Sara Says: The Final Column

When I began this column back in September, I told you all this: I know that who I am is all that I have. That was all I seemed to know at the time that I started editing with the Provoc, and it was the main thing I had learned in college. But now, seven months later, I seem to know a little bit more—that words have a fickle way of sticking out of everything, of not wanting to bend to the circumstances you have, that sometimes they’re going to fail you, and others they’re going to run like a leaky faucet onto a page and you won’t be able to stop them.

I’ve come to know now, with all of the bravado and certainty in the world, that I was right when I started this whole thing. Who I am is all that I have, and all that I have and all that I am are words.

Words seem to have traced my entire trajectory throughout college. I’m a history major and (officially declared!) English minor, so pretty regularly I’ve found myself hunched in front of a computer pounding away at a keyboard. I have searched for them, and found them, when I’ve had a hot date with Microsoft Word and a Her Campus article or blog post or Provoc article. I have spent hours on end with the dance team when words have left me to go see something else. Words have been why I can fall asleep at night, and why I’m able to hold the folks around me with tight little hands.

And I blame you, Assumption College, for all of this. I blame the many people who have touched me, with positive rays of sunshine or with heartbreaking sadness. I blame the girls who have lived by my side for this little journey, the teams who have made my hands feel light and full, the lectures that have taken me to fantasy lands where I, from the comfort of a desk, have had the ability to see everything.

Shout out to the Provoc staff for being magical word fairies, for making me feel hilarious and for teaching me how to step into the large, large shoes that leaders often wear. My love for you is infinite, and if you need to hear about it again, check out issue seven.

Shout out to the dance team for being there when words weren’t. Thank you for teaching me how to dance and walk like a champion, how to ‘put my loser up’ in all sense of the words and for Sobfest 2015.

Shout out to 5J for being the most hilarious and unique women in my life. Thank you for the Wall of Shame, for the denim stains our dancing has left on walls and for the toxic group message that plagues my iPhone. Please stay weird. Always.

And shout out to my professors, for giving me books to read, and a whole world to explore. Special shout outs to Professor Wheatland, who gave me the worst grade I’ve gotten in 117, and for pulling out the best paper I’ve ever written in senior seminar; Dr. Kisatsky for letting me write an honors thesis about Disney, and for making sure it came out okay; Professor Land for reminding me that journalism, and writing in general, is all about talking to and learning from people you would never have gotten the chance to meet; and to Professor Hodgen. Thanks for telling me to “ruin my life” and become a writer; you—and writing—have saved me in more ways than you could know.

Thanks to the Andover High friends who never let me stop calling them home. You all are everything to me.

Thanks to Douglas, Colleen and Eric for being my first friends ever, for keeping me irrationally attached to Massachusetts, for teaching me to laugh deep in my gut and for teaching me that the earth is the greatest thing that we have and we should go out there and enjoy it. Thanks to Mom and Dad for making bill payments, high grades, extracurriculars and big dreams all possible.

Forever and ever I will always say that humility and gratitude will be the most important and most attractive qualities someone can have, so I try to pull them into my heart every morning and every night. Thank you Provoc, Assumption and everyone who has filled this space with love for always keeping me humble, and always keeping me grateful.

Talk Nerdy to Me: How to Stay Organized and Nail your Senior Thesis

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As we all prep to head back to school for spring semester, some folks might be gearing up to write (or continue to write) their senior thesis. Lucky for you all, I just finished mine (and did pretty well on it, if I do say so myself).

Writing my senior thesis was really stressful for a lot of reasons, but mostly because this is such a freakin’ beefy project. I’d done lengthy research papers before (thesis proposal, senior seminar [which I took as a junior…?]). Because of all of that, I was able to really kind of figure out what I wanted to do in terms of organization for the project.

Since my senior thesis was so important to me (it was the #1 thing I was thankful for this year), I really wanted to knock it out of the park and do something great with it. I knew that since it was so much research, I was going to need to be so so organized.

So what was my thesis even about?

My senior thesis was entitled, “The Implicit Imperialists: The Disnification of American Hegemony 1990-1991.” I took a look at the relationship Disney has with the U.S. government and how, for better or for worse, everything we see (Disney cartoons included) serves as some sort of propaganda. I also looked at the history of American primacy, otherwise known as “orientalism.” This refers to the way the West perceives the East as kind of subhuman, like the way colonial powers in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century justified going into Middle Eastern countries and sort of imposed Western conceptions of freedom and civilization on them (but we have to ask– who made up these ideas of freedom/civilization?). In the end, I kind of weave this all together to make sense of the First Persian Gulf War and the depiction of Arabs in Aladdin.

