece of sage advice that I still follow to this day,” said Martens. “He simply said, ‘Take the time to tell a good story.’”

Finals Week

April 19, 2016

           Today’s one of those days where I feel like I’m on the brink of a panic attack without ever actually having one. I almost wish I could just have one and get it over with, but instead my anxiety is deciding to be just on the edge of eruption all day. Of course this is typical for any college student at finals time, but I haven’t even reached finals week yet and I already feel the walls closing in as my assignments and textbooks suffocate me. I imagine myself failing my exams because my anxiety and depression are so debilitating that I can’t study, and then my GPA drops to a 2.0 and I fall off the Dean’s List and have to delete that proud line off my resumé that reads, “Dean’s List: All Semesters.” I don’t know what’ll come after that but my mind tells me it’s complete shame and utter failure.

           I know it’s ridiculous to go to these extremes, and even if I’m not on the Dean’s List it’s really okay. It’s not that I think this is normal or acceptable – I know it’s ridiculous and I should just calm down and remember that no one’s going to ask me what my GPA was my sophomore year when I’m interviewing for a job. It’s not my brain telling me that I’m a failure if I’m not a straight-A student, it’s my anxiety telling me that.

            I always encourage people that they’re so much more important than their grades and that they should always make sure they’re taking care of themselves before anything else, but this makes me one of the biggest hypocrites I know. I’ve been shaking most of today, having extremely negative thoughts and feeling nauseous, but I refuse to let my attendance grade drop in class because if I don’t show up one day then my whole grade will drop and my GPA will drop and I won’t be on the Dean’s List, so why would I ever skip class? I’ll just fall behind and I don’t even know what I would do to make myself feel better anyways.

           I wish I could be an example for others who struggle mentally by showing them that taking care of your body and mind will ultimately help your grades and any other goals that you have. I wish I could say I took today off to take care of myself so that by tomorrow I could get back to being productive without wanting to throw up.

           Sometimes I’m almost proud of my anxiety and depression because of how much they’ve taught me – but those are the times that I look at them as something I’ve conquered and is in the past. On days like these, I’m brought back down to the reality that reminds me that I don’t actually have control over everything. I’m sure this experience is somehow fruitful; either I’ll learn something from it or maybe someone will read this and feel less alone in their struggle. I’m just not sure why God is putting me through this right now, which just makes me feel bitter.

           Maybe the reason I feel so anxious and bitter and negative is because I didn’t get that internship and that guy did and I’m resentful that I’m not as good as he is. Maybe it’s because I got in a fight with my boyfriend last night and I’m overthinking whether he really wants to be with me. Maybe it’s because I got a B+ on that article that I thought I did really well on. Maybe it’s because I told that girl I would go to that event she’s hosting but I’m not going because I feel like I have too much to do so I feel like a bad friend. It’s probably all of these things combining into the common theme in my life where I feel like I’m not good enough.

           Typing that pains me because of how cliché it sounds, but that’s really what it all comes down to. My imperfections tell me that I’m always doing something wrong, which is another big piece of evidence for my hypocrisy. I truly believe that everyone is enough, everyone is valuable in their own way, and everyone is so deeply loved by someone. It’s not that I don’t think anyone loves me – I know Jesus does. But I have a hard time believing that people on this earth do, other than the family members who love me because they have to.

           And here we are, back to my illness taking over my mind – it’s not my brain telling me that I’m unlovable, it’s my depression telling me that. This is NOT a cry for help or sympathy; I don’t want you to text me and say “I love you stop thinking you’re not enough.” I want you to tell yourself that you’re loved and you’re enough, and I want you to know that you’re really not alone if you relate to anything I’ve said here.

           You are more than the numbers on your transcript, and I hope everyone reminds themselves of that as they head into these last few weeks of the semester. Maybe if I keep telling myself that, I’ll believe it, too.

Opinion: Gun Control

December 23, 2015

            It’s the eve of Christmas Eve: I’m watching Love Actually and decide to pause the movie to get some milk and cookies. On my way to the refrigerator, I notice something on the kitchen table, next to the gingerbread house my best friend and I made. It’s a thick packet of paper with a paperclip on it, and the top of it reads “MONROE COUNTY PISTOL PERMIT APPLICATION.”

            My first instinct is to shred it. Instead, I shout at my mother, asking what it’s doing there. “Must be Dad’s,” she says. She goes on to say how we have no idea how many “normal, sane” people walk through the grocery store with guns hidden in their jackets for safety. “I guess this is the world we live in,” she said.

           I storm down to the basement, papers in hand. “What the F is this?!” I scream as he stands in his woodshop looking at some tool I don’t know the name of. He giggles a bit, saying that he and our neighbors are going to start an army against “the democrats.” I stand there in bewilderment as he says it’s just for fun.

           You know what else is fun? Board games. Roller coasters. Concerts. Making gingerbread houses. Watching movies with cookies and milk. All of these things involve living people. You know what really ruins that? Guns.

           Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but let me discuss the claims that were made in those five minutes of fury. (Dad, this is only a little bit personal.)

