College Kid, High School Hallways

As a college student, I never thought I would step foot into a high school. Little did I know, I’d be spending 15 hours a week in South Austin with high schoolers.

My journey to the hallways of Akins High School began my freshman year at UT when I decided to join an organization called Younglife. This national youth ministry is made up of college students devoted to building relationships with kids from all backgrounds and directors who work tirelessly with students to match them with a high school in their area.

Navigating high school is difficult and confusing, as kids are determining who they want to be, the people they want to surround themselves with, and where they want to go after graduation. I have the greatest privilege of coming alongside my girls during this crucial time, listening to their roses and thorns, offering advice, and reminding them they are worthy of love.

Monday afternoons as a leader are made up of I-35 traffic and car contemplation, after-school pickups and aux arguments, Chick-fil-a nuggets and parking lot jams, church setups and pre-club prayers, sing alongs and heated competition, and words of truth followed by reluctant 11 p.m. see-you-laters. Wednesday nights can’t come quick enough, with late night snacks, tight hugs, kid stories, and much-needed encouragement. Friday mornings come early, but the “I love you’s” are more than worth it.

Being a Younglife leaders isn’t always fun, or easy, or convenient. I make real sacrifices, and to many, it seems a waste of time, but I have found incomparable joy in expereiencing life with my girls.

Aranxta teaches me to love recklessly. Alize shows me the power of forgiveness. Meaghan reminds me to laugh without fear. J Lo shows me how to live selflessly. RaeAnn is confident and honest. Mackenzie gives the best hugs in the world.

I didn’t want to be an Akins leader when I got placed. I didn’t feel like I related to anyone on my team or the kids I was supposed to lead. I expected these relationships to come easily. Driving 45 minutes in heavy traffic is a weekly commitment and peeling myself out of my bed before the crack of dawn to pick up my girls before school is a battle.

As months turned into years, I slowly learned to find joy in inconveniences and fought hard for relationships with my kids and my team, and now Akins Younglife is my favorite college experience.

During our final club last semester, one of the girls I grew closest to shared that her favorite memory of Younglife was rides home with me. My heart leapt in my chest. I remember thinking that this is what life is all about: loving people where they are, as they are, without a single string attached.

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What Dying Leaves Have To Do With College

College students are persistently bombarded by the same message of brash encouragement: love yourself.

We are told that this is the time to be selfish. Build your resume. Focus on your progress. You will be happiest when you love yourself before you love others.

Unlimited amounts of behavior are justified in the name os self-love, so we have everything to blame but ourselves.

Perhaps it’s the mass takeover of social media. Mechanically, we hasten to class, eyes fixed on our phones, ear buds secured tightly in our ears, minds blocking out the reality of our broken world. Life is experienced through screens, friendships by clicking “accept,” and love through double-taps.

Busyness could also be a factor. Schedules are packed hour-by-hour, anxiety creeps in, and soon enough, we are overcome by how much we have to do, we no longer have time for anyone’s agenda but our own.

Maybe society is the culprit. Modern civilization is fast-paced, fiscally-driven, and technologically-centered. Success is largely based on the security of dollar signs, and in a culture that breeds consumers, it is no wonder we are seldom satisfied.

Possibly it’s the fault of the universities for nourishing the rampant self-centeredness within their student bodies. An article titled “College: The Selfish Life” claims, “It is, in fact, the institutional structure that enables students to concentrate on themselves.” Selfishness is expected – even exploited – so we bask in self-glory.

However, if we are brutally honest, the problem is our failure to give love to anyone but ourself. This is, by far, the most dangerous and disastrous consequence of our self-attention.

This hyper self-focus is a universal delusion with tragic side effects. Often, it breeds personal dissatisfaction, ironically warping into self-hatred. In a “New York Times” article, a student reflects: “In an era when ‘You’ are Time’s person of the year, is it any surprise that our generation is so sullied, so self-centered?”

We are consumed by our lives, and ours alone, because we can be. Our education, organizations, and activities predominantly serve us, furthering our opinions of ‘success,’ so we spin dizzily into a twister of our own oblivion.

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What do we do?

In the same way leaves are most vibrant when they are dying, I believe we as humans are most beautiful when we are dying to our desires, our wants, and ourselves. This analogy is not my own, but someone’s I deeply admire.

Rather than focusing on double taps and dollar signs, may we grow deep relationships, sacrificing our time, resources and selves for others. Rather than finding motivation from personal promotion and unnecessary busyness, may we find joy in inconveniences, stewarding what we have with wisdom and fighting for intimacy.

What if, instead of checking off items on our to-do lists, we compile lists of how we can serve others? What if we spend more time celebrating people rather than competing with them? What if we think of others more and ourselves less?

Would it make us all more beautiful?

 

My Literary Hero Used Words Like ‘Jaded’

The summer before my senior year of high school, I drove to my English tutor’s house every week to prepare one-on-one for my college essays. Her name was Mrs. Legband, she lived in a pleasant home with four kids, and she was very wise. A nugget of her wisdom has stuck with me to this day: tell a story in whatever you write, because humans are storytelling beings.

English was always my favorite subject. I absolutely ate up “The Inferno,” “Moby Dick,” and “Heart of Darkness.” Reading these classic novels, and many more, largely shaped my abilities as a writer.

My senior year English teacher, Mrs. Walton, is my literary hero. She used words like ‘jaded’ and taught us about the Oedipus complex, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and the book “Persuasion” by Jane Austen. We spent two weeks discussing the poem “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot, and I wrote a 15-page senior thesis on “Jane Eyre” for her class.

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She vastly enriched me as a writer.

Pulling out deeper meanings, observing sentence structure and diction, and using imagery and analogies – these are my lifeline and self-professed strengths.

Overused words and clichés are a turn-off, so I begin sentences boldly. I eradicate ‘be’ verbs. Pre-writing outlines are the literary lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.

In order to write, my mind must be allowed to wander, dip, and dive without interruption. However, physical and technological distractions often halt my writing flow, and I get sloppy, so my weaknesses surface.

Passion frequently clouds my judgment, and I ramble. Words quickly jumble together, sentences stretch beyond their capacity, and I lose my main point in a frenzy of fingers punching keyboard faster than my brain can process.

Another one of my writing foes is editing. Cutting out words pains me, and I will read over my papers until my eyes droop at 4:21 am. I will not rest until each word is properly analyzed.

Up until January 2017, I had never heard of AP style, considered writing a news release, or conducted a professional phone interview. My first day of PR317 fell on a Friday, and I knew from the moment I entered the Mary E. Gearing Hall that I would love that class.

Just four months later, I can create eye-popping headlines, write captivating ledes, properly organize quotes, professionally engage on social media, and include only three sentences per paragraph.

Most importantly, I learned how to choose words with purpose.

The phrase “clean as a bone” echoes through my mind as I write this. Professor Bell relentlessly stressed the importance of clear and concise diction in the public relations field.

As I enter into my junior year at the University of Texas, I hope to continue to learn and refine my professional writing skills, wisely stewarding the power of words.