The Struggle Toward the Heights

“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” -Albert Camus

It’s easy to be cynical. Our world is populated by West African deaths gone ignored, political regimes exerting force and oppression over their people, and the horror that is the word ISIS. Corruption, stagnation, decline. It’s a familiar pattern for anyone who’s paying attention. And those who aren’t paying attention? Well, that might be even worse. Ours is a generation too busy snapping Instagrams of their Pumpkin Spice Lattes to even notice that there’s a whole world out there with bigger problems than Taylor Swift’s genre classification.

Yes, it’s easy to be cynical. What’s not easy is to keep living with persistence, passion, and hope for better things to come. And though I’ve learned a lot during my time at Drake, the most essential thing I’ve learned is the importance of hope. I’m sorry if this sounds like the kind of lesson gleaned at the end of a Hallmark movie, but that doesn’t make the point any less valid. The thing is, I’ve spent so much of my life stuck in the middle ground between my learned cynicism and my natural idealism that I failed to realize neither philosophy is really the answer. Undoubtedly, the world is absurd and unfair and sometimes downright terrible. But that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. And it definitely doesn’t mean we should give up on it.

You might think a wise professor sat me down and explained this truth to me or perhaps I heard a rousing speech from a Drake speaker about taking action and creating change. You’d be wrong. It’s not that I haven’t had great professors or heard some fascinating speeches, but the most inspirational and enlightening force in my Drake education has honestly been the actions of my fellow Drake students. I’ve met future educators dedicated to bridging the achievement gap and becoming an advocate for all students. I’ve learned from social justice crusaders working in Des Moines, and sometimes even around the world, who fight for fairness. I’ve worked with writers who are driven to bring about gender equality and social change. My hope is that by dedicating my current and future life to work in non-profit communications, I can do a little of the same.

I say this as a huge fan of French existentialism, but the world is not without meaning and our lives are not without purpose. At Drake, it’s become clear to me that we’re all a bit of an absurd hero, battling against the forces of the world, trying to make a difference. Unquestionably it’s a tough battle, but if anyone’s prepared to take it on, it’s my Drake peers and classmates. I’m not saying that all of us at Drake will change the world in big, dramatic ways. I’m not even saying that we all believe that we can actually change the world. But we’re sure gonna try. And who knows? Maybe in the struggle for the heights, we’ll find some meaning after all.

The Right Fit

I wanted to go to Northwestern.

That might be a bit of an unconventional statement on a blog documenting the Drake student experience, but there it is. The truth is that a few years ago, when I pictured my college life, it was at that classic antique archway right in the heart of Evanston. I dreamt of wearing tons of purple, roaming the halls of Medill, and hanging out lakeside with copious amounts of books.

I figured I’d go to Creighton.

When I browsed through the brochures, it all seemed to make sense to head to Omaha. Less expensive than Northwestern, but with some cool merits of it’s own, I just envisioned that I’d end up a Bluejay.

I thought I should go to Truman.

The benefits of staying in state were pretty overwhelming. Financially, it was the best possible option, even if it did mean spending time in Kirksville, Missouri.

I ended up at Drake. 

The fact is that despite the thoughts and the plans, the ideas and the predictions, come college decision time, I became a Drake Bulldog. And now, looking back at the process, I’m not entirely sure I can recount how that happened. What I do know is that Drake was always on my list, but there were so many other schools in the way. That is until one day, I looked down and realized there was only really one possible option for my college education. I hadn’t planned it or thought about it that much, but I just had this overwhelming feeling that Drake was the right place for me. This decision must’ve happened gradually, but it felt like a lightening bolt realization that suddenly came clear. And over three years later, I couldn’t be more grateful for it.

What I’m not saying is to give up on college dreams, ignore common sense, or disregard finances. All of those are pretty important. But I am a strong advocate for keeping an open mind, especially when it comes to a decision as big as college. And for a lot of students, they will attend the school they planned on all along. But for some, like me, the right fit might just be a bit of a surprise. The thing is that finding the right school is complicated, and for that matter, people are complicated. So make plans, dream up ideas, do what you gotta do. Just know that it might all change in an instant, leaving you somewhere you never imagined, but maybe someplace much, much better.