            “It’s OK when only normal, sane people have them”: How are we measuring that? My dad is certainly sane (at least I thought he was), but that doesn’t mean that I’m OK with him having a gun. Yes, background checks would hopefully diminish the amount of mentally ill citizens with guns, but they’re not going to stop anyone from getting a gun who really wants one. Marijuana is illegal in most states but that doesn’t stop the high school potheads. When more people buy guns, the chances of them getting into the wrong hands increases dramatically. No matter who it is, buying a gun is only contributing to the problem.

            “It’s for safety”: We have really big knives, and we have this fancy combination of three digits we can call when we’re in danger. I’ve also heard that Tae Kwon Do can be one of the best methods of self-defense. Decreasing the amount of guns in our country is what’s going to make it safer – not buying more.

            I could go on for days, but I think I’m already digging myself a deep enough hole. Christmas is already going to consist of my family telling me I’m too open about my opinions. I didn’t shred the application because I know that wouldn’t stop my dad from buying a pistol, it would just make him pissed at me, which is the last thing I would want to do to a man with a gun.

Response to "How Sexual Assault Affects Me"

November 19, 2015

    My parents lecture me after almost every time I post on my blog, because they don’t think I should be exposing myself so much on the internet. I completely understand where they’re coming from and I do take it into consideration. This is something I thought deeply about before I posted my latest post on sexual assault, but it turned out to be more worth it than I would’ve ever imagined.

    After I shared my experience with sexual assault, I got text messages from people I haven’t talked to in years, saying that they needed to hear what I said. There are so many women out there who feel alone after experiencing something similar to my encounter because they’ve never had the opportunity to talk about it. I think the reason it took me so long to talk about it was because I thought people would say I was making a big deal out of nothing.

    If exposing myself comforted even one person, it would’ve been enough. But far more people than that expressed that my story helped them to feel less alone. Even if it wasn’t necessarily with sexual assault, people find comfort knowing that things can get better as soon as they know that they’re not the only ones struggling.

One girl sent me this: “I’ve been going through some tough times since I got to college and have struggled with mental illness and felt really alone. Your writing made me feel a lot better just knowing that there are people like you in the world. If you want to know if you’ve helped someone just know you’ve helped me.”

    I deeply hope that this isn’t coming off as bragging, because that would be a twisted way of looking at how hard it was for me to share that story. What I’m trying to get at is this: writing can make a difference. Even if I don’t have the answer to ending sexual assault permanently, it’s a success when I can show one person that their feelings are valid.

    I often get discouraged by the idea that there’s so much writing on the internet that mine will get lost in the blah-blah gush of people’s unwelcome opinions. This is another reason I refuse to write the typical, boring blog posts about how I feel about last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I’m not going to take the time to write anything if it doesn’t really matter to anyone.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s great that people are scared to post too much about themselves on the internet. Putting yourself in danger for the sake of social media is not worth it, and cyber bullying is a very real problem. I wouldn’t suggest telling the whole world your deepest, darkest secrets. Unless they have a purpose, and unless you’re ready for the world to fire back at you. There will always be someone who discourages you.

    Don’t be ashamed of what you’ve been through. They’ve made you into the person you are today, as cliche as that sounds. Mental illness and sexual assault are not caused by the victim. You didn’t make this happen, it happened to you, and now you can choose if you want to share your story to help others along their journeys through this messed-up world.

   My parents try to get me to censor my blogs so that future employers won’t know that I have mental illnesses or that people won’t know so much about my personal life. I’ve decided that I don’t want to work for someone who discriminates against people for biochemical disturbances in their brains. I’d rather be hired by someone who knows me for who I really am than someone who thinks I’m perfect. My past shaped the person I am today, and if any employers don’t like who that is, then we certainly wouldn’t work well together anyways.

How Sexual Assault Affects Me

November 13, 2015

I was sixteen years old. He taught me how to "make out" for the first time in my life and then he proceeded to put his hand down my pants. I grabbed his hand and told him to stop, and he did. I told him I didn't want to move so fast because of how inexperienced I was. A few minutes later, he did it again. This time I didn't say anything. I really liked him and I didn't want to ruin my opportunity and push him away. I had never felt this way with a guy; I'd never felt any sort of passion by touch. He was the first guy that had ever made me feel "hot."

He apologized afterwards and I acted like it was fine, which I thought it was at the time, because I thought this meant things were getting more serious between us. Naturally, he told his friends that he fingered me, which quickly spread. Two days later, my friends said that they “heard what happened” and asked me how it was. I didn’t want to give away all of the details, but I didn’t hesitate to brag about an older guy being into me. I was waiting for him to ask me to be his girlfriend. He finally did, and though I never told him this, I really thought I loved him. Before him, I had never felt physically intimate with a guy, and that made me care about him a lot. Sexual interaction deeply affects your relationship with someone.

 

A few weeks later, he started acting distant. We never hung out alone again, and I eventually asked him if he still liked me, and he said that he was losing feelings for me but that he wanted me “to decide whether we should break up.” I broke up with him, of course, holding onto my last crumb of dignity.

