The Freedom to Choose

Tap, tap, tap, tap. The repetitive rapping of my pencil against the desk broke the deafening silence in Mrs. Brantley’s English class as my peers and I anxiously awaited the starting bell. If the rumors were true, today Mrs. Brantley would assign the dreaded fifth-grade-signature assignment, our first research paper. Although she prepared us well, tension permeated the room as we worried about undertaking such a strenuous task. Once class began, Mrs. Brantley detailed the requirements of our paper; when she stated the most “exciting” part of the assignment, I slumped down in my seat, already defeated. How would I ever decide on a topic interesting enough to merit writing a five-page paper! Perhaps some of my classmates appreciated the free reign our teacher gave students regarding the subject of the paper; however, her “generosity” only increased my anxiety.

Looking back to my middle school years, I realize that freedom of topic choice is a tremendous blessing. Most college students are chained to specific prompts and are often unable to complete assignments that coincide with their interests. If you are given the opportunity to choose your own topic, here are a few tips that will help you through those indecisive moments!

When you’re first looking for a topic, try browsing through the table of contents of different textbooks, encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, and even consider consulting the good old internet in order to find general ideas for potential research topics. This early research will help you to determine whether there are enough available materials to develop a paper.

When you decide on a general idea, you can begin brainstorming. Brainstorming consists of free writing, making lists, and drawing clusters of ideas to narrow down a specific topic.

The following are four steps the Writing Center suggests to help narrow down a topic:

  1. Ask questions to determine the nature of the assignment. These questions will help you create a specific question that addresses a specific aspect of the topic.  Is this a research process essay that shows a step-by-step description? Is this a critical paper that arrives at some judgment or conclusion? Is this a narrative or descriptive paper of some aspects of the topic? Is this an argumentative paper that argues for or against a particular idea in the topic?
  2. Write down the topic and all the categories or major issues, then study areas that are part of the topic.
  3. Choose one major category and see if it has any more specific issues that can be addressed in a research paper.
  4. Create a question that will allow the writing of a process, description, argument, narration, or critical analysis of the topic using all the ideas from the sources discovered during the research process.

Overall, make sure to choose a topic that piques your interest. Trust me, humans are naturally compelled to learn more about things that interest them and therefore you will be much more likely to research something you are passionate about. Although professors rarely provide completely open prompts, most give students the freedom to research topics of interest within a specific subject. For example, if your professor assigned an essay about child development and you were particularly interested in linguistics, you could choose to write a paper about language development in children.

Though research papers seem to have developed a negative stigma, the right topic can transform the assignment into something interesting, valuable, and rewarding. Follow these tips and suggestions and you may be surprised by what you find.

Written by Leah (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!!)

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Happy Independence Day!

As the days of summer seem to get hotter and longer, I can’t help but feel excited when the 4th of July comes around. With fireworks, hot dogs, pool parties, and all the fun-in-the-sun you can imagine, it feels like the climax of summer. It’s the time when even banks are closed, families gather around the barbeque, and everyone seems to wind down with a glass of ice-cold lemonade. July 4th is a special holiday beloved by every American.

Most of us know July 4th, 1776 as the day America declared her independence from Britain. With that said, here are a few fun facts you might not know about one of America’s favorite days of the year.

  • To start, July 4th wasn’t deemed a federal holiday until 1870–about 100 years after America declared independence.
  • Americans consume about 155 million hot dogs on the 4th of July, and we spend about $167.5 million on watermelon.
  • Calvin Coolidge, America’s 30th president, was actually born on July 4th. Imagine sharing your birthday with your country!
  • America’s tradition of fireworks can be traced back to our first Independence Day in 1777 when we fired 13 cannons to represent the 13 colonies.
  • Last, but certainly not least, the Declaration of Independence was formally declared on July 2nd, which was the day John Adams believed to be “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” Turns out, he was a couple of days off, but was nonetheless accurate in the day’s description! July 4th was the date that Congress approved the final text of the Declaration of Independence.

All fun facts aside, it is important for us to always remember those who fought before us. Our freedom to celebrate the 4th isn’t entirely free but is constantly paid for by our faithful, hard-working military. This 4th of July (or 2nd—whichever you choose), take a moment to shake a soldier’s hand and say thank you or whisper a prayer for those in the line of duty. It is because of them we get to enjoy our beloved holiday, and thanks to them, we are able to call America home.

Written by Camille (NEW: Click on author’s name for more information about him or her!)

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Beyond Beta: Five Lessons I’ve Learned on the Wall

In the rock climbing community, the term beta refers to information about a climb, which may also be called a route. Beta can include anything from a route’s rating of difficulty, style, or length, all the way to specific hand, foot, or body positions needed to successfully complete the climb.

