College is…

The four years you spend in college are filled with some of the most life-changing moments you’ll ever experience (or at least … so far … I’m not “old” or even in the “real world” yet). College is filled with late-night cram sessions in which you won’t touch one textbook, but rather bare your soul to a friend and at the end of that moment you’ll wonder why you even said everything you just did — but it’ll make sense later on. College is stuffed full of heart-wrenching moments and mornings where you wonder whether or not you can even get out of bed and face the new day (you can). College is a mash-up of heartache from a multitude of possibilities, of ridiculous moments that other people would have to see to believe, of Netflix binges and thumbing through old papers that bring back a flood of memories you had long since buried.

I clearly have only attended one college, one university during these four years, so I cannot speak as a guru of all colleges, but CNU truly has brought me not the people I wanted to meet, but the people I needed to meet, for better or worse. Cliché or not, sappy senior moment or late-night ramblings, the structure of Christopher Newport University is extraordinarily unique — that much, I know. I have had professors who have pushed me far past the limits of my knowledge. I have had friends who stood by me in my darkest hour, even when they didn’t have to. Perhaps some CNU students have large groups of friends for partying each weekend, but for me, a very small group of close friends fulfills me and pushes me to be the best individual I can be.

You know, CNU was the only college I applied to (DO NOT FOLLOW MY METHODS, PEOPLE!) Let me clarify: I applied EXTREMELY early so I would know whether or not CNU would accept me; my plan allowed plenty of time to apply to other schools if the need arose. I knew this school was exactly where I wanted to go and where I needed to go. With my family already having one foot in Virginia, and my bursting to graduate from high school and beyond ready for the next phase of my life, I felt CNU was exactly what I needed! Call it fate, intuition or whatever you like, I came to CNU for a reason: to make an impact (which hopefully I have), to befriend some of the greatest people I have ever met (I know I have), and to gain a strong foundation both as a scholar and as an individual to enter the next phase of my life. In the end college is … well, you’ll just have to fill it in yourself ☺

Five Months Left

For those of you who read my previous post about looking for jobs, I can tell you that the journey so far has been pretty slow: seven applications, one pending interview, one rejection. Of course, that rejection also happened to be the job that I was absolutely vying for, but I suppose life has a way of closing one door and opening another. How’s that for positive attitude?

Still, the five-month mark reminds me a little bit more of limbo than the exciting quest to the real world. But then again, no one told me it would be easy, which leads me to my next point: how in the heck do you plan your future when you have no idea what you want? I have a small inkling of what I’d like to do — social media, writing, nonprofit, women’s rights organization — but there’s always that battle between choosing whatever’s out there versus choosing what you’d truly enjoy.

I don’t think of myself as a guru of all things reflective, but many people I know don’t take the time to just think and wonder about who they are and what they want. There’s always the “where do you want to be in five years” question that finds its way into every conversation you have, especially when you get older, but there is actually some value to it. The point isn’t that you know exactly what you will be doing in some number of years, but it’s important to think about because it gives you some ideas of what you might eventually pursue.

But that also may not answer the question of how to plan your future if you don’t know what you want. The idea of a personal manifesto of values might sound a tad corny, but the gist is if you can narrow down your stance on certain values and ideas, it becomes easier to construct your lifestyle path. So how do you find your values? I started by listing 10 general values — such as balance, cooperation and happiness — that I felt best described myself and what I want from life. I then distinguished between “A” values, my fundamental values, and “B” values, the desired, but not completely necessary values. In a separate list, I wrote down all my “A” values and also why the particular value was important to me. By the end of the exercise, I had a clearer vision of who I thought I was as a person.

All that reflective stuff might not sound very appealing, but it’s essential to figuring out what you care about and how you perceive yourself. And once you’ve painted a semi-finished picture of who you are, practical application in terms of volunteering or interning makes a little more sense. Instead of committing to an idea full-heartedly, take one summer to try something that interests you, whether it be signing up for community service or interning at a company that shares your values.


Finals are a tough time of the year. If you have been an average student throughout the semester, then finals present the opportunity to salvage your GPA and come out looking like you understood the class a lot better than you actually did. If you have been a good student all semester, then finals are the time of the year when you work hard to make sure you do not accidentally undo all of your hard work. There is no getting around it: finals stink.

What makes finals even more difficult is the extra spare time you have to study. Now an outsider might see that having one test a day and a reading day right in the middle of the week as a bonus in terms of getting studying going, but they are wrong. As is the case normally when you have more than enough time to do what you need to do, procrastination generally sets in. Often the argument can be internally made that since I have 48 hours to study for this test that I can start in 24 hours. After you spend 24 hours not studying you find yourself in a situation in which you need to sleep, eat and check Facebook so much that all the studying you thought you could get done in the 24 hours is reduced to just a handful.