It probably sounds boring to you, but I promise, it was awesome.

I tell you all this just so I can show you how many different components projects like this have. For me, I had: the study of Orientalism (I read a lot by/about Edward W. Said), history of U.S. foreign relations, Cold War and Gulf War readers (big books filled with primary documents), the study of Disney, the study of media analysis, and the study of Disney with regards to history. I organized all of my research accordingly.

The Organization:

So I decided to take all of those research topics and split them into different file folders, and decided I’d store all of those folders into one box.

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You can, of course, make these folders on your computer and store everything digitally, but personally, I’d prefer to highlight and take notes on the hard copy of a journal article (if you do store things digitally, every single time you do something, back it up on a flash drive in case, heaven forbid, something get lost). When I read books, I would read the book and type out notes on my computer (I used an interlibrary loan program, so I wasn’t allowed to highlight the actual books.) I took note of different direct quotes I wanted to use, or I paraphrased ideas– mostly I transcribed actual quotes, though, because I figured I could always go back and paraphrase, but if I’d returned the book, I couldn’t get the quote again. I printed those out and put them in folders, too.

The folders were labeled: media analysis, foreign policy, orientalism, and Disney history. I also had a folder for all of my drafts.

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A note about drafts: I was super lucky because my thesis advisor was some kind of superwoman and was extremely brilliant at so many different subjects and disciplines. As a result, I got my drafts torn to gosh darn shreds. First, don’t take this personally. I took every note she gave me because I knew she knew better than me; second, if you don’t get this from your advisor, demand it. If you’re like me, your thesis is counting as a class; that means you’re paying to write this son of a gun. You should be getting so much attention. You need to be firm with your advisor about what you need. I suggest you make them return drafts to you that look like this:

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…and that was just my introduction.

As the project continued, the pages got less and less messy, but even now, after I’ve submitted my final copy for publishing, I’m sure there are so many things she could find to improve. I wanted this because frankly I spent hours on the project and I’m submitting it for awards and I want to win those freakin’ awards (woohoo for extrinsic motivation!).

A note about defending: What is a thesis without a defense? I’m a petrified public speaker, even though people always say they’re surprised by that (I think it’s because my voice projects). My goal for my defense was to make it basically like a TED Talk, and while I totally did not achieve that (although, TED, if you want me to talk, I am SO DOWN. #pipedream) I think I did a nice job. Something that made a huge different was using Prezi.

Prezi was so simple, free, stored everything in a dropbox type thing on its website, and had clean yet interesting animations. I got so many compliments on my Prezi, so I definitely suggest you give it a try.

I also super suggest taking a video of yourself doing your presentation. I did mine in the Provoc office where I could set up one of our computers with my Prezi and use the other to take a webcam video of myself (note to self: delete those before the staff comes back to school). This helped me notice stupid crap I do when presenting, let me hear where I stumbled over words, found certain phrases that worked and used them in the actual presentation, and let me time myself.

Do you have a senior thesis coming up? Do you have suggestions on how to make it work? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!

Giving Thanks: Sara Says

It’s always really awkward because I’m totally the type of person to be like, “you shouldn’t love your significant other only on Valentine’s Day,” or “you shouldn’t care about the environment only on Earth Day,” or, more timely, “you shouldn’t be thankful for things only on Thanksgiving.”

Because I guess it’s probably true. We should be thankful every day, not just the day we obscenely indulge ourselves with turkey and mashed potatoes.

Nevertheless, I’m going to give thanks while I sit with my family around the dining room table, and I’m going to give thanks here.

And I’m going to try not to bore you with all of the I’m thankful for my family and my pets and my house and the fact that my dad pays the heating bill during the winter so my toes don’t fall off due to the cold clichés. Because what I’m thankful for this year (in contrast with last year’s thanks being given to the TV show Friends) is my college education.

So, maybe it’s kind of a cliché, but it’s the last time I get to use that cliché, so I’m going to give it all it’s got.

College is the best because I live in an apartment with my five best friends and because it’s socially acceptable to lie in my bed all day and watch Netflix and because I have this charmingly young adult ability to avoid responsibilities. But it’s also the best because, I go here, Assumption College, and the things I’ve gotten out of it I don’t think I could’ve ever ILLexpected.