For those who are new to climbing, it might seem that utilizing effective beta is the quickest way to improve as a climber. I certainly thought this was true when I began climbing almost two years ago. While understanding and using correct beta is of immense value, the mental rather than physical aspects of the sport are often just as, if not more, important to successful climbing.

Over the past year and a half, I have learned five valuable lessons that take me beyond beta to a deeper level of understanding of myself. Both as a climber and as a person, these lessons have helped me consider who I am and who I want to be, and I find them applicable both on and off the wall.

  1. Comparison is the enemy.

In climbing, just as in life, the people next to us are seldom equal to us in skill. On rare occasions, they might know less than we do, but far more often, we find ourselves surrounded by those who are miles more experienced. Compare yourself to others and you are sure to board a one-way flight to failure. Yet, the lesson I have learned through climbing is not that we should isolate ourselves from those who are more accomplished in an attempt to feel confident about ourselves. Indeed, I have learned quite the opposite. Dr. Daniel Rose, my professor and academic advisor, loves to remind his class, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” In both climbing and life, this saying rings true. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, never compare yourself, and be humble enough to learn from the knowledge and wisdom of others.

  1. Give encouragement and seek out encouragers.

If you read my blog “Handling Criticism: Five Lessons from the Great British Baking Show,” you probably remember me stressing that encouragement is an important ingredient for success. This fact is true of anything that we set out to accomplish, but it is especially true on the wall. Not only must we seek encouragers, but we must readily give encouragement ourselves. As in life, you’re not likely to succeed as a climber unless you intentionally surround yourself with people who desire to see you succeed.

  1. Your mind will hold you back if you let it.

When allowed, the mind can and will shackle the body. There are so many temptations, in life and in climbing, to view tasks as impossible to accomplish. For example, take the ratings of routes, which in a typical climbing gym range anywhere from 5.6 to 5.13. These ratings, while in some ways helpful, may also hold climbers back if they allow themselves to dwell too long on them. Rather than rating the difficulty of the mountains we must climb, both literally and figuratively, what if we chose to free our minds from these shackles and truly believe that anything is possible with enough faith?

  1. Fail often and always try again.

Failure is a part of life, and it is definitely a part of climbing. If you’re not failing, you’re doing something wrong. Never be afraid to push yourself to the limit. In both climbing and life, try a harder route, take the road less traveled even when there is no map. And, when failure comes your way, dedicate yourself to getting back on your feet, dusting yourself off, and trying again. I have found that my greatest achievements on the wall, the routes I am proudest of completing, have come after a long, hard struggle for success.

  1. Talk to the person next to you.

Our days are filled with so many people whom we have the opportunity to talk to, and yet, so often, we choose to remain isolated. This is especially true when climbing. In a climbing gym, there are many people crowded together in a close vicinity, each struggling toward the same goal, yet there is still such a temptation to find your route, get in the zone, and stick to yourself. Perhaps the most treasured lesson I’ve learned on the wall is that, sometimes, the greatest joy in climbing is talking to the person next to you. In climbing, just as in life, every person has a story. So the next time you’re sizing up the wall or sitting in the break room or waiting for class to start, take a leap of faith and reach out to the person next to you. You never know the joy that this simple act might bring.

It has been far more difficult than expected to put into words all the passionate thoughts and feelings I experience while climbing. However, for both climbers and those who prefer to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground, I truly hope that these five lessons encourage you to shoot for new heights both on and off the wall.

Written by Meredith (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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Letter from a Semicolon

Dear Students,

Salutations. My name is Sam Ike Olan, but my closest companions refer to me as “Sam the Semicolon.” I am writing this letter because my relevance in writing appears to be rather confusing to some of you. Many writers over the years have been mystified by my existence, and, as a result, they have chosen to exclude me from their papers. Some writers may even misuse me, believing that I serve a similar purpose to that of Connie the Comma. Today, I hope to provide some clarification on my significance and show you how to properly utilize me in order to add some semicolon spice to your papers.

First and foremost, if you forget everything I say in this letter, remember this: I unite independent thoughts. This may seem vague and confusing at the moment, but just keep that sentiment in the back of your mind as we walk through this letter.

My main purpose in writing is to function as a bridge between coherent ideas (or independent clauses) that could otherwise stand alone as complete sentences. To show you what I mean, let’s look at a sentence from earlier in this letter:

Many writers over the years have been mystified by my existence, and, as a result, they have chosen to exclude me from their papers.