It is often commented that “Finals Week” sounds a lot like “Netflix.” This is because you have more time than usual during finals week to catch up on a show you have been missing. One of my friends used his finals week last semester to marathon “Breaking Bad.” While this study strategy is not advisable, it is particularly appealing.

I find my greatest struggle is focusing when I need my computer to study. It is all too easy to get started reviewing a PowerPoint presentation that your professor has put up online and end up scrolling through Facebook and Tumblr like the zombie Internet-addicts we were born to be. It’s a battle against the urges to get distracted online, or watch all four seasons of “The Walking Dead” or experiment with new cooking recipes instead of studying that defines finals week. In the end it is necessary to remember the words from Disney’s “Hercules”: “I will beat the odds. I will go the distance.”

Respect the Exam Season, Respect Yourself

Exams are hard.

This is a well-known fact throughout the college and university community and beyond. It’s a fact we can’t change until they invent the machine that installs intelligence and factual information into our heads automatically. Personally I don’t think we should ever do that, but starting a discussion about it would be a digression and we’re not going to go there.

Anyway, the fact is, there always seems to be this culture of cynicism about exams — this whole idea that we almost plan for the last two weeks of the semester to be this horrible experience that we just want to “get through.” Now, I know that working on final projects and studying for final tests (whether cumulative or not) isn’t a jolly good walk in the park while eating an ice cream cone. However, we only make the experience worse by getting too stressed and anxious about it before we know how bad it really has to be.

My friend Anna and I were talking about this the other day while taking a quick break from working on a final project. There we were, sitting in the calm ambience of the Trible Library at midnight. Sure it was somewhat late at night and this project was due the next day, but as we sat back in our chairs to rest from so much learning and application, we discussed how neither of us was that freaked about our projects and exams. Sure we have plenty to do in the next few days, but we trust ourselves that it’s going to get done and we’re going to accomplish things we’re proud of.

That’s the thing: As students who have so much going on in our lives right now, it’s not fair to us to beat ourselves up during exam week. I hear people saying things like “I don’t have time to eat dinner tonight,” or “I haven’t slept in two nights,” or other statements highlighting the fact that they haven’t taken care of themselves because of final exams.

This isn’t fair to us as students. We are doing ourselves and society a service when we are investing our time and money into educating ourselves. We have this absolutely beautiful school with hardworking faculty and staff who go above and beyond to make sure we get the full experience of learning, application and exposure to this world we’re educating ourselves about.

It seems to me that part of the reason we loathe exams so much is simply the aura that surrounds the exam season. So forget about that! Remember that the information we’re reviewing over and over is special and imperative to our future. What we’re doing here is important, not a “waste of our time.”

So with that, I encourage thee to take your books and notes, turn on a little study music, grab a thermos of hot chocolate (and a bottle of water, because hydration is good for your brain), and cozy up in one of the many comfy study nooks on CNU’s campus. Your grades will reflect the respect you’ve paid to looking over you content, and your psyche will thank you. I promise.

Happy exam season, y’all!

PLP Day of Service

I have always, even as child, wanted to volunteer my time to help the community grow.  I believe  the success and the future of the community lies within us.  At the start of the semester, CNU’s President’s Leadership Program (PLP) required us to participate in a day of service at a set destination. The objective was to get a feel for what volunteering is like, to understand the responsibility that comes with the commitmen, and also to help us decide which service track we wanted to pursue.

My day of service destination was the C. Waldo Scott Center for H.O.P.E. here in Newport News. It is a place where children can get educational help, training, support and gain the skill sets needed to take charge of their lives. During my time there, I helped the children with math, specifically, knowledge of monetary value. It was a challenging task, not because they were intellectually lacking, but because of the unexpected emotional aspect. I remember working with one of the children whose aunt had recently passed away. He was a bit reluctant to participate in the beginning because of that reason. I then asked him if he would like a hug, and that gesture brightened his day. Once we began, I learned that his intellect is far beyond the average for his age range.

Initially, I thought  the PLP service requirements required in our first year were a bit much, but I have realized that it is really not that much at all.  The day of service experience truly touched my heart and my life; because of my experience at the Scott Center, I plan to put in more hours of service than required by the PLP program. I believe  my service to the children in the community will create a bigger, brighter future for the community and the world.

