Saturday, December 31, 2011

glance back - 2011

This year has definitely been an interesting one.

Jasmine Revolution & the Arab Spring

Though the Tunisian revolution first was sparked in December of 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi⎯a vegetable and fruit vender⎯set himself ablaze, the full-on Jasmine Revolution didn't gain strength until January. And boy, did it gain strength. Suddenly, the little known country of Tunisia was making headlines. My countrymen were doing what was not expected of them, of anyone⎯they were marching in the streets, determined to change their government. 

Ultimately, Tunisians succeeded⎯Ben Ali fled, after 23 years in power. This revolution, in an often overlooked country, set in motion revolutions that spread to become the "Arab Spring and, later, the Occupy Movement.
When the people will to live,
Destiny must surely respond.
Oppression shall then vanish.
Chains are certain to break.
Tunisian National Anthem

Teach for America 

In February, I was feeling fairly melancholy. I was nearly done with my first degree, but still had two more years of school to get my second⎯a degree in secondary English education. 20 credits a semester, including summer semesters, had sped me ahead, but it wasn't enough to shrink what would typically be 8 years of school into 4. I was ambitious, incredibly ambitious, and I was getting burnt out. My partner Henrik was going to graduate in the spring; I wanted to be able to move freely with him. Over dinner one night, a friend suggested that instead of finishing my teaching degree I could apply for Teach For America. It was like a light bulb clicked on. 

I went to my dorm and discovered that it was, in fact, the last night to apply for the final deadline. Perhaps that means it was destiny. Whatever it was, I applied immediately, without hesitation. Two months later, I received the e-mail saying I was accepted.

I was placed in Special Education in the Bay Area, my number one preference. Henrik and I were ecstatic. In May, I flew out (and missed my graduation :\) and explored Oakland, the place of my birth. Now, Henrik and I live in Temescal neighborhood, only moments away from the hospital where I was born and the apartment my parents spent 6 years in. Life is incredibly strange, the way it comes full circle. From Oakland, to Michigan, and back again, I'm finding myself walking in the footsteps as my parents.
Class of 2011

On May 8th, I technically graduated from Michigan State University (despite missing the ceremony :( ). I graduated a year early with a degree in Arts and Humanities (with honors and a 3.97 GPA!). I loved my experiences in the Residential College of Arts and Humanities so, so much; I would not be the person I am today without the extraordinary academic and personal education I received there. I am very proud to be a graduate of the first class through.

Teach for America's Institute is infamous for being insane⎯huge workloads, challenging deficits, and new responsibilities. Mine was definitely insane, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Despite only getting 5 hours of sleep (on a good night) and the crushing pressure to relearn 50 years of American history, I had a phenomenal time. My collab⎯or collaborative group of teachers⎯turned out to be some of the greatest friends I have ever had. Who knew such an eclectic group could find each other and learn to love each other as we do? (And I have some mad love for these people.)

Institute showed me things in myself that I had never seen before. At barely 21-years-old, I was leading a classroom, helping parents and families through tragedies, and finding my place across the country from everyone I knew and loved. It was a grueling 2 months, but I came out better and stronger because of it. I know, too, how much I am capable of; Institute pushed me to recognize my potential, and then realize my responsibility to use it.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This may seem like a strange "landmark" to include, but it most certainly was important to me. I went to wait for the final Harry Potter film at 2pm, dressed entirely in my Ravenclaw uniform. Harry Potter has played a huge part in my life. My grandparents introduced me to the books soon after my aunt passed away, and I latched onto the story in a way I have never experienced with anything since. I was a grieving and confused child, and I took comfort in Harry's similar feelings of loss and not belonging. A loyal fan since the beginning, I went by the name of "Snape" in elementary school, waited at midnight for the novels in middle and high school, and took classes on and wrote papers about the series in college. Harry has stuck by me, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had "him" in my life.

"You'll stay with me?"
"Until the very end," said James.
 Leadership Public Schools, Hayward
Resource Specialist/Teacher

If you had asked me a year ago, I would not have dreamed that I would be teaching high school juniors and seniors at the age of 21. It has been an incredible (and an incredibly challenging) experience thus far. I have a group of some of the most kind-hearted and resilient students that I have ever come across. They make me laugh every day. I cry, too, some nights, when I think about all that is stacked against them. 
Teaching at a charter high school, especially teaching special education, takes a lot of time, energy, and effort. I can say without hesitation that I have never worked this hard in my entire life⎯and I am sure I will never work as hard at another job afterwards. But this work is rewarding, really and truly. My colleagues are brilliant and inspiring individuals, and my students give me love and support beyond anything I would have expected. I have found a home in this little school in Hayward, and I am happy. 

In the spring, a handful of my students will graduate. This thought fills me with such overwhelming joy and pride that I cannot stand it at times. I still, however, have so much more work to do to prepare them for the world that awaits them. Teaching at a low-income, minority school has really made re-examine my own privileges. I am determined to use the advantages I have been given to make this world a more equitable place, and I hope I have started this journey in Hayward. I am so blessed to work here, with these children and their families. I know this is where I should be right now, 21 or not. Change needs to happen, and while I can't do it alone, I am strengthened by all the amazing work I am seeing around me.

The Occupy Movement
bυt back tο thе country οf thе educated
wherе people ɡеt robbed аnԁ thеу celebrate іt

K'naan "America"

The Occupy Movement began September 17th. Activists occupied Wall St. to protest economic and social inequality. This occupation came in the form of camping out, and it spread to huge proportions; "Occupy" camps were found in nearly every major city in the United States. One week ago, it was reported that there are 2,751 Occupy communities worldwide.

I personally took part in the Oakland protests with Henrik. Most memorable for me would definitely be the shutdown of the port. It was an event that seemed so much bigger than just me as an individual, yet I was part of it. All of us⎯not lazy or no-goods as conservative pundits claimed⎯were so wonderfully alive and connected. I marched with fellow teachers, with children, with parents and their parents. I must say, it is so good to see Americans rising up in this way. We are waking up. It isn't over yet.

2011 was a year of movement, a year of rebellion and conflict and action. Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi were killed, Kim Jong Il died, Gabrielle Giffords was shot, the war in Iraq ended, and my cousin was deployed to Afghanistan. We lost Steve Jobs, Amy Winehouse, and Fred Shuttlesworth. We gained Roman, my cousin Paul's newborn son. Japan had a devastating earthquake; Joplin, a horrible tornado; and, farther north, the East Coast braced itself against Hurricane Irene. There was a terrorist attack in Norway, and there was the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 here at home. The race for the Republican nomination has been anyone's game, with no clear candidate yet but many bizarre moments from each of the presidential hopefuls. Casey Anthony was found not guilty; Jerry Sandusky hopefully will not be. Prince William got married, along with what seemed like half of my Facebook. What an incredible, insane year it has been.
And that was my 2011! I have loved 2011, despite all of its complexities and challenges; I have grown tremendously over the course of this year, and am excited to see how I will continue to transform in the year to come.

2012, here I come!

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