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Chapter 1: T- Time - Fingers Crossed for Good News to Come

Today, I had the interview that I’ve been waiting weeks for. I applied for an internship with the New Era Colorado Fellows program and today was my final interview. I have absolutely zero sense of how I did and that feelings is almost worse than if I had just done poorly. Now I’m left with a feeling of relief and also a gut wrenching nervousness that I just can’t control. However, no matter what… all I can do is wait and I know that stressing over this now won’t change the outcome but my lord, how incredible it would be to get this opportunity. I only hope that if I am given it, my finances will allow me to accept the offer. 

It’s quite a devastating feeling to work hard to get something, getting it, and then having it taken right back from you. I’ve had this happen once before. - My Freshman year of college, all students in the course Critical Thinking 501 were to submit a paper at the end of the year. The paper was to be you’re additional chapter to Malcolm Gladwell’s novel: The Outliers. Haven’t read it? I highly recommend it. All semester we read this novel and analyzed it nearly sentence by sentence. It’s wonderfully written and very inspirational. Now, it was required of everyone to submit their own chapter- “What makes you an Outlier” being the broad topic. Out of all of the submissions 20 students would be selected to a week long, all expenses paid, trip to Washington DC. where they would meet with prospective internship opportunities such as newspapers, magazines, journals, and political writing groups. 

I worked for months on this assignment. It was the first assignment ever that I had been allowed so much freedom on. What makes me an Outlier? The answer to that could be anything and everything… but I knew exactly what made me an Outlier. I knew exactly where I would direct this paper and how I would do it. I had never looked so forward to doing homework before. 

The day came to turn in the assignment that I had worked so rigorously on and I was dreading handing it over to my professor. I had proof-read it a hundred times and had 6 other people do so as well. I even received a shocking amount of positive emotional feedback from my reviewers, but it was feedback that I refused to believe was true. I was worried it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, I feared that I wasn’t able to say anything that I had wanted to but I couldn’t hold on to my precious baby any longer. 

I received an A on the paper and some of the best feedback that I have ever gotten from a professor. A month after my submission, I also found out that my paper had been selected as one of the top 20. I won the trip to Washington. I could not believe it. I was ecstatic for all of the opportunities that were about to possibly open up for me. However, for financial reasons I had to withdraw from the University my before spring semester began. By withdrawing from the University spot for the Washington trip was revoked. 

As heartbreaking as the experience was at the time… I got over it and you know what? I don’t even mind… because I got a pretty good paper out of it.

Here it is. I apologize for typos or grammatical errors, this is my rough copy before my final. Also, it’s about two years old now so keep that in mind. I seemed to have misplaced the final paper file. Anyway, I hope you like it and I would love feedback.

Moments By Taylor Smith

Moment 1

The age old question:  Who am I and why am I here?  Of course, it’s not quite as philosophical as some have made it over time.   The answers are quite simple, yet in their own way, intriguing.  As I contemplate my life thus far I am struck by several key moments in my short time on this lovely planet.  Some are deeply personal and challenging, and others have more to do with the world I have grown up in.  How have these events shaped me into the remarkable or unremarkable person I am and endeavor to be? 

With little need to go into the traditional biographical information I will merely say I am an 18 year old California transplant of 7 years. I was raised in an environment where my parents had a healthy marriage and my mother stayed at home with my younger brothers and I. These things alone, have given me a great advantage that many other people did not have while developing. I was given the privilege to grow and learn in a comfortable home environment as well as gain a close relationship with my mother, which would be vital to me as I continued to evolve in life.

            It wasn’t just my home environment that was influential on me at an early age but also the society I was growing up in; the generation that I was born into. I was brought into the last generation that was not overexposed to technology in the early stages of life. When I began to learn how to count and recite the alphabet, these things were taught to me by flash cards and books that my mother provided for me. Unlike my youngest brother, born in 2001, who learned these things through educational CD Rom’s made for ages 4-6. Technology was not readily available to me as a child, we had one computer in the house and internet was limited because at the time it had to be purchased in time slots. We also had one television, one house phone and my parents carried around pagers. Taking this into consideration, it shows that the generation that I was born into was given an advantage similar to the advantages that Malcolm Gladwell presents in his book “The Outliers”, when referring to the birthdates of highly successful software producers and how their birth years contributed to their success, they were granted special opportunities because of that one circumstance. I am not stating that every individual born in my generation has grown up to be millionaires or geniuses but being born when we were allowed us a privileged childhood. You see, technology was given to us at the perfect moment. We were old enough to understand it but young enough to learn it. We were given a chance to build a social character, personality, realize our likes and dislikes outside of technology, whereas the generation after us seemed to have been pushed out of the womb and plopped in front of a computer screen.