Where the Studying Begins

As the pressure of finals grows, you may find yourself asking “WHERE CAN I STUDY?” Have no fear — I shall keep this short and sweet (yeah, I have papers to write and study guides to make, too …) We all know that the Trib Lib is jam-packed at this time of year so here’s a list of five other sites to explore:

1. Luter Hall – Strangely quiet, the halls of Luter are filled with cushy chairs and couches, just waiting for you to nestle in and grab that O Chem study guide
2. Upstairs DSU – If you need a little background noise to keep you going, check out the second and third floor of the David Student Union. You’ll find many tables and couches along with computers available for anyone to use!
3. McMurran Hall – Empty classroom? Endless space? I rest my case.
4. Schooners – If you’re looking to get off campus and out of your room, the service at Schooners is fantastic! They’re very laid back and will let you grab a table in the back, order a pizza and write your 12-page paper on Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
5. Panera – Just a few buildings down from Schooners, Panera is the ideal studying place with secluded booths and a calming atmosphere. If you don’t want a waiter to keep checking in on you but the thought of endless refills excite you, study at Panera. Your caffeine addiction will thank you.

We all know finals are challenging, but it’s all about time management and the ability to sit down and focus! Finding the ideal study spot may sound silly to some, but being able to get comfortable and “in the zone” is crucial to a successful finals week.

The Season of Giving

The greatest part about the holidays at CNU isn’t just the festive decorations and the giant, luminous tree in the middle of the Great Lawn. Each holiday season, the spirit of giving is present as well. Student-driven initiatives like Delta Sigma Theta’s Angel Tree and the National Residence Hall Honorary’s Toys for Tots Pancake Breakfast are just a few examples of the community of giving at CNU.

This year, I spent a little bit of my paycheck buying some pretty cool presents for a child listed on Delta Sigma Theta’s Angel Tree. While I’m usually a stickler with my money, the satisfaction of helping someone who has less than I do made up for the anxiety induced from weaving through a maze of kids in the toy section thousands of times. Not to mention, it was kind of neat to see what toys are out there now — so much different from the wooden building blocks and Barbie dolls my sister and I got when we were little!

If your wallet isn’t so full, there are still many chances for community service in the Newport News area. The Foodbank of the Virginia Peninsula is always looking for volunteers to help out with off-loading supplies or packaging food. Or if you prefer to stay on campus, there are tons of student organizations that offer volunteer opportunities as well.

How Are You? “Fine” Doesn’t Cut It

I can distinctly remember stepping onto campus for the first time and thinking that I had walked onto the set of a musical. I kid you not, there was so much happy in the air that it seemed entirely plausible that the students and faculty would, at any moment, break into song and dance. I’ll follow that up by saying I am not alone in this. In fact, I’ve chatted with several friends who agree that campus can be nauseatingly happy. Don’t get me wrong, happy is great; I love happy. But I think happy can be dangerous too, just hear me out:

“I’m fine” is probably one of the biggest lies told in America. Asking “how are you?” has become part of a routine of reserved pleasantries that are mechanically exchanged. But how are we really? I think we are very concerned about projecting the image that we have it all together, that we are composed, and that we really are doing A-OK. The danger is that when everyone around us says they’re doing just fine, we can feel like the battles we fight are ours and ours alone. On the days that everything that could go wrong goes wrong, on the days that you’re heartbroken or hurt or angry with anyone who breathes, and on the days that are just plain lousy (and trust me, you will have these days), it becomes easy to forget that the people we pass on the sidewalk may be fighting similar demons.

One month ago, we, the Human Experience Club, stopped more than 50 students on campus and asked them all the same question: Are you happy? We wanted to cut the small talk and instead talk to students candidly about how they are doing, how they are really doing. What we found is that most students are happy most of the time. An overwhelming majority of students identified as being happy, but even those who reported being happy also admitted to having their fair share of crummy days, whether it be from stress or personal struggles. “Happy” students spoke of happiness as a shared experience: good friends, good family and good faith. Many described happiness as impermanent and mutable: “I’m not happy today; ask me tomorrow,” “I’m happier than I used to be,” “I’m working toward happy.”

My favorite response rejected the idea of happiness altogether. The student explained that wholeness, not happiness, is the goal. She said that being happy is part of being whole in the same way that being sad is part of being whole. Sometimes it’s OK not to be OK. So instead of trying to hold ourselves together all of the time, maybe we would do better to own up to the stress, to own up to the hurt and to accept those feelings as part of our whole. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have it all together and that sometimes I’m just not OK.  That being said, I’ve found CNU to be an incredibly accepting and warm place. When I’m open and vulnerable, I have been met with nothing but support and understanding. I have a roommate who will stop whatever she’s doing to go get cookie dough ice cream with me on a bad day, and I have a professor who checks in with me if I seem a bit off in class. I’m part of a community that has my back when things get tough, and that’s a pretty awesome thing.

I want you to ask yourself, “Am I whole?” To respond truthfully, you first have to answer two questions: What does being whole mean to me, and am I being honest with myself in assessing my state of wholeness? I want you to remember that it’s OK not to be OK. I want you to know that the guy sitting beside you in class isn’t always OK either. And finally, I want you start saying more than, “I’m fine,” when someone asks how you’re doing.