Fall Festivites in Des Moines

Did y’all know that pumpkins grow on these long stems and you actually have to pull them out of the ground? I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I got a chance to witness the whole earthy process this weekend when a group of friends and I trekked out to Center Grove Orchard, about 30 minutes away from Des Moines.

And though I joke a little, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen pumpkins on stems in the fields like that before. Let me tell you, it was incredible. Though I was the subject of many “city girl discovers the simple life” jokes from my friends, I really was fascinated by all that Center Grove had to offer. I’ve talked before about how Des Moines is this awesome cultured, urban area, but by venturing out past the city a little, Des Moines has also given me the opportunity to experience the farm life that I’ve only ever seen in Footloose.

It's the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

It’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

It really was this kind of refreshing foray into nature for me. After spending time soaking in the blue sky and the sight of these beautiful fields, I came back feeling better, happier, clearer somehow. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m basically Thoreau.

But besides the soul-cleansing benefits of the orchard, it was just a lot of fun. We took a hay ride around the farm, got to visit with some baby animals, spent time literally picking our own pumpkins, and then got to drink some awesome apple cider at the end. Plus, I saw approximately 3 different babies dressed in pumpkin outfits. You can’t tell me that’s not the cutest thing in the world.

And by the end of the day, maybe I even became a bit of a farm girl myself. I mean, I did drive a tractor while at the orchard. Okay, to be fair, it was a pedal operated tractor meant for children, but I’ve got to start small. I’m not Kevin Bacon.

In Defense of University Liberal Arts

The joke is a familiar one: University liberal arts provide students the opportunity to grow uselessly knowledgeable about esoteric (usually left-leaning) subjects all while pouring thousands of dollars the drain. Okay, I didn’t say it was a particularly funny joke. But as someone who entered into college a devout English major at Drake, you better believe I’ve heard all the criticism before. Things like ”Why are you paying to read books? Wouldn’t a business degree be more helpful? So are you a socialist now? Who even cares about these old dead guys?” Although that last question has the hint of a valid point, overall, I’ve dismissed these challenges because I believed firmly in the value of my liberal arts education. And as a senior, I now stand vindicated in my beliefs. I mean, I haven’t gotten a job yet, so maybe I should hold off on the parade, but I do believe my humanities education has served me pretty well so far.

The thing is that as a Drake English major, I don’t learn facts or readings or poems or even novels. I learn new ways to think about the world around me. I’ve had my notions challenged, and have grown as a person because of it. I know the term “critical thinking” is a buzzword or sorts that gets thrown around a lot these days, but my Drake humanities classes really have helped me to critically consume information and express my thoughts about it. Although I don’t want to disparage the benefits of professionally-targeted degrees (I am also a journalism major after all), I know that because I chose to study liberal arts, I can now look at things from different points of view instead of just one. I’ve experienced philosophy, gender theory, history, politics, pop culture, science, classic literature, sociology, and a whole lot more in my Drake classes.

Because I’ve had these educational opportunities, I feel like I’m more engaged in the world. I’m a better citizen, a better person, and I’m even infinitely more prepared to enter the real world after college. It may sound counterintuitive, but my humanities classes are the reason I can problem solve, empathize, communicate with others, and approach issues from new perspectives. I’m not saying that I’ll get a job because I’ve studied the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, but I am saying the skills I used to read, understand, and discuss Heidegger should serve me well in whatever my future endeavors are.

So my advice? Study the liberal arts in some way, shape, or form. I was lucky because at Drake it’s easy to pick up a double major. I’ve gotten both some great practical experience from being a journalism student and all the other benefits of my English degree. But whatever the situation, just take liberal arts classes you’re interested in, even if, and especially if, they’re something new and challenging. I promise, it’ll serve you well in the long run. And as to those people who criticize your foray into the humanities? Well in the words of another brilliant philosopher, Miss Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.”

Tim Gunn Comes to Drake

This past week I had the privilege of chit chatting with fashion royalty. Well, to be fair, it was kind of a one sided conversation, but the fact remains that I got to see one of my heroes, Tim Gunn, speak at Drake University. Tim (as I call him because we’re such good friends and all) came to Drake as part of the Bucksbaum Lecture series which brings such incredible figures as Jimmy Carter, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Garrison Keillor to Drake to speak to students, the Drake community, and even all of Des Moines. Anyway, all of campus dressed in their finest to come hear about Tim’s tips on fashion, business, and making it work. Though I learned a ton from the talk, I’ve compiled some of my favorite Tim Gunn pieces of wisdom below:

Isn't he just the cutest, wisest human you've ever seen?