 

I later found out that he had been “talking” to another girl while we were still dating. (Side note: “talking” is a ridiculous trend that’s a precursor to actually dating; it basically just means you like each other and everyone knows it, and you text a lot.) They made their relationship official a month or two after we broke up.

 

Considering that I genuinely thought I loved this boy, it was a really tough breakup for me. I spent the next few months in one of my deepest bouts of depression, coming home every day to cry and write in my diary about how I wished he would come crawling back to me.

 

The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” It took me 2-3 years before I realized that this is what happened to me. It’s still hard for me to acknowledge, because of the lack of acknowledgement I received from anyone I told afterwards. Everyone says “I’m sorry that happened to you” and moves on. That’s plenty for me, because it’s in the past and I’ve moved on, but that doesn’t mean that it was okay. I think a lot of people my age are ignorant to what sexual assault really is, and how often it happens. Just because you weren’t fully raped while screaming for help doesn’t mean that it was legal.

 

I’m not looking for this guy to be arrested by any means. It was four years ago and I’ve forgiven him. I think he was just immature and didn’t realize what he was doing. What I hope is that people would be educated on what consent really means, and what is considered assault or harassment. Just because the victim doesn’t cry for help or push you off of her doesn’t mean that she’s consenting.

 

What happened to me may seem like a very small event, which in some ways it was. However, it did affect me psychologically in ways I didn’t realize until recently. Since then, I’ve really struggled to trust guys when they say that they actually have feelings for me. When a boy tells me I’m pretty or cute or sexy, I don’t believe them because my instinct is that the only reason they’re telling me this is to get in my pants. I’m lucky to have a boyfriend now who understands my anxiety, but I’m sure it drives him crazy that I doubt whether he really loves me after all he’s done for me over the past year.

 

To anyone who has experienced anything like this: you’re not overreacting. It wasn’t your fault just because you didn’t do anything to stop it. You didn’t say no but you certainly did not say yes, and therefore it shouldn’t have happened and you cannot blame yourself. We as a society need to acknowledge that girls who wear clothes that show off a lot of their skin aren’t “asking” for this to happen to them.

 

I have a very close friend who was raped once and I cannot even begin to imagine what that felt like. I think that our society generally agrees that rape is wrong and evil and completely unacceptable. Then why is it okay that he fingered me after I told him I didn’t want to move so quickly?

A Letter to the Victims of Mental Illness

September 25, 2015

          You are not alone.

          You’ve probably heard that saying about 678 times, but I needed to tell you again because I know it helped me when I felt like the crazy emotional girl. And it’s true, whether that makes you feel better or just bitter disbelief.

          It’s only been three years since I was officially diagnosed with biochemical anxiety, clinical depression, attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. I know I’ve got a long way to go before I can think “normally,” but I also know that I am immensely happier than I was three years ago. The reason I want to tell you these things is because I want you to know that it can stop, you do have the power to stop it, and it will not be like this for the rest of your life. As long as you do your part.

          I am far from being fully knowledgeable in this area of life, and I’m not trying to say that I know how to fix your problems. I just want to share things that have worked for me in the past.

 

Step One: Accept it.

          A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about how much I dreaded leaving high school. In the original version of the post, I included all of the mental disorders I’ve been fighting, but the version online now is a “clean” version. It’s a “safe” version, as recommended by my parents and their friends, who didn’t think it was a good idea to let employers know that I struggle with mental illness.

          The fact that they told me to do that is understandable; I know that they’re just looking out for me because, in reality, mental illness does not have a great social stigma. The fact that I actually edited it and took out the ugly truth is what bothers me most. I contributed to that stigma. I reinforced it.

Mental illness does not define me, but it is part of me. It’s made me who I am, which is not something that I am ashamed of (anymore, at least). As cliché as it sounds, every anxiety attack and bout of depression made me just a little bit stronger and more ready to conquer the next round. It made me reach out and grab amazing things that I never would have cared about otherwise.

          Before I went to therapy, I always thought of it as something that only “weak” people needed. I imagined the stereotypical room with a chair, a couch and a woman wearing all brown, talking in a monotone voice about “how that makes me feel.” During the first few months of real therapy, which involves none of those wretched things, I was still ashamed of it. I dreaded going into a room where the whole focus was on me and my feelings, where I had to acknowledge that I had problems. It took me a long time to admit these things to friends, and I hated my family knowing most of all. Because a lot of the time they were part of the issue, and they never realized that.

 

Step Two: No More “Should.”

          I completely acknowledge that we need to be grateful for the things we have, and how someone else’s circumstances will always be less fortunate. However, one of the most important parts of my recovery was realizing that I needed to stop thinking there were certain ways I “should” feel or be. There were multiple times in therapy where I would say that “I know I shouldn’t be upset…,” or that “I feel like I should do this…,” but logic doesn’t apply to feelings, and that’s okay. Emotions are a confusing thing, but they are always valid. Therapy is what taught me why I feel those things that don’t seem “normal.”