            The older generation argues the technology has set us back; made my generation dumber, less capable of true social interaction and compassion. However, I disagree.  We were the last to grow up being forced to interact socially and physically, for us there was no alternative. No chat rooms or Facebook pages. We played with the kids down the street and on the jungle gym at school, we developed our social skills without a keyboard but now; now that we are older and forming our own beliefs and opinions, not only are we using technology to keep in contact with our old friends from down the street but also using it to communicate and connect with others who share the same views, work towards the same achievements, and hope to fight for the same causes; whatever they may be.

 

            As my life developed, changes occurred. One of the biggest changes was the move my family and I made from California to Texas. The move was rough but with things such as email and the cellphone I received going into middle school, I was able to keep in contact with the people closest to me back in my home state. This made the move much easier to adapt to, I did not feel as isolated. My middle school years, in Texas, went by as awkwardly as everyone else’s, with the occasional crush and a new group of friends.  It wasn’t until I began high school that my simple life would seem to take a drastic turn.

           
Moment 2

            I firmly believe that everyone, at some point in time, hits rock bottom. Everyone experiences hardships and since every situation is different; they are all handled differently.  Once hitting rock bottom, it’s one of the hardest things to overcome and sometimes people are never able to pull themselves up from it but from what I’ve experienced, even at rock bottom, things will get better if you don’t lose hindsight of everything good you have surrounding you. Surviving a low point is all about trying to focus on the good. People attach themselves to objects, memories and even other people. What a person needs is an anchor.

Without an anchor the loss of hope consumes a person and eventually it wins. I know this because I have been through it. I have felt the lowest a person could possibly feel and I was ready to give up on life and everything it had to offer. I had ruined my relationship with my family and friends and had never felt so alone. What caused these feelings was a level of abuse that I had been ignoring from someone who I thought “I loved”. Not ignoring, but been totally blind to because I was young, naïve, and allowed myself to be taken advantage of. As much as I may experience the urge to blame this person for these dreadful feelings, I cannot and I will not. For this person, this horrid person, has taught me such a valuable lesson; things happen for a reason. I did not go through this terrible experience just to come out being taught nothing. I came out of it stronger and wiser.

As I said before, when someone hits a low point in life they need an anchor, someone or something that takes their mind off of everything that is going wrong. In other words; help. As much as we may hate to admit it, sometimes we just need help. Just as I was about to give up completely on everything I had but didn’t see, someone helped me. Someone who had always been there but suddenly became such a huge part of my life. His name is Grant and to say that he was my best friend would be an understatement.  If it wasn’t for him I’m not sure that I would be here today.

During my point of rock bottom, my daily morning routine consisted of me waking up and lying in bed for about 15 minutes while dreading the day ahead of me. Slowly and reluctantly I would get myself ready for school and be on my way. The moment I would step foot into the high school parking lot, my stomach would drop and I would already feel on the verge of tears. I knew that if I could just keep it together for forty five minutes until my second period then I would have another forty five minutes where I would be able to forget that anything was wrong. That’s exactly how it was too. The moment I got to second period and Grant showed up I felt better. This wasn’t because I had immense intimate feelings for him or anything similar to that but it was because he was a genuinely happy person. I can’t look back to a single moment when I saw him anything but smiling. Even in the worst of situations he always seemed to find a silver lining. When talking to him, I forgot that anything was wrong. I wasn’t reminded of the poor relationship I had with my family, the friends I had lost, or the mistakes that I had made. I was okay in those moments when he just allowed me to forget about the bad. It was having that class with him that got me through the day. Those forty five minutes where I was completely oblivious to how unhappy I had been was just enough for me. It was the person that he was that made me realize that people aren’t bad, life isn’t worthless, and it can be extravagant if it’s seen through optimistic eyes. He showed me that things always get better. Even when it feels like getting up in the morning is pointless and that you’re worthless, eventually it will all pass.

