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Growing Narrow

It’s hard to believe the year is nearly over. Everyone walks around shaking their heads in denial, but there’s only a week of classes left. I’m going to miss Hollins even more this summer than I did the last. The past couple years my path here has not been an incredibly focused one. I have been versatile when it comes to courses and where I spend my time, and this has been a great thing. I have so many different friends spread throughout campus. I feel recognized everywhere I go, and can appreciate so much of what goes on here through personal friendships. However, I know that something is changing in me. I see my path growing narrow. Growing narrow sounds oxymoronic, but I feel it’s the best way to describe how my passions are finally realizing themselves.

Life is short, and as hard as it is to tell a Hollins woman she can’t do everything…well, eventually she’ll figure it out. So you invest more energy, more time into what you care about most. For most people it’s figuring out what that one thing is that’s the most difficult part. It’s only when you are spending more time on one or two things that you create evident and lasting change.

For me, this has meant looking into becoming a therapist. I love the outdoors and art, and funny enough, both can be therapeutic in themselves. My advisor, teachers in the psychology department, the Hollins Outdoor Program (HOP), all of these places and people have been so helpful in helping me find my ground in this new endeavor of mine.

Hollins is a good place to find your specific path because it is filled with independent, driven, and motivated women. The saying: “Women who are going places start at Hollins” is more than that. It is a thought process embodied by all who go here. It is the jumping point to growing narrow, not in mind but in focused and meaningful life goals.

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Campus is so busy this month it makes my head spin. This week is V-week to honor V-day. V-day is a worldwide recognized movement whose mission is to stop violence against women. You can learn more about it here: http://www.vday.org/about. There are a number of activities going on, the most famous being the performance of the Vagina Monologues, which occurs every year.

As a member of Sandusky (a specialty house for people interested in community service), I have to do 10 hours of community service a month. There are a number of service events going on this month that I’m participating in to fulfill those hours. The first occurs this Friday as Hollins students take the opportunity to help build a greenway (a scenic walking trail) for the Roanoke community.

This event is followed by “One Day Without Shoes” on Tuesday April 10th. Started by TOMS shoe company, “One Day Without Shoes” is an event in which people walk barefoot to raise awareness of those in our world who must do so every day (http://www.onedaywithoutshoes.com). Often these people live in underdeveloped areas where sanitation is lacking and bare feet can be a serious problem. We will be walking to classes barefoot, and painting the TOMS logo on our feet.

Still not done! Hold your breath. On the 14th is the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in which a number of Hollins students and I will be forming the Hollins Team, on the 21st Hollins students will be helping out at a Recycling event for the Roanoke community, and on the 28th Hollins students will participate in “The Big Event”  – an annual outreach to individual homes and families in the Roanoke area.

On top of all that, the spring musical, spring Cotillion, and Arts Fest are all going on this month as well. If you come to Hollins, finding things to do should never be an issue. Women here are never static, and many events have powerful messages behind them.

Hollins is so beautiful in the snow. Then again, I’m from Las Vegas so anything in snow is pretty to me. But see for yourself:

Asides from our day of snow, and all the shouts I heard from students rolling down the hill near my window, the school year continues on as expected. Here are some of the highlights:

Hollins now has its own up-and-running radio station! A year ago it was just an idea. Being friends with many of the people in Hollins Entertainment Radio and having helped petition treasury board for the money to supply all the equipment, I know how hard everybody’s worked to turn this idea into a reality. I now DJ a show every Sunday night at 10 PM! This is just one example of how you can make something happen here if you put your mind to it. Check it out:

http://www1.hollins.edu/radio

I’m also in a  play this semester called Decision Height written and directed by the wonderful Meredith Levy. It’s her senior thesis, and quite honestly my favorite play that I’ve ever been in. It takes place during World War II, and its characters? Women pilots. Women pilots who weren’t formally recognized for their service until 1977.  It’s pretty special to be a part of such an important story, and I admire all the hard work and research that has been put into its creation. Meredith even flew in a plane with one of our chemistry teachers here, who happens to fly planes, as part of her research! So if the first example wasn’t enough, here’s another of how Hollins is what you make it.

If you still don’t believe me, let me tell you what I did myself back in January. During the month of January students can study abroad, do an internship, or take a class outside of their normal schedule. We call this time period J-term. For my J-term I went on a trip to the Caribbean with about ten other students. While there we spent tons of time snorkeling on the beautiful reefs and we each carried out individual research projects. I studied termites, and found that termite mounds are found higher in trees in moist forest than in dry forests.

It was a wonderful trip, and a great trade as far as weather goes. Don’t forget the beautiful views. I also had some fun juggling while I was there!