 

Step Three: Talk About It.

          You may be one of those people, like me, who doesn’t want to tell the whole world that they’re struggling. The reason I hate it so much is because I have this deeply rooted fear of seeming like a negative person. No matter how many times people tell me that I can always talk to them about anything, I will never believe that they would be okay with listening to me complain about my life. There’s a disturbing aspect of society that makes us think we have to appear to be happy all the time. That’s impossible! And everyone know that. I do, especially.

          Don’t be like me. Don’t hold in your feelings because you don’t want to be the Debbie Downer of the friend group. There’s a difference between complaining and venting, and I think everyone knows what that is. Even if you have to vent frequently about whatever’s going on in your head, there are people out there who genuinely care. They won’t think you’re just negative about everything. If you can’t find any of those people in your personal life, give me a shout. I refuse to let anyone feel uncomfortable talking about whatever they’re going through, because you’re not all-knowing. That means you can’t handle everything by yourself. Other people have the tools that can help you. Seek them out.

 

Step Four: Find Something to Fall Back On.

          This one is the reason I haven’t been deeply depressed for almost a year. Personally, I found God. He doesn’t have to be what you fall back on, but that’s what’s worked best for me. For a while in high school, I fell back on music, literature and photography. Most of all, I fell back on Camp Stella Maris. I knew I would always have the friends I made there. But now that I’ve accepted Jesus, it is significantly stronger than any worldly things I’ve fallen back on before. It gives me a reason to keep pushing forward.

          Maybe there’s something else that gives you that motivation to keep going, and that’s okay. But you need to find one. You need to have something that’s always going to be there for you when you are at your lowest points. You can’t live without a reason to always want to be alive. I don’t want to miss out on the rest of my life because of what Jesus gives me.

 

 

You are so strong. I really mean that. You’ve made it up to this point in life without giving up. Life is hard, REALLY hard, but you’re sticking it out to discover why it’s all worth it. I’m so proud of you.

 

xoxo ars

My Spiritual Autobiography: 1st Year of College

April 30, 2015

 

Agnosticism

            I grew up in a home where religion was rarely discussed. I was baptized at the local Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s, where our family attended Mass on Christmas Eve. We never went to church the rest of the year, other than the one summer that my mother pushed me through Vacation Bible School so that I could eventually receive my first communion. I willingly prepared for my first communion because my mother bribed me with mock bread which I loved the taste of, and because I knew I would get presents if I went through with it all. After that event, my mom asked me if I would want to be confirmed, and I had no interest. She didn’t push me.

            As the years went on, my two older brothers were less willing to go to church even on Christmas Eve. By the time we were old enough to have our own religious opinions, my parents stopped trying and accepted that even they didn’t belong in St. Joes. In eighth grade, after I had talked with my friend about her faith, I wanted to try going to church. My mom and I went one week, and then I tried to get my family to keep going on Christmas Eve, but it was useless. I was too stubborn and rebellious to believe in something so conservative. I haven’t been back to St. Joes since before high school.

            However, I didn’t go through all four years of high school without going to church. The summer camp I work at is Catholic, and we have Mass three times a week. For all nine weeks each summer, I sang all the songs and went through the motions, keeping my opinions to myself. One particular summer at camp, when I was fifteen, I was exposed to David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech. For the next few years, I lived the way Wallace encouraged me to, reading the speech as religiously as Christians read the Bible.

            During the school year, I was open about my liberal political views. I did everything I could to be viewed as a democratic hipster. I had my own morals and standards, and the question of God’s existence was never my problem. I accepted that I would never know, and that was okay with me; I didn’t want to waste my time on it. In my literature class, I didn’t pick up on any of the biblical references, and my teacher had me watch the Veggie Tales episode about Noah and the Arc to catch me up. I had declared myself agnostic and was completely happy with it, until the end of my junior year, when I met Weston.

 

Mormonism

            Weston sat in front of me in math class and then asked me to go with him to his Senior Ball when I was a junior. It wasn’t until months after we started talking regularly that I found out about his beliefs. Once we started having feelings for each other, he invited me to go to his LDS church with him, and I agreed out of excitement for where our relationship was heading. We eventually became more serious about each other, which meant that I spent more and more time with Mormons, eager to learn about their beliefs and understand their customs.

            By the time I was a senior in high school, Weston was off at the Brigham Young University of Idaho, and still we were completely in love. His dreams of serving a mission were becoming more real, which scared me. I knew that we could never end up together if I wasn’t a Mormon, and I wanted nothing more than to believe the same things he did. I went to church with his family, read the Book of Mormon, and even tried to pray every day for the year that he was in college. I was open to their ideas and tried to believe it all, only to keep hitting obstacles, finding aspects of their religion I couldn’t agree with. I continued trying to fake it, and did everything I could to show Weston that I would do anything for him. As reluctant as my family was, I never hid the fact that I was thinking about converting to Mormonism.