You may have noticed that Connie the Comma is shouldering quite a heavy load in the middle of this sentence. Let’s try to alleviate her workload. Looking at this sentence, you’ll see that there are two ideas being expressed here that could stand as their own sentences. Many writers over the years have been mystified by my existence. As a result, they have chosen to exclude me from their papers. Instead of Connie the Comma having to be used repeatedly, I could function as a bridge between these two thoughts and keep them together as one sentence.

Many writers over the years have been mystified by my existence; as a result, they have chosen to exclude me from their papers.

Notice how my presence hasn’t changed the meaning of these sentences all that much. As I stated earlier, I merely connect two coherent ideas and make them one whole sentence.

Another thing to note regarding my use is that I generally connect two independent thoughts that build off of one another or are closely related. Technically speaking, you could use me to unite two ideas that aren’t correlated, but it is recommended to make sure the two thoughts have some relation to one another. Let’s look back at our example:

Many writers over the years have been mystified by my existence; as a result, they have chosen to exclude me from their papers.

Not only do both of these independent ideas discuss my usage, but the second thought builds upon the original thought. The first thought is based around the lack of knowledge regarding me, while the second thought lays out the effect such uncertainty can have. This is exactly what I meant when I stated that I unite independent thoughts. My usage has connected these two related concepts and allowed the overall idea to flow much better (not to toot my own horn here).

A common misconception people have about my usage is that Connie the Comma and I are interchangeable. Although we may look similar in certain aspects, we most definitely are not indistinguishable. Let’s take one final look at our example sentence:

Many writers over the years have been mystified by my existence; as a result, they have chosen to exclude me from their papers.

Some individuals who are unfamiliar with me may think that it is appropriate to simply place Connie the Comma where I am in this example sentence. The truth is Connie the Comma is not strong enough to connect these two independent thoughts by herself. She would need a conjunction, or one of the FANBOYS[1], to help carry the two ideas. However, I can carry these thoughts with no additional help.

I shall end this letter with the sentiment I expressed near the beginning of this letter: I unite independent thoughts. If nothing else in this letter made sense to you, just remember that I am used to connect two ideas that could otherwise stand on their own.

I hope this letter gave some clarification on my usage and that you will continue to utilize me properly in your writing going forward.

Sincerely,

Sam “The Semicolon” Ike Olan

[1] This acronym describes the seven coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

Written by Ryan (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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Memorial Day

It is finally summer time! You no longer have to worry about assignments, tests, or deadlines. Woohoo! A few days after summertime officially begins, your family plans a barbecue and swim party for Memorial Day. You are excited to see your friends and family, but you have some unanswered questions. What is this holiday’s meaning? Is it simply about gathering together on a summer day to relax and celebrate? Is it just a day that the mail does not run? Or, is it a day that has a much greater significance? If you read to the end of this blog, you will no longer have any questions about Memorial Day and its significance.

Everybody can probably recite a few facts about the Civil War that they learned in middle school; however, it was much more than just a few statistics to the people who lived through its trauma. Thousands of young men and a few women valiantly left their families to embark on a journey full of fear, pain, misery, and death. Although some made it out of the war, many were not as fortunate. Mothers and fathers wept over the deaths of their children, who sacrificed their lives for what they believed.

In a time of despair and grieving, Americans united and honored the young individuals who selflessly gave their lives in the Civil War. Throughout the nation, people paid their respects by placing flowers and other objects on the graves of those who died in the war. Because this was occurring in different places around the United States, the exact location where Memorial Day began is unknown. Despite the anonymity, the government declared Waterloo, New York, as the first official city where Memorial Day was recognized because of the festivities held there in honor of the people who perished.

Interestingly, this holiday was originally referred to as Decoration Day because many people would place different decorations on the soldiers’ graves to honor them. Regardless of the name, Memorial Day was designed to take a day out of the year to honor the men and women who perished fighting for what they believed in. Each town might have different traditions for celebrating the holiday, but every festivity boils down to honor and respect. Although this holiday started in honor of those who perished in the Civil War, it eventually became known as a celebration of life for all the people who died fighting in a war.

In 1971, Memorial Day was recognized as a national holiday when governmental offices close to recognize those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country. Throughout time, this holiday lost its true meaning. Many suggest it is due to the extended weekend. Perhaps it is because we have become desensitized to the true pain death causes. Whatever the case might be, it is something we can change. Fascinatingly, Congress asked that everything stop at three o’clock for only a minute on Memorial Day in remembrance of the true meaning of this holiday. In the midst of the barbecues and summer festivities, take a moment of silence with the rest of the nation on the last Monday in May to recognize those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. I will take a moment of silence this Memorial Day. Will you?

John 15:13 states, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (New Living Translation). 