Emily and I on Tinker Day

Emily Catedral- She was the first real friend I ever made at Hollins. What started as a group of us girls sharing “boy drama” turned into the two of us talking about our lives, until it got so late we thought we might as well see the sunrise. She loves Hollins more than anybody else I know, and thanks to her and others, our class has won the golden doughnut for the best Tinker Day skit for the past two years (Tinker Day is when we all dress up and climb Tinker Mountain). A wonderfully adventurous spirit, I’ll never forget the time we hiked to the meadow in the middle of a cold night, terrified of passing through the tunnel under I-81, phones clenched in our hands (at least mine was). It was worth it for the beautiful view of the stars on the other side. There was also the time we tried to communicate with some of the Hollins ghosts (we are both skeptics) in the middle of the night in Presser. She is my sister away from home.

Jacquis and I on Tinker Day

Jacquis Sommerman- If ever a student’s presence was felt at Hollins, hers would be it. President of NEFA (the specialty house for artists), her creativity, ridiculous puns, and contagious laugh seem to be omnipresent. She is the perfect person to go to for tea, tarot, or a great hug. She is enthusiastic about everybody’s work and often stands on chairs to shout announcements in our dining hall. When I was feeling down, I went with her and a few other friends to a place called the bluff. It is a mountain situated over a train tunnel, so that when a train passes you can feel it rumbling under your feet. While we waited for the train to come, Jacquis broke out a candle and situated a thermos of water over it, held up by a stick to make tea for us. She is one of the most passionate, joyful, silly and loving people I know.

Rebecca and I

Rebecca Pfeil- The president of Sandusky (the specialty house for community service), I am just getting to know how wonderful she is. She is not only dedicated to the house, but also to theater and her friends. She lives across the hall from me, and we are constantly visiting each other to talk about theater or our shared interest in psychology and helping others.

Katie and I

Katie Ward-If you ever want someone to be angry or frustrated for you, talk to Katie Ward. She is passionate about many things, but can most often be found in the theater in all black. She is also passionate about pigeons, which I like to draw on her white board all of the time in various outfits and such.

Kaitlin Heath- Known around campus as Kate Monster, I admire her for her strong sense of self, beautiful smile, and ability to appear at ease in any situation. She took me to buy a guitar at a very interesting mall called “Happy’s.” Inside it looked a bit like a flea market. We had fun looking in all the interesting stores, particularly a store that sold old records and cds. She picked out three she had never heard of just to hear something new.

Grace Gorski- When she was little she thought the song, “Amazing Grace” was about her. Her ability to see the best in everyone is endearing and her name fits her personality. This semester she has truly reached out to me. She may be a bit of a worrier, but many of her worries are for others. She is also extremely ticklish.

Catey Doss- My first roommate at Hollins, Catey has been quoted as singing “I believe in you, and this is my believing in you song!” What she may lack in height, she makes up for with the tallest rays of sunshine. We began watching the first season of the show Heroes together our freshman year and only just finished yesterday. We refused to watch it outside of each other’s company.

There are so many more things I could say about so many others, but the main idea is this: Expect to make great friendships here.

The Tinker Day Golden Doughnut for Best Skit held by me and many friends

         I’ve done it. What every sophomore is destined to do. I have taken the next step to completing the four year escapade that is college. I have chosen my major.

I say this jokingly, but sometimes people are all too serious about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, there is a big distinction to me between choosing a major and choosing what you want to do with your life. The latter obviously being a big deal, but I’ve come to recognize that the whole process of picking a major can be a little bit dramatized. There’s not always a perfect transcript to get you to your dream job, and a liberal arts education of any kind already helps a great deal.

Coming to college as a freshman I remember thinking, “Once I choose a major, everything will be easier because I’ll know what classes to take and what to be involved in” (human indecision and laziness at its finest). Well, something like that. Of course, for the most part, this is silly. Choosing your major is not at all like taking the blue pill in the Matrix. Your path is not predetermined as a chosen one. If it is, well, then you’re just not doing it right. There’s no formula for this sort of thing.

“Hollins is what you make it.” This saying of ours is essentially the idea I’m trying to emphasize here. It is much more impressive as well as fulfilling to make choices outside of the selection of classes. Start a club, do an internship, create an independent study. Find ways to combine your interests. Learn what it’s really like to be in the fields you’re studying. Hollins is the type of school that will support you in all of these individual endeavors, and no other student will ever be able to replicate these experiences. They belong to you and you alone.

I suppose the first experience I had in this vein, was being involved in The Little Mermaid theater touring show during J-term. J-term is the one month span of January in which students here can take a class, do an internship, or go on a Hollins-sponsored trip. During J-term my freshman year I got to perform as The Little Mermaid for kids at a number of elementary schools. This is a pretty unique experience for a freshman in college. As much as I loved having so many young fans (it felt like I worked at Disneyland), it made me realize performance isn’t what I want to do with the rest of my life.

Feeling a lack of connection to people, I moved to Sandusky, a specialty house on campus devoted to community service. As a member, I’m required to fulfill 10 hours of service each month. Doing my hours made me realize how much I need to be grounded in my relationships with others. I also took an environmental studies class, fell in love with it, and volunteered at an environment educational center at home over the summer. Just a few weeks ago, I declared Environmental Studies as my major.