            By the time the summer after I graduated high school rolled around, Weston was focused on submitting his mission papers so that he could be assigned a place to serve for two years. The more he focused on his mission, the more he realized that he needed to leave everything at home behind for two years so that he could be completely focused on his faith. He began to drift away from me, trying to separate himself from his life at home, so he would be more ready to leave. There was nothing more I could’ve done to save the relationship; it was doomed. I did everything I could to fight the odds and to disprove everyone’s predictions of our breakup, but it was inevitable. One day that July, he admitted that he didn’t love me the way he used to. I walked away broken-hearted, knowing that I could never be enough. That was when my best friend Tyler stepped in.

 

Christianity

            A few days after the breakup, I spent five hours sulking on my best friend’s couch. After force feeding me anything he could get me to eat, we started talking about faith. Tyler asked me about my feelings towards the LDS church, and I asked him about his beliefs. For years he had been trying to get me to go with him to YoungLife, a Christian youth group, and I resisted. Now that I was totally, utterly confused about my beliefs, I was open to hearing about how YoungLife had changed his life. He asked me to go to a nondenominational church with him that Sunday, and I was more than willing to do anything that would get my mind off of Weston.

            The church he brought me to, Grace Road, was incredibly welcoming, lively and reassuring. After the service was over, Tyler gave me a crash course on the Bible and I immediately went out and bought one myself. I started reading a little and going to church regularly because it was a good distraction, but I still didn’t know what I believed. Reading the Bible and talking about Jesus with Tyler and his friends was what got me through this dark period of my life, when all I wanted was to end the misery. Luckily, Tyler was going to college at LeMoyne, which is located about ten minutes from Syracuse University, where I was going.

            The first weekend after we moved into college, Tyler asked me if I wanted to go to YoungLife with him on Sunday. Having no other friends in Syracuse and nothing else to do, I tagged along. The people I met at YoungLife ended up being the only people I felt like I could connect with at school for the first semester. I asked them questions about Jesus and couldn’t believe that I was getting so involved in Christianity. I began to uncover the reasons I struggled with believing in God for so long; I finally understood why life isn’t perfect even though God loves us unconditionally, which was one of the biggest reasons I doubted the existence of God. One of these transforming moments for me was on a weekend retreat with YoungLife:

 

I’m starting to understand why God has given me trials; He knows I can be strong enough and He’s pushing me to discover how strong I can be, because I learn the most important things from my struggles.

--Excerpt from my personal diary, 9/27/14.

 

            My parents and friends from high school struggled to believe that I was serious about it, feeling that it was just another one of my phases. Once I started dating Charlie in November, my parents thought for sure that the only reason I was exploring Christianity was because of him, just like how Weston was the reason I went to Mormon Church. However, this time I know I’m doing it for myself, not for my boyfriend. I still have moments when I am very doubtful of my religion, but that doesn’t stop me from answering questions and working it out.

            Nowadays, I happily declare myself a nondenominational Christian. I wear a cross around my neck and pray every day. I study the Bible during my own quiet times and at group Bible studies with YoungLife women, and I attend church every Sunday with my boyfriend. In times of struggle, I turn to Psalm 31:

 

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame;

in your righteousness deliver me!

Incline your ear to me;

rescue me speedily!

Be a rock of refuge for me,

a strong fortress to save me!

 

 

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,

because you have seen my affliction;

you have known the distress of my soul,

and you have not delivered me into the land of the enemy;

you have set my feet in a broad place.

 

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;

my eye is wasted from grief;

my soul and my body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow,

and my years with sighing;

my strength fails because of my iniquity,

and my bones waste away.

 

….

 

Love the Lord, all you his saints!

The Lord preserves the faithful

but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,

all you who wait for the Lord!

Lady

November 7, 2014

     I’ve learned the most from those who are young and naive. In particular, one of the most influential people in my life was a little girl whose name I will protect by referring to her as Lady.

     I met Lady when she was seven years old. In some ways, she was a pain in the neck. She was one of the few people who could bring out my impatience. She didn’t listen to a word I said, deciding she was going to do whatever she wanted without a care in the world. About two whole days passed of the five that we spent together before I discovered the unbelievable beauty in her.

    The environment Lady grew up in is one that I never have been, nor ever will be, accustomed to. Growing up with negligent parents leads most children to have the same unfortunate adult lives as the rest of their family. I worry about Lady’s siblings, E, X and J. I worry that they will grow up and become their generation’s versions of their parents. I don’t worry about that with Lady; I know her personality is too strong to be broken.

     Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Lady and worry about how she’s doing. I pray that there are people in her life at home and school who care about her as much as the summer camp staff did, particularly Nina and me.  I pray that she gets the attention she needs to prosper. There is nothing wrong with her, but so much wrong with society.