This time period occurred throughout my freshman and sophomore year of High School. It wasn’t until junior year that I was able to move on and be happy. Up until that point I had hated high school with a burning passion but when junior year began, things started to turn around. However, around the end of my junior year I took another look at my past, at all of the hardships I had encountered and I became so terribly angry with myself. I hated myself for letting those things happen; for allowing another person to abuse me and my emotions so drastically, putting my family on the back burner, and losing sight of my friends and schoolwork. I felt myself slowly falling back into the hole that I had just gotten myself out of but for a completely new reason.

In this moment of self- loathing, I reconnected with my old friend, Sunshine. We would discuss for hours the situations we’ve been through. So many deep conversations were held between the two of us but one chat especially will always stick out to me the most. One day Sunshine and I decided to meet for lunch after I just had gotten back from a two week trip to California. We met at our favorite restaurant, a place of importance and good memories to us. I talked about my trip and she talked about work. Conversation was no different than it had been before but somewhere, it took a turn, and not for the worst. We began to speak about how much we have changed from a year ago, two years ago, and so on so forth. It was during this conversation that Sunshine said something that has stuck with me ever since “Honestly, change doesn’t exist… it is just growth. We have all grown up. We have been through our own individual experiences that have made us who we are now and we should be really thankful for that. That means even being thankful for the shit, Taylor. We got through it and here we are. We did it”. Those words hit home for me. She was right, every part of what she said was right. Every mistake I made and everything bad thing that had happened, has brought me to where I am today. To whom I am today.

This was the point in my life when I finally began to learn from my own personal experiences instead of simply learning something from the book. It was the experiences with other people that taught me these lessons. I encountered these hardships to learn that everything happens for a reason, things always get better, and whatever does happen, good or bad, it makes you the person that you are. I am so thankful for the people who had helped me through this. In Malcolm Gladwell’s the Outliers he states “We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But there’s nothing in any of the histories we’ve looked at so far to suggest things are that simple. These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it …” (75). I do agree with Gladwell, that people become successful because of the opportunities that they are provided but however, I also firmly believe that it is other people that influence our outcome the most. Other people affect every part of our individual being. We are a combination of everyone we have met throughout our entire life.

 Once I changed my perspective on my life, began to view the glass as half full, and completely re-defined myself, I sought out to achieve goals for myself such as getting a job and joining my school spirit team and to create new goals such as running for president of my high school’s No Place for Hate ® organization. I re-vamped my life to such a high point that it was without a doubt, the happiest I have ever been.  I felt I had found the secret to staying afloat when the waters got rough and I was ready to use that to help other people.

Moment 3

 

            I was determined to reach out to others and I was granted the best possibility of achieving that goal; with No Place for Hate ®. This organization is a part of the anti-defamation league; a club against bullying in essence. As president my first task was to hold a symposium, very similar to an assembly, but I was given no rules or guidelines. I was to conduct this symposium however I pleased, to do whatever I pleased. When making decisions on what I would be involving in the symposium I had to take into consideration the club’s very small participant list. In the previous years the club only managed to have about ten members and would have even less participants at events, such as the previous year’s symposium.

The day of the symposium I walked into the small auditorium we had reserved and was shocked to see that not only was every seat full but there were people seated on the floor as well. Why the sudden increase in participants, I truly do not know but I am surely thankful for it. I conducted it just as I had planned, showing videos related to the organization and holding discussions. After a video about a young man who had committed suicide because of bullying, I made the decision to open up to my audience. I spoke of my experiences and where it led me. I gave the auditorium a question and the option to answer or to stay silent, I asked them “Have you ever considered or attempted suicide?” I was baffled by the amount of hands that went up. We spent the next two hours discussing each event and experience. It is truly incredible the things that some people go through and how they are still standing at the end of it all with their head held high. I have never connected with so many people at once. I told them of my experience with getting better, being happy and learning to be thankful for the past and many of them said they were currently happy as well but along with ones who had been able to crawl back up from their rock bottom, many hadn’t gotten there yet.

I spent the rest of my senior year with these people; getting to know them, helping them, and being there for them at their worst. We are shared the common passion to help others and make a difference in our community. Through social networking sites we were able to connect with organizations from different schools and districts that shared the same goals as us. This organization was a group composed of people born in my generation; people who grew up with a similar societal environment as me.  We used the technology available to us to communicate and connect with others who shared the same views, worked towards the same achievements, and hoped to fight for the same causes as we did. We collaborated with others around us and used the social skills we developed as kids to interact with elementary students. We used our experience with technology to portray to these students how things such as video cameras, the internet, and phones should not be misused. You see, bullying has come far from where it was when I was in elementary school. Sadly, it has also advanced alongside of the innovations; it has evolved from bullying to cyber-bullying.  Our organization was able to use our experiences without high tech gear and with it, to our advantage.  However, this experience with both sides does not just apply to the generation born after us but also the generation before us as well.