All of this leads me to this month. I came across a few wilderness therapy centers online. They’re places where teens who are dealing with drug addiction, family problems, and/or mental health issues, can get a fresh start. I’ve suffered myself, very recently, when it comes to depression and anxiety issues, so it really hit home. This is where I want to work someday as a mental health counselor. So now the plan is to minor in psychology. It’s the perfect blend of service and environmental studies. I’m sure I could even manage to throw in my interest in art, through art therapy. Though all of this does provide me with some set guidelines as to what classes I should take, what I’m most excited about are the unique ways I’ll be able to tie my major and minor together through an independent study, research projects, and experiential learning. In the end, the excitement in knowledge doesn’t come from how you learned it but how you can put it into practice. Hollins is a great place for this. In January, I’ll be going to the Caribbean to learn about marine ecosystems and the island’s culture, and over the summer I’ll be spending 28 days straight in the wilderness. No showers. Talk about truly learning what it means to be in the field.

“Hollins is what you make it” To use an environmental term, you’ve got to find your niche. The only way to do that and truly make it yours is to break out of a life made up of class schedules.

The above is a picture I took as part of an independent research project for my ecology class, having to do with the rate of leaf loss of sugar maples and ash trees on campus.


Resilience

Hollins is full of incredible people: incredible friends, incredible mentors, and incredible teachers. Losing one of them has hit this campus hard. The way shock can push its way through a dining hall via one cell phone is something I’ll never forget.

I didn’t know him, but I have been surrounded by people who did. The grief has been overwhelming. I tell you this because I know how flowery descriptions of schools can be sometimes. This is real. The people here are some of the strongest I know.

Out of the darkness emerged Freya. Freya is a secret society that walks for important events in black robes to hide their identities. The night after the news came, they invited students from campus to walk with them. Students trailed behind black robes, lit candles in hand.

A couple days later, a friend of mine decided to release balloons in honor of our lost teacher. In just a few hours she collected about one hundred and fifty dollars in donations standing outside of the dining hall with a megaphone. We gathered together and wrote letters, tying them to the balloons before releasing them. 99 red balloons floating up into a bright blue sky.

I know that mourning is a process that often comes with illustrative events such as these, but it is with such little hesitancy and with such speed that people here decide to act. Moments like these are followed with little silence and lots of shouting through megaphones, with little darkness and lots of bright flames. Resilience, like the air in red balloons, drives us forward into that overwhelmingly blue world.


Returning to Hollins

The flight from Las Vegas, Nevada to Roanoke, Virginia (or vice versa) is one I’ve now taken fifteen times. It’s strange to think about it that way. That’s approximately 80 hours spent up in the air. Mind you, this isn’t counting the layovers I’ve spent trying to sleep in the Charlotte, Atlanta, or Philadelphia airports (there’s no real Direct flight between Vegas and Roanoke). Yet every flight feels like the first. The hassles of travel tend to disappear from memory as soon as I step off the plane. I guess that’s how it goes with places worth traveling to.

Returning to Hollins as a sophomore has been overwhelming in the best possible way. I’ve never asked about so many summers and truly wanted to hear every single answer. While I could write about reconnecting with friends for pages, I think I’ll spend this first blog explaining some things having to do with orientation and some new things I’m getting involved with here on campus, while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Opening Convocation, a ceremony we have to kick of the new school year, was pretty fabulous this year. President Nancy Gray had a speech about the rapidly changing world and the impossibilities of keeping up with it all. Sounds a little depressing right? That’s how we all were feeling until a flash mob broke out to the song Dynamite by Taio Cruz. Talk about comedic relief. It ended up being a wonderful illustration of what I feel Hollins women are all about. Yes, we live in a world where things happen beyond our control, but sometimes you have to let that go and give it all you got anyhow.

That’s a message I find I need to remember often when I’m studying problems facing our natural world. There are a lot of big issues out there, issues that, as a recently decided environmental studies major, I find myself thinking about often. You have to learn about something before you can change it though, and I’m really enjoying my classes. My favorite class this semester is my Ecology lab. It is outside and the majority of the time off campus. For our first lab we collected macroinvertebrates (very small aquatic insects, crustaceans, worms etc) in a net out of a stream on campus. We then identified and counted them to find out if the stream was healthy (which it was). It was a lot of fun, and hardly felt like a class at all.

Outside of classes, I am very involved around campus. Many people know me because I spend lots of time in the middle of front quad juggling barefoot with headphones dangling out of my ears. This semester I’m hoping to spread my passion across campus by starting a Circus Arts Club. I’m learning Hollins is truly just a few clowns short of a circus, and I mean that in the best possible way. I already have in the ranks a poi artist (someone who spins around balls on ropes) and a trapeze artist. I am so excited to see where this goes and will certainly keep updates in these blogs.

Those are some of the big things. To write about everything would be nothing short of a novel.

See you in the next chapter.
Randi