Written by Trisha (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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Mind Crumbs

Perhaps the most basic definition of a metaphor is a figure of speech that equates two things for the sake of comparison and symbolism. It is a unique tool that helps people describe their feelings and emotions toward a certain person or thing as accurately as possible.

I loved reading and writing poetry growing up, and metaphors were one of my absolute favorite devices. Metaphors are splashes of color that beautify and give life to the words on the page. They cover the nakedness of dull expression with the elegant texture of a silky garment. See what I did there? Metaphors open doors to endless possibilities and invite the creators to explore their imagination freely.

I not only enjoy but have delight in creative writing through metaphors because it allows me to express my thoughts and ideas so clearly and precisely. Here are some of my absolute favorite ones:

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Pablo Picasso

Picasso is an incredible artist who needs no introduction, and I love this metaphor because it tells us that art offers new and exciting experiences and helps us get through the darker moments of our lives.

“All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.”

Khalil Gibran

This metaphor reminds me of another metaphor that illustrates the depth of the mind according to Sigmund Freud, who made the distinction between the conscious and unconscious mind. This idea is illustrated by an iceberg. The top (a small surface of ice) is the conscious mind while the bottom (a vast surface of ice under water) is the unconscious mind, also known as the subconscious mind. There is so much that we do not say, yet those thoughts affect our actions and feelings every single day, it is a rather scary thought.

“A good conscience is a continual Christmas.”

Benjamin Franklin

I love this one because it is such a cheerful yet chastening metaphor. When I do not have a lot on my mind or have rectified all my wrongs, I am a happier and a more colorful person—just like Christmas! In other words, the metaphor is telling us, “whatever you have not made right, do so if you want to be happy.”

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.”

John 6:35

The Bible itself is essentially a poem. There are countless, beautiful examples of metaphors, especially in the Wisdom Books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job). However, I found this metaphor to be one of the most beautiful. Though Jesus compares himself to bread and water, it is clear to see that He is much more than that. Bread makes us full and water quenches our thirst, but we get thirsty and hungry yet again. Jesus, on the other hand, offers nourishment that lasts forever because it is for the soul.

I might not be as brilliant as Picasso or as elegant as Franklin, but I have found that using metaphors to express myself has led to the exploration and discovery of a new writer in myself. It has allowed me to learn from others and develop my own style. It has been a heavenly journey!

Written by Kenean (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

 

Who Ya Gonna Call… and it Ain’t Ghostbusters

What to do when you realize you need help!

Life, without fail, is rough sometimes. As pessimistic as that sentence may seem, you can not deny that there is a hint of truth to it. Yes, inevitably, life will not be perfect. Man, that almost makes you wish that there was someone out there, literally anyone, who could live life alongside you. Someone to help you navigate through all the many trials and tribulations (although, we can hope not too many). (Anywho, it is your lucky day!) I can say with confidence that such a person does indeed exist! *Drumroll…and other introductory sounds* The person that you are searching for is called a mentor! Ok, you were probably hoping for some crazy life hack that you never even knew existed. Alas, the answer really is that simple and not at all far-fetched!

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I want a mentor… where are you?

Hmm… honestly, that is not only a great but also a very fair question. The best way to find a mentor is to start asking around. I mean it would be ridiculous to assume that a mentor will just randomly fall out of the sky, with zero effort on your part. Ideally, that would be fantastic! However, unless someone contacts you, or you sign up through some official program, you will have to put some time into finding one yourself. Wait, before you get all panicky, stop and take a breath. Getting rejected is not the end of the world; it is just a nudge to keep on searching. The right mentor is definitely out there!

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What are the official mentoring requirements?

Luckily, there are none! Trust me, the lack of specific requirements is to your advantage. Much like life, there is no cookie-cutter mold for a mentor. The mentoring process is designed for the betterment of the mentee. Thus, the two will have the flexibility to work out what best suits them. Yes, if really pressed I can be vaguer, but honestly, each case is unique. Thus, you can confidently seek out a mentoring relationship catered to your needs.

No… please at least provide some idea of who a mentor should be!

Ok, if you insist. I can shed some light on qualities to look for in a mentor:

  1. Someone who is older than you. (Again, the age gap is up to you, but remember you are looking for wisdom, which is usually added with years.)
  2. Someone you look up to. (This should really be a given!)
  3. Someone who either a) has the time or b) will make the time to meet with you regularly.

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A parting thought…

After you have experienced the mentoring process for yourself, seriously consider providing it for someone else. Be bold and initiate the mentor/mentee relationship. Remember, it is never a waste to invest in someone else. Besides, they may also choose to pass it along! Basically, you have the potential to start something great, so go for it!

Written by Jordan (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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