During my senior year I worked at a local Independent Senior Living home. I heard everything from these residents ranging from simple things like “Please” and “Thank you” to an elder man proposing to me and an elder woman trying to set me on a date with her 30 year old son.  The residents did not fail to surprise me with something every time I came into work. Going into this work environment, I was terrified. Nervous that I wouldn’t be able to connect with the residents due to the wide age gap, that it would be all awkward conversations and trying my best to avoid wet kisses and pinches on the cheek. Oh, how wrong I was. These people had jokes and stories like nothing I had ever heard before. It also seemed that a majority of them also seemed to be lacking any filter when they spoke but I suppose that’s a benefit to aging; you eventually stop caring what other people think. Throughout my time there, I developed a very close relationship with a resident named Ms. Finberg. She had such an incredible life story, one of love and heartbreak but she still had such a beautiful outlook on life. She referred to me as a granddaughter that she never had; this is somewhat sad taking in the fact that she did have a granddaughter. Her granddaughter was 11 and openly admitted to not wanting to spend time with her grandmother.

Ms. Finberg blamed it on the distractions her granddaughter had; her phone, her computer, and etc. She was right, her granddaughter’s consumption with these things made her rude and a bit of a shut-out. Her granddaughter had no idea how to properly communicate with other people and her parents didn’t know how to teach her. They didn’t know how to teach her because they failed to realize what it was that was causing the problem; the technology. Their daughter was so brain washed by these things that she didn’t know how to appreciate a relationship with her grandmother. As Ms. Finberg told me all of this with tears in her eyes, she still held a smile and said “It will all be okay though. I will get her to change her mind. It will all be okay”. It broke my heart to see this strong woman upset but it made me so happy that she did not let it break her.

Weeks later, Ms. Finberg came zooming into the Senior Living dining room with the biggest smile on her face. She pulled an IPhone out of the back pocket on her chair and told me that she had been texting her granddaughter all week and they had even made plans to go see a movie that weekend. She was ecstatic; I had never seen this woman so happy before. She found a way to break the barrier between generations. Ms. Finberg was willing to adjust to the way the new youth functions but most people born in her era are not willing to make that adjustment. They view the modern technical advances as evil, and in instances where it is the basis for social interaction, they are right. This again, is where my generation was given the upper hand. We hold the social capabilities that the old era knows how to work with. We are able to connect with the people from the generation before, which I believe is the reason for me becoming so close with so many of the residents. I miss them all dearly but I had to bid them ado so that I could open the door to the next part of my life; college.

Moment 4

 

            So today, here I am. To be quite honest, at a place that I never even knew existed. When I began applying at colleges my senior year I applied mostly out of state but I had my heart set on one in state school- Texas A&M University at College Station, the school I had my eyes on since I was a fifth grader in California. When I received my response letter from Texas A&M, I got an answer that I did not even know existed. I was offered a program called “PSA”- Program system admissions; this program gave me the option to choose a from a Texas A&M sister school and attend the school for my first year, if I achieved a 3.00 and 24 credit hours then I would gain automatic acceptance into Texas A&M University. Out the five sister schools I had the option to choose from, I chose Texas A&M at Commerce.

            My first semester at Commerce has been quite the experience. Coming to a small campus my first year of college has allowed me to stay focused on my studies. I grew up believing that when it came time for college I would be an aggie, so now that I am at Commerce I have to adjust to being a lion. I have found it difficult to find my niche here but I am still making the best of my situation. This small town has tested me and my beliefs but in the end it has only reinforced them. With the life lessons I have learned and the fact that in the fall I will be a part of the Fightin Texas Aggie class of 2016, nothing can stand in the way of where I am heading. My entire life has led me up to these next six months.

            As I sit in my college dorm, writing my paper for my first college final, I can see that my life will be filled with a million more things to come. More events will occur that will shape me as I continue to grow. Simply by writing this paper, I can see how far I have come. I am a unique individual. My generation, my personal encounters, my family, my friends, my passions, and, my work have all made me the outlier that I am today. They have all brought me to this moment and I could not be more grateful. 

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