     People from afar, who didn’t know Lady the way we did, thought she was a bad kid. They congratulated us when we told them that Lady was going home, while Nina and I were heartbroken. What others didn’t understand was that Lady’s inappropriate behavior was not intentionally deviant; she didn’t understand why her behavior was “wrong”. Summer camp was an incredible open space for her where she felt free, so she took full advantage of it and got frustrated when people tried to hold her back from exploring. But I know she didn’t mean to cause problems by the way she looked at me when I told her she was misbehaving; she didn’t want to disappoint me, she just didn’t know the rules that most people assume are obvious. She didn’t understand why we had to do structured activities with the other kids when all she wanted to do was play freely.

     I eventually figured out that explaining these things to her was unnecessary, because her carefree personality was beautiful. As soon as she saw me smile about something she had done, she was the happiest kid I’ve ever seen. She found joy in so many of the things that I took for granted, like tetherball and crafts. She appreciated me and looked up to me more than any other camper has, and she gave me the best hugs of my life. She was the happiest person I’ve ever met, even though she came from an underprivileged background.

     I will never forget holding her hand and listening to her gush about “Mommy” as I walked her to her parents’ car, and when she let go and ran to her mother. It was a beautiful moment, seeing how happy she was to see Mommy, without the slightest idea of why she was here early.

     But her mother’s reaction is the part I remember most vividly, the part that haunts me daily. She looked at Lady and said, “what the Hell did you do?” Lady’s face changed from a huge smile to a look of shame in less than a second. Mommy pointed at Lady’s shoes and said “whose are those? You can’t steal things. Those aren’t yours! Give them back!” Nina had found her some sandals to wear, since Lady only had one pair of sneakers, and no other shoes. I insisted that Lady keep the shoes, saying that “she needs a pair of sandals”. Mommy asked where her sneakers were, and I realized that we had forgotten to pack them. I ran to the cabin as quickly as possible, found her sneakers on the porch, and ran back to the car, my heart pounding. By then Mommy had already put Lady and E in the back seat of the car; E was being sent home too. “I’m sorry they gave you so much trouble this week,” Mommy said to me. “My kids are too much to handle, they’re all so damn naughty! The boys are doing ok?” she asked. My director Katie lied and told her that the boys were behaving. They certainly were not behaving, but they weren’t a hazard to the other kids at camp either, so we wanted them to stay.

     I looked at Lady in the back seat of the car as Mommy told her to apologize for ruining my week. Lady looked at me, with the saddest eyes I had seen on her yet, muttering “I’m sorry” quietly. I tried to explain to her that it was ok, and that I was so happy that she was able to be with us for a little while, and that I was sorry that she had to go home. Mommy’s boyfriend thanked me, finally speaking after silently observing this whole event. I told Lady I loved her as her mother rolled up the car window and pulled out.

     As soon as the car was out of sight, I broke down. Sending Lady home with those people was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I spent the next hour or two telling Nina about them, since she was with the rest of the kids during all of it. I told her all about the car’s Betty Boop seat cushions and cigarette smell, and about the mother’s cheetah print bra under her see-through tank top which her belly hung out of. I sobbed as I tried to figure out something we could do for Lady. Without evidence of any sort of child abuse, calling Child Protective Services wasn’t an option. Now, three months later, I’ve finally accepted that I did everything I could. I remember her asking me why I was being nice to her, and I was so shocked that I didn’t have a response. I gave her five days of freedom and love.

Penfield Class of 2014: High School Commencement Address

          Friends, family, teachers, staff, and most importantly, my fellow graduates: Welcome to the Penfield High School Class of 2014 Commencement Ceremony, and congratulations! My name is Abby Rose Sugnet and it is a pleasure to be representing the senior class on this stage today.

          Those of you who know me have probably seen that I like to capture every moment with my camera, and this is one of the biggest moments of our lives, so if the RIT Staff could please turn on the lights… everyone smile!! (*takes a photo of the audience*)

          When I sat down to write this speech, I reflected upon the things that make Penfield unique. Naturally, I thought of the grilled bagels, the 8th grade Washington trip, Goatstock, the windy path from the recreation center to the high school that the Juniors are forced to walk down every day, the absurd climate changes throughout the school, the irreplaceable Arvid ... and how some of you poor souls will be venturing to college towns and job locations without a Wegmans. And then the memories got more specific, and because I played Varsity field hockey, I thought of the Boys v. Girls field hockey game which finally ended as it should have this year, with the girls crushing the boys after two years of embarrassing defeat. I giggled reminiscing Tumbling for Freedom in the 8th grade Variety Show, which made an incredible comeback this year at the Mr. Penfield Pageant. All of these memories make Penfield stand out from other places as a community who demonstrates enthusiasm, compassion, and teamwork.

          Considering that this is my one opportunity to speak with each and every one of my classmates simultaneously, I want to take this moment to sincerely thank everyone here for the most incredible high school experience I could ask for. As someone who has always appreciated what PHS has offered me, I was nervous that I would be sobbing too hard to make it through this speech. It breaks my heart when I hear someone say that they don’t like Penfield. This school has provided us with the support to create goals and the resources to obtain them. Penfield is filled with teachers and staff who care about each of their students and who genuinely enjoy their jobs. Each student in this audience was given the ability to discover their individual strengths, which have worked together to create a positive atmosphere.