Whenever I think about how grateful I am for the fact that I go to this school, I just think about the fact that I’ve been given the chance to write a senior honors thesis—even though it doesn’t feel like much of a blessing when I see on my to-do list that I have to force myself to write seven or eight pages that day, or when I have to deal with the fact that I literally have no place to store all of the Interlibrary Loans I have in my room.

But when the sheer mass of work I have to do on my project starts to pile up on me, I just ask myself: When is the next time I’m going to be able to dedicate an entire semester to studying the way Disney is a propaganda machine and represents the way we conduct foreign relations?

I can answer that question real quick: Never.

And then I just smile at the fact that I’m so unbelievably fortunate that my course load has made room for me to do this and that I have faculty who support me in this endeavor (shout out to Dr. Kisatsky for advising this thing) and that I’ve had the time and the means to flesh this project out into something so much more than proving that Disney movies perpetuate stereotypes.

And even if I weren’t writing my thesis, the simple fact that I just go to school here at Assumption is enough to be thankful for.

A little story: When I was a senior in high school, all of my friends were the absurd hipster geniuses that you all probably didn’t pay much attention to because all they spent their time doing was computer code and going to Passion Pit concerts. It wasn’t very easy to feel good about myself by the time college acceptance letters started to come out.

Don’t get me wrong, I know Assumption is a great school, I understand (all too well, actually) that a lot of upper echelon schools nowadays are just getting you to buy the name at the top of your degree. I get it.

But my best friend goes to Columbia University in New York City. Someone else goes to Duke University. My other friend goes to Tufts University. Another goes to Yale University.

ivy league

So it’s more than understandable that their acceptance letters made mine feel, well… Sub-flippin-par.

But now, four years later, I’m sitting in my room in five men, and guess what? I’m working on a really cool project for school. I’m writing a column as the Assistant Editor-in-Chief for my school’s newspaper. I’m planning my work around learning my dance team’s nationals routine this weekend. I smiled today, which is way more than I can say for Columbia or Duke or Yale.

And this all has everything to do with the fact that the kids at Assumption are good people and my professors actually guide me toward success instead of grading on an impossible asscocurve. My worry of getting a job over the person sitting next to me is non-existent. It has everything to do with the fact that Assumption is a pretty awesome place.

So there. That’s what I’m thankful for.

Assumption and all of its awesomeness.

And then it hit me.

I talk a lot about my writing on here (I’m mean… I want to grow up someday and become a writer or do something with writing and media, so I guess it makes sense), but I’ve never really shared about dance. My first love ever. The way I first learned how to put my heart on display. My team.

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So here it is.

I grew up dancing. It was something my sister did, and I don’t even think I asked to sign up for it—my mom just threw me in there. I’m glad she did.

Dance was sort of just an activity for me until I was in sixth or seventh grade—that’s when the gross, intense love affair began. I poured myself over YouTube videos with amazing dancers, I danced in my yard and in the teeny tiny section of tile floor in my living room, I saw dances in my head as I listened to music. Somewhere along the way I stopped doing moves and started being moved.

And then I went to college, and started on this dance team that was nothing but DII Open eighth place at NDA nationals. We didn’t really have a ton of skills and w12e didn’t really have a ton of technique. But we had a lot of heart—we had a lot of girls who weren’t just doing moves, but being moved. At the end of that first year we were second place.

We became the kind of team that went to the gym together, that could run an eight-minute mile and had lines from muscle definition down the sides of our legs. We became the kind of team that never stopped pushing and that could do a lot of pirouettes and that had really high leaps. But maybe we’d lost our heart. I think somewhere on our journey that second year we started just doing moves again, and things started to unravel and I started to fall out of love.

At the end of that year our coach gave up. He left the school, he left (what was left of) us all alone with our hands shaking and our eyes closed and our stomachs in knots because we didn’t know how to lead a team alone. And so we stopped moving altogether.

This final year new people have joined us, and we’ve started moving again. People have come back to us. And we’ve learned that if we get knocked down the only thing that keeps us there is if we stop moving.

My team got the choreography for our nationals routine this weekend. For anyone who doesn’t compete at the national level in college (dance or cheer), I can tell you this: choreography is like trying to hold yourself up when just the tips of your fingers are gripping the ledge. What makes it is if you believe the tips of your fingers are enough.

A few counts of eight into the dance. Our formation changes. My favorite line of the song is coming, and I look to my right and to my left.

The three girls I started this journey with.

And then it hit me.

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And it hit them, too. I could feel my tears coming. Sophie started crying. Michaela’s eyes were red. Ericka was looking between us all.

I’m so thankful for them all, because this year I’m not doing moves—I’m being moved.