Isn’t he just the cutest, wisest human you’ve ever seen?

Take the High Road

Like the noble, classy gentleman he is, Tim advocated staying above the fray, even in the high-drama fashion world. In his footsteps, I really am trying to avoid going full Real Housewives in my daily life. Although it’s tough, I know Tim is right when he says you’ll lead a more fulfilling life if you eternally strive to be the bigger person.

But Banish When You Need To

I’m not entirely sure why Tim said this, but at one point during his lecture, he yelled the word “Banish” with a flourish of the hands. Like all Tim Gunn moments, it was pretty great, and inspired me to expand my vocabulary for dramatic effect when need be.

Don’t Wear Capri Cargo Pants

This one is kind of self-explanatory, and probably not new information, but important to keep in mind nonetheless.

Anna Wintour Can Rock A Manolo, But…

Tim Gunn told one of the best stories I’ve ever heard in my entire life. That sounds like an exaggeration, but trust me, it’s not. Anyway, for the full effect, you need to listen to Tim’s version of events, but the gist is that one New York Fashion Week, Tim was attending a show in a building on the fifth floor. The ice queen of fashion herself, Anna Wintour happened to be at the same show and when the events concluded, she simply could not bear to enter the freight elevator with all the commoners or descend the stairs like an absolute peasant. Thus, like any logical human, she had her bodyguards carry her down the five flights of stairs, out the door, and all the way down the street to her car. Just take a moment to let that visual sink in, will you?

Make it Work

Okay, sorry. I had to say it. But though Tim’s signature catchphrase is a little trite at this point, it still holds its worth. As Gunn so beautifully explained, “Make it Work” is the perfect allegory for his experience at Parsons and the college experience in general. Things won’t always be perfect, and they certainly won’t always go according to plan. But the important thing is that you keep pushing through the difficult moments and find a way to… you guessed it, make it work.

Famous Drake Alumni

Today, Billy Cundiff kicked a 29-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining to give the Cleveland Browns the win over the New Orleans Saints. As if the Browns beating the Saints isn’t newsworthy enough, the game attracted my attention for one other special reason: Billy Cundiff is a Drake grad and former Bulldog football player. Pretty cool, right? The correct answer is yes, very cool.

And Cundiff isn’t alone among awesome Drake grads. In fact there’s a huge collection of famous Bulldogs across Hollywood and the sports world. I mean, we’re not USC, but there’s an impressive number of superstars who trace their careers right back to Des Moines. Case in point:

Jeremy Piven

Okay, I think we can all agree that Entourage didn’t exactly showcase the best of human nature, but the good news is that Jeremy Piven is no Ari Gold. In fact, he seems like a very cool guy and a testament to the strength of Drake’s awesome theater program. While at Drake, Piven acted in productions like Julius Caesar, and now he’s sporting top hats on PBS as Mr. Selfridge, bro.

Zach Johnson

I generally try to stick more to mini-golf myself, but I make an exception to watch Drake alum Zach Johnson on the PGA tour. The Iowa City native has 11 tour victories, and even won the Masters. And even after all the success, he still remains a proud Bulldog.

Drake

Just kidding. He didn’t go here. Not yet, anyway….

Michael Emerson

Ben Linus, guys. BEN LINUS. Where do you think he picked up the necessary smarts to manipulate an entire island of people? That’s right. Drake University. I may be confusing fiction and reality here a bit, but the fact is that I am tangentially connected to LOST and that’s all that matters.

Kourtney Hansen

If you’re not watching Nashville, you’re not doing TV right. Tune in for the drama, the music, the drama, and appearances by Drake’s own Kourtney Hansen. She started working in radio while studying theater at Drake and now has an incredible career as a dancer, actress, CMT correspondent, and Predators broadcaster. I actually got to interview her for Drake Magazine a while back and let me tell you, she couldn’t be nicer.