          I will never forget the way I could talk to anyone and everyone in our school without feeling unwelcome, and the way people are able to bounce around to different friend groups without being considered an outcast. At Senior Ball and Bash, everyone talked to each other whether they were normally friends or not. Everyone is willing to work with new people in classes if necessary, and no one feels too ashamed to raise their hand and ask a question. Penfield’s Class of 2014 has grown into a group of welcoming, considerate and polite individuals.

          When I look out at all of you graduates, I don’t see 100 athletes, 70 NHS members, 150 musicians or 40 artists. I see 362 authentic human beings whose individuality I admire. One of my favorite things about Penfield is that we don’t have the stereotypical cliques that other high schools actually do have. I hope that you continue that legacy wherever you go. I hope that you never allow anyone else’s label to define you, and that you allow your true identity to speak for itself.

          As I look out at my fellow graduates, I see hundreds of people wearing identical caps and gowns, all together as a unit composed of unique differences, interests and skills. Today marks the ending of this unit, and the beginning of you discovering who you are as an individual. The word commencement denotes a beginning. This ceremony marks the end of your high school career, and the start of the rest of your life.

          So, what is your true identity? Who will you become after high school? If you’re anything like me, you may feel a little overwhelmed or unprepared, wondering how four years of high school flew by so quickly. However, this is an opportunity to become who you want to be. This is a fresh start. So decide who you want to be, and go be it. As you move forward into the next exciting stage of your life, I hope you all continue to act with empathy, maturity and appreciation, and always remember that you have so much to offer.

          Graduates, I sincerely hope that you enjoyed your high school experience as much as I did. I hope you feel pride, honor and success as a Penfield High School student. I hope you discovered yourself and your goals. Now is the time that you get to put these goals into action. Thank you for helping me discover mine.

End of High School

June 10, 2014 

          I truly believe that I had one of the best high school experiences in the history of time, which makes saying goodbye ridiculously hard. Trust me, I’m aware of how overdramatic this whole thing is going to sound, so please excuse the clichés and mushy-gushiness. And I know how many adults reading this would say “don’t worry, college is better than high school,” or “you’re still so young, high school won’t even matter in a few years,” or something along those lines. I’m not saying they’re wrong, nor am I saying that I’m not looking forward to college. I got into freakin’ Newhouse, which is one of the best communications schools in the country... How could I not be excited?! However, I’m the type of person who gets too attached to everything and everyone, which makes letting go one of my biggest struggles.

            Even though I had the best high school experience I could ask for, it certainly wasn’t flawless. I went through the same teenage hormone issues as everyone else; actually, worse than most. In middle school, I felt like I was on top of the world, as a strong and independent girl who could take care of herself. I was in for a brutal realization that my DNA is not ideal, to say the least. I was diagnosed with a whole slew of disorders. Luckily, I’ve yet to face a seriously life-threatening disease (*knock on wood*).

            Aside from these not-so-typical issues I experienced in high school, I was living the dream. I enjoyed getting to know almost every single one of my teachers, minus the weenies who took life a smidgen too seriously. I met some of the most carefree, hilarious human beings which I have the pleasure of calling my friends. I completely ditched the whole reputation thing, saying and doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I decided that I wanted to be an honest and caring person whom people feel comfortable around, which was not always easy. I discovered how much I crave learning everything there is to know, while lacking the energy and motivation to do so. After having my fair share of failed teenage relationships, I fell in love with the most complicated one of them all. And here I am, at the end of my senior year, probably ignorantly wishful for things to work out in circumstances which are close to impossible.

            The older I get, the more confused I am about myself. The more I see in the world, the more complicated everything seems. I can confidently say that I’ve always followed my heart in everything I’ve done, but recently it’s become harder to figure out what I truly want. Times like these, in which I am faced with an unavoidable decision, are what make me hate the idea of being an adult. I fear that every day my imagination dwindles, and that I’m going to become the type of person who takes life too seriously. I fear that I will start to care about the wrong things, such as wealth rather than human connections. I fear that I won’t be able to handle the inevitable disappointments which lie ahead, such as losing the people I care about so deeply. I miss people from high school already, and I still have a few days left. I miss the people I’ve grown apart from over the past four years. I dread the day when I have to call my current best friends “my high school friends”. I dread the day when my teachers won’t recognize my face, and when I won’t remember their names.

            These are the reasons that I’ve been dreading graduation all year. I will never forget how many Penfield students strayed away from the concept of distinct immovable cliques, and I can only hope these people never forget me. 

This Is Water: Senior Year of High School

June 8, 2014

            On a hot, humid day in August 2011, I sat in a beanbag chair on the top floor of Bings Barn, a cabin at Camp Stella Maris. It was here where I listened to Ryan read me the most influential speech of my life to this day. David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, also known as “This is Water,” changed my life. It was in this moment, sweaty in my beanbag chair, when I had the epiphany that I needed to take a step back from my worries and think about what is really important in my life.