Let Finals Week Begin!

I don’t think it would be a far stretch to compare finals week at CNU to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. While lacking in savagery, the competition for empty chairs and tables, the struggle to extend the last bit of printer funds, and the lines for sustenance (aka Einstein’s) certainly make for an intense environment.

What’s a tribute—I mean student—to do? Thanks to years worth of cultivating the ultimate study-nerd techniques, I’ve compiled a quick list of things you can do to make studying and taking exams a little bit easier on yourself.

  •  Take advantage of the early hours to scout for spots in the Trible Library

With the proper timing, you can ensure that you will be able to find an ideal spot to study in the library. Get to the library too late in the day, and you might find yourself on the floor—it does fill up pretty quickly! I usually start my day at 9 a.m. and leave for the library, which certainly has its advantages: when it’s early and not many students are around, you’ll have that peace and quiet you need.

  • Don’t use all your Dining Dollars at once—frugality is key to maximizing all the coffee you can get

CNU’s meal plans include Dining Dollars. I like to use mine sparingly during the semester, so that when finals do come around, I have plenty of extra cash to buy all the hot coffee and bagels I need.

  • Section off your study hours, instead of trying to mash them all together

Before I study, I usually make a schedule of all the things I want to accomplish while at the library, typically divided into hours. So, for one hour I’ll study for this class, for one hour I’ll study for that class, and for 30 minutes I’ll take a break. Having a clear set of goals makes studying a lot easier and prevents overlap. Also, don’t forget to stand up and walk around for a while.

  • Stay well nourished and hydrated

While I love coffee as much as the next person, that alone is not sufficient for getting you through the day. Studying takes a ton of brain power, so make sure you start off with a filling breakfast and water throughout the day.

  • Cap the day off with a good night’s sleep

A long day of studying can make your brain infinitely tired, so why exhaust your body as well? Nothing is more motivating than waking up feeling ready to conquer your next set of study notes, but you might not be able to if you’ve stayed up until 1 a.m. Just think about it this way: once you make it through your finals, you’ll have all the nights in the world during winter break to stay up late.

  • Don’t cram the day of the exam, it’ll only make you second-guess yourself

Please, please, please do not cram for exams, especially the day of the test. Putting it bluntly, if you’ve waited this long to study anyways, you really won’t learn much from the few hours of reading your notes before the exam. And if you have studied beforehand, use the time you have to boost yourself up! I’ve found that when I go over my notes intensely before the final, I usually end up second-guessing what I’ve learned. Don’t overanalyze, just go with your gut!


By the time December tumbles around at CNU, life gets very interesting. You’re very settled now, even with talk of finals flitting about. You’ve established connections in your hall, and who you spend lunch and dinner with every Tuesday and  Thursday. Perhaps you and your roommate even have a tradition, ridiculous to some, but sacred all the same.

And in December, you’ll catch yourself walking alone at night absent-mindedly. And that’s when you really realize you’ve become quite settled at CNU. No need for the precautionary “buddy system,” or calling to check in with your roommate, not even the thought of it in fact. And certainly there wasn’t the new-eyed awe of a freshman that gasps at her surroundings. It’s just you, walking. Other things were busying your mind, walking the routine you know will bring you to your end destination. No flubbing about looking around and thinking, “There! No, there. No. . .” By December, all you have to do is let your feet guide you home.

And it is just like home. You don’t need to think where you’re going, or assess the semi-identical columned buildings, you just walk. Let your feet direct you there, and your head may think on.

This is important. Why? Because you’re finally comfortable enough to feel like home, rather than call it home. Nearly everything presented in the CNU lifestyle is pampered and plush from the start, but in a deserted parking lot between Freeman and Ferg, how much feeling of home can you get? Well, nearly none, unless you feel at ease knowing its crooks and crannies, the cracks in the pavement, and each odd tree plunked down here and there. You’re comfortable in your own skin in this “new” environment, except you know it’s not new due to the fact your skin’s not tingling with awareness.

Being comfortable in your own skin is especially important, and it doesn’t matter how many couches your dorm offers, or how lavish the food selections are. It’s how you’ve been treated and what you’ve seen that makes you comfortable in all places and times of day on campus. It’s the heart of the community and the security. Isn’t that what we seek most when thinking of home? Security in a soft touch as your mother strokes your hair, in the familiar way the stars twinkle from your front lawn, or in the sound of your lock clicking at night when you were growing. You knew the fake monsters couldn’t catch you anyway, but it was still nice to hear the click. It was still secure.

That’s what you feel in the months growing up to December, and you don’t even realize it. And pretty soon, CNU starts to become your home rather than act as it.