Steve Allen

Okay, for all you youngsters out there, this one may not seem as cool, but for me, it was a big deal to discover that Steve Allen was a Bulldog. Apparently, it was even a radio class at Drake in the 40s that inspired him to get into the media biz, and ultimately use his comedy chops as to become the first host of The Tonight Show.

John August

In yet another Drake Hollywood success story, John August studied journalism at Drake before hitting the big screen as a writer and director. Today, he often works with the frightening/frighteningly brilliant Mr. Tim Burton. But my personal John August favorite will always be his adaptation of the eternally cool Big Fish.

Obviously, a lot of really awesome stars got their start at Drake, but celebrity of not, there seems to be something about the Drake education that produces really cool, interesting, and successful people. I’m probably not qualified to venture why that is, but I will say that Drake allows you explore what you love and learn about new things you never knew you’d love. And if that process happens to lead to becoming an ESPN or Hollywood staple, then so be it. I mean, I will be graduating soon, if superstardom should come calling.

College Helicopter Parents

It’s tough being a national media star, but someone’s got to do it. You see, this week I took my turn in the spotlight after being quoted in a little publication called The Washington Post. I don’t know, you may have heard of it. Whatever. In all seriousness, it was a really interesting piece about helicopter parents in college, and I was interviewed as well as my parents, about our experiences. Turns out, the article has really struck a nerve. In the wake of the piece, an interesting dialogue has emerged about student independence in college and reaching the right balance of “letting go” for parents. For all the info and advice, read the article here or check out the subsequent Today Show piece.

Me and my  parents in front of Cowles Library during my first year at Drake. Aren't they cute?!

Me and my parents in front of Cowles Library during my first year at Drake. Aren’t they cute?!

I don’t pretend to be some kind of expert who has these issues all figured out. And honestly, I’m not qualified to give parenting advice of any kind. I mean, I can nanny with the best of them, but issues of parental involvement are a whole lot more complicated than doling out fruit snacks. What I do know is that my parents are the reason I am who I am today. They are still the most important people in my life, and I always want to maintain our great bond.

Simultaneously, I also know that I need to take ownership of my own life. We can’t all pull a Peter Pan and retain the simplicity of youth forever. So I decided to leave home and go away to college at Drake. I decided to live as independently as possible and make my own way in the world. And most importantly, my parents decided to let me do just that. I’m forever grateful for their support and encouragement, but equally as grateful for their distance and understanding. My apologies for the Dr. Phil-esque tone here, but I really do mean it. The transition to college is difficult, I’m not gonna lie to you. But with enough room to live and explore, and yes, even make mistakes, it can be a great experience for kids—and parents—to set the stage for the future.

College Room Decoration

So, full disclosure: I watch a lot of HGTV. At this point, it’s really not just a hobby, but more of a lifestyle or a mindset. I mean, predicting which House Hunters property will win is my version of high adrenaline gambling. Oh, and don’t even get me started on a Property Brothers marathon, because I will be there all day as those crazy bros trick people into buying run-down houses with terrible infrastructure.

After years of watching HGTV with my family and friends, I’ve developed a love for all things home design. I’m enthralled by renovations, and thrilled by the prospect of furniture shopping. I live for a good DIY project, and almost even considered listing throw pillow arrangement on my resume. And while that’s all well and good, there’s traditionally not much room for such a decorating hobby in the college sphere. Living spaces are close and usually shared, the residences are impermanent, and the budget is tight.

A peek inside my apartment. Unless you don't like it in which case it's definitely somebody else's.

A peek inside my apartment. Unless you don’t like it, in which case it’s definitely somebody else’s.

But in my eyes, college is all about branching out on your own and making a life for yourself. And what better way to do that than by decorating your living space? So when I came to Drake, I knew I wanted to make my space my own and try to take residence hall and apartment living to the max. But I realize everyone is not the same. Some Drake students couldn’t care less about what their living space look like, while others like me may spend hours dreaming of a Home Goods shopping spree. The point is, that no matter who you are, you want to have a nice, comfortable place to live during your college years. Here’s my tips to help you do just that.