            It is not often that people take a moment from their daily activities to stop and think about the beauty of their lives. It’s a cliché that most people look over until something drastic happens to make them realize it, but it shouldn’t take any negative experience to make you want to understand how lucky you truly are; the happy moments are what should make you appreciate all that you have and all that you will get to experience someday. As a human, the most complex species of animal ever to exist, it’s important to understand that it is impossible for you to comprehend every aspect of your life, but you must still have the desire to try. I am eighteen years old with, hopefully, most of my life still ahead of me, with plenty of lessons to learn, but I am looking forward to every second of it. Growing older is exciting and terrifying because of its uncertainty. There are unlimited lessons to be learned from each individual’s past, present, and future. However, the most important and definite truth I know is that learning from your own life will only be as effective as you make it.

            Another cliché that I will always hold close to my heart is that there is a positive way to look at everything. However, most people either don’t believe they have the ability to realistically think that way, or they just find comfort in feeling sorry for themselves. I have no problem admitting that I have many days like that. But it also worries me that, upon hearing the world “past,” many people’s first thoughts are the negative experiences which sent them through the ultimate low periods of their lives. Although everyone’s past has countless encounters of sadness, it has just as many encounters of happiness. Everything you see as negative history came from something you cared about; every ounce of pain you’ve ever felt from someone leaving your life, for any amount of time, was only felt because of the happy moments you shared with that person. Caring about someone is a beautiful emotion to feel, and sadness is only existent at the end of something wonderful: that’s why you should have no regrets for your past. Every experience you’ve ever had can teach you something about yourself, in that your own reactions to events will help you to understand what is important to you. No one else can understand you more than you can because no one has felt your exact emotions. Someday, when someone asks you what your biggest regret is, I hope you can honestly say that you don’t have one. I hope you can truly believe that everything you’ve been through creates a magnificent repertoire of experiences from which you will continue to learn.

            Every aspect of your life at this moment is a part of your “present,” which is essential to your current emotions. These are the things that I wish people took the time to stop and appreciate. Every person around you is going through something, good or bad, that no one else totally understands. Every person you know has a distinct personality, unique to everyone else, which is remarkable in its own way. This fact of life makes me want to get to know as many people as possible. Everyone’s present is centered on unique beliefs and feelings. Everything is constantly changing, and if you fail to appreciate your life as it is now, you will wish you had in the future.

            Thinking about my future is one of my biggest fears because of its uncertainty. If there’s one important piece of advice you should take from all of this, it’s that your future is in your hands. The only truth I know about this entire issue is that the amount of effort you put into your future is equivalent to the amount you’ll get out of it.

Star of the Sea: College Admission Essay

            One night, when Nina, Savannah and I were suffering from ultimate Camp Stella Maris nostalgia, we decided on a whim to drive to 45 minutes away and watch the sunset from our favorite place in the world. Although the experience was peaceful, it was nowhere near satisfying. Camp was empty. The cabins, the playground, the Wegman House, Peggy’s Café, Bings Barn… It was all there, but it was meaningless. It did nothing to suppress the feeling of a hole in my chest because the life-changing people creating life-long memories were missing. The bubble of magic which usually separates camp from the outside world was gone; there was no significant difference between camp and the rest of East Lake Road.

            Author Robin Hobb once wrote one of the few things I know to be true: “home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.” Though Camp Stella Maris sits upon the beautiful Conesus Lake, where the sunsets will take your breath away, the location is not the reason Stella Maris has had an overwhelming impact on my life: it’s the people.

            Every summer at Camp Stella Maris has offered me a new sense of perspective, teaching me more than I could ever learn at school. Five years as a camper taught me to break out of my shell, and to never be afraid of being who I am. Two weeks as a leader-in-training showed me the beauty of individualism and, believe it or not, school. One week as a counselor-in-training followed by two weeks as an intern opened my eyes to the reality that working at camp meant that I had to make the magic, it would no longer be made for me. This new role grew this past summer as a camp counselor, as I went through a nine-week personal transformation, with help from my new family. The CSM staff helped me to discover who I am and who I want to be. The person I am sometimes feels paradoxical, but my experiences with the camp staff have helped me to figure myself out.

            I play like a four year-old, but converse like an 85 year-old. I watch cartoons, but I listen to NPR. I’m afraid of growing up, but I get mad at people who act immaturely. I love to learn, but I want to help others to do so. I want to provide information for people who want to broaden their knowledge. I want to keep people updated on the problems in our society so they can form opinions about and help solve these problems. I can and will do this, because the CSM staff showed me that I can be whoever I want to be, as long as I do it with confidence.

            The Camp Stella Maris staff is a group of people who have evolved from being my role models to being my family. While these inspirational, beautiful human beings still astonish me every day with their creativity and genuine personalities, this past summer showed me that I somehow fit in with these wonderful people. They see great potential in me and motivate me to live up to that potential, which is something I never would have accomplished without the confidence they gave me through their support. These people, myself included, are what make Camp Stella Maris a magical place, where the “camp bubble” allows all children to take a break from the outside world. Without us, camp is just a plot of land.