1. Make it Personal

Nobody wants to live in a boring, generic space. So make your room, apartment, or house about you. Hang up art, tape photos on the wall, display important objects, and work to create a style that’s all about you. It should be easy. After all, we’re millennials, so selfishness comes naturally, right?

2. Comfort Above All

There’s no doubt that college can be stressful. It’s important to have a comfortable place to come back to and relax after a long week of school, work, and activities. Make sure you have plenty of comfortable seating for yourself and friends and cozy up your space with blankets and pillows. If I’ve learned one thing during my time at Drake, it’s that come the Iowa winter, you can never have enough chic (and warm) throws.

3. Build for the Future

While we’re only at college for a short while, soon we’ll all be out in the world looking to furnish our own apartments or houses (if all goes according to plan). So don’t only buy cheap furniture pieces designed for residence hall life. Invest in a couple of good, classic pieces of furniture like tables or a bookcase so you’ll have something to build your new, adult life around.

4. Design on a Dime

That being said, as college students, we’re not made of money. Most of us can’t afford to pop over to the Ethan Allen for a new armoire. Instead, be smart about your purchases. Shop around to find the lowest price, and never commit to anything for your space without thinking it over for a while. And may I recommend RetailMeNot Coupons, Target, and the clearance aisle?

5. Get the Essentials

Decorating for college rooms isn’t like decorating in the real world. There’s a smaller space and you can’t make any permanent changes, which does complicate the decorating process. But stock up on some important tools like command strips, painter’s tape, and magnets to spruce up your space without leaving a mark.

Last First Day of School

When you think about it, today’s kind of a big milestone. It’s my last ever first day of school. Sure, I’ll have next semester, but this is the final time I’ll get that August back-to-school experience with the summer weather, the new notebooks, and the promise of a whole new year in front of me. In honor of the occasion, I even did a little math, and turns out this is my 17th first day of school (I think). Anyway, feel free to alert the media. It’s kind of a big deal.

You would think that after being in school for so long the novelty would eventually wear off. But honestly, it really has not. Today I find myself just as nervous and excited as I was prior to my first year at Drake or even my first year at high school. I’m a little unsettled, a tad jittery, and ready to get to class 30 minutes ahead of time. I mean, I won’t. I’m gonna play it cool and just get there 20 minutes early.

But I’m not the only one who’s excited today. Campus is absolutely buzzing with Drake students, both new and old, who are genuinely happy to be back on campus. As classes kick off today, we have the opportunity to meet new people, learn new things, and share new experiences. Thus, though we’ve all been at school for years, Drake still manages to make the first day new again. I think it’s a pretty unique experience to be able to say that even the seniors feel invigorated and ready to go come the end of August. But I think that phenomenon is due to the element of the unexpected inherent in the college experience and especially the Drake experience. There’s always surprise classes you end up loving or an activity you joined on a whim. There’s people you never thought you’d become friends with and unexpected moments waiting around every corner. Not in a scary way, but in a fun way. The reason I and so many others are excited and nervous today is because we can’t predict what’s coming this year at Drake.  But I can’t wait to find out.

Senior Moment

I realize it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but in my defense, I have been very busy doing some very important things. Okay, mainly I’ve just been moving back to Des Moines, but that is important. Anyway, now that I’m back at Drake and getting settled in for my final year, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that…this is my final year.

It’s something I’ve logically known for a while. I mean I’m no math genius, but I can (usually) count to four. As anyone will tell you though, there’s a huge difference between knowing something is true and feeling the truth of it. And the later half of that process is only now starting to sink in for me.

After a summer full of talking about my senior status, I should’ve been prepared. Everyone from my family and friends to even my dentist have asked me “How are you felling about your senior year?” Honestly, I didn’t know what to tell them and I still don’t think I can articulate an answer. I’m feeling excited, worried, happy, nostalgic, and a whole mix of other things when I think about the months ahead. The only thing that really captures the shock I’m feeling is some expressions straight out of Scooby Doo. If “jinkies!” were more socially acceptable, I’d probably use that to explain my pre-senior year thoughts.

And while it’s been a pretty great journey at Drake so far, I also have to remember that’s it’s not over yet. There’s plenty of learning, work, activities, friends, and fun in store for me this year. So for now, I’m gonna stop trying to think about how I’m feeling or will be feeling and just enjoy the ride.