Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Feeling Stressed these Days?

If so, you're not exactly alone.  For tons of college students (as well as almost everybody else roaming this planet), stress is an all-too-familiar part of life.

School, friends, family, jobs, money, holidays, boyfriends/girlfriends, future plans, the world--all can make you feel anxious and weighed down.  A student told me recently that he had so many things to stress about in his life that he often didn't know what to worry about first.  While his reaction was probably a little extreme, he may have been simply verbalizing what a lot of other people are feeling.

What can you do to reduce the stresses in your life--those killer tests coming up, that difficult family situation, that pain-in-the-butt boss, that relationship that may or may not work out, etc. etc.?

First, recognize the sources of stress (whatever they may be) and do your best to avoid or minimize them. While sidestepping stressful situations isn't always possible, of course, it can sometimes help. If a person or behavior or situation routinely pushes your buttons, for example, think about what you can do to keep from being agitated.  If dodging a source of stress makes you feel better, why not do so? Removing yourself may be just what's needed. 

Some other common sense behaviors can also help.  Being rested almost always makes life's challenges seem less formidable.  So does being organized, which will help you stay on top of those endless deadlines and demands (and feel less at the mercy of life's whims in the process).  And let's not forget the power of exercise and fun, whether it be working out, jogging, listening to music, making your favorite meal, or simply setting aside time for that interest or activity that brings you joy.     

On its web page, NCC's Psychological Counseling Center offers some good strategies for dealing with stress and handling life's hurdles. The list is definitely worth a look--you'll come away with useful advice for keeping the walls from closing in.  Pay attention to two pieces in particular: 1) the importance of adjusting your perception of things--viewing potentially stressful situations as opportunities to find creative solutions to challenges; and 2) the importance of reassuring yourself (through positive self-talk) that you can handle whatever school or life throws at you. 

I'd add one more strategy: Take setbacks in stride. Remember that nobody's life is perfect and that everybody deals with disappointments now and then. At those times when things don't work out exactly as you'd like, don't stress--and don't get down on yourself. Instead, learn from what's happened and tell yourself that next time things will be different.  

Chances are they will be.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Getting into Good Trouble

For the 600+ people who heard John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell speak at NCC last week, it was clearly an experience to remember.

Invited to talk about March: Book One, NCC's common reading, the three explained the evolution of their book, a graphic novel recalling both the the early years of the American civil rights movement and John Lewis's emergence as a human rights activist. 

Their presentation was interesting not only to those who remember the days of sit-ins and marches but to people, mostly young, who are fans of the graphic novel and who view it as a serious art form.

The day offered something for everyone.

For me--and countless others, I'm sure--the highlight was John Lewis's account of his own life. Remembering his childhood on a farm in rural Alabama, Lewis talked about his early experiences with discrimination and racism, including being forced to sit in the "Colored Only" section of a local movie theater, being turned down by a college that did not admit African Americans, and even being constantly warned by his parents to learn to live with injustice and stay out of trouble.

Lewis did anything but avoid trouble, of course.  Inspired by the words and ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., he openly challenged segregation laws and practices through lunch counter sit-ins, freedom rides, voter registration marches and other activities. In his early twenties he helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a group of young people intent on doing battle--through nonviolent protests--with any and all institutions that denied African Americans their rights.

Challenging segregation practices in the South was dangerous back then.  Lewis described being frequently harassed, beaten, and arrested for his actions.  Maybe his most frightening moment, he recalled, was being severely beaten by police during "Bloody Sunday," the now famous march from Selma, Alabama, to Mongomery undertaken to secure voting rights for African Americans. 

"I thought I was going to die," he told his NCC audience.

Given all that John Lewis has been through, you might think he'd be an angry, cynical man today--especially in light of recent acts of violence against African Americans and efforts by some in Congress to weaken voting rights legislation. 

But he's not at all bitter. He told his audience to stay positive, to not get discouraged, and to continue to have faith in their beliefs. He encouraged students to be courageous and to stand up for their ideals and to make their voices heard. The man who's made a career out of getting into "good trouble"--in pursuit of equal rights for all--called upon students to do the same. His message was optimistic and inspirational, right down to his closing remarks: 

"We are going to redeem the soul of America.  We are going to save this planet for generations yet unborn."

In a world whose inhabitants routinely harass, torture, and even kill each other, we could all do well to hear a voice of peace and nonviolence.  And we could also use a healthy dose of John Lewis's optimism, energy, strength, integrity--and grit. 

Thanks, Congressman.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Why John Lewis Matters

Imagine being a young Black man in the American South in 1960.  Imagine moving in a world that freely practiced racial segregation, openly celebrated White supremacy, and routinely responded to the mere presence of African Americans with beatings and lynchings.

Terrifying?  Intimidating?  Absolutely.  And hardly surprising, perhaps, that so many people--African Americans and others--felt forced to be as invisible as possible during that time.

But not John Lewis.

The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis was inspired, as a teenager, by the words of another young man: Martin Luther King, Jr.  King's belief in nonviolent protest as a means of challenging injustice resonated with Lewis, who was already seeking ways to respond to the poison of prejudice.

In the years that followed, Lewis would routinely challenge the racist laws and ways of the South. Whether it was sitting in at lunch counters that served only White customers; riding buses in direct violation of laws forbidding Whites and Blacks from sitting together on public transportation; founding a student movement--the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)--dedicated to achieving racial justice; calling for equal rights in an inspired speech at the 1963 March on Washington; or taking part in a voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in 1965, Lewis frequently put his safety, even his life, on the line in the pursuit of racial justice.

Often he paid a heavy price for his activism.  On more than a few occasions he was insulted, ridiculed, threatened, harassed, beaten, and arrested for his actions.  As a freedom rider in the early sixties, he was attacked by a mob of White supremacists intent on silencing him and others who had challenged segregation practices.  And during his participation in the march to Montgomery--now known as "Bloody Sunday"--he was beaten so badly by Alabama police that he required hospitalization.

Still, Lewis persevered.  Committed to the philosophy of nonviolence, he and other civil rights activists refused to back down, calling America's (and the world's) attention to racial injustice and imploring the nation's leaders to take action. The civil rights legislation that followed in the sixties and beyond was the direct result of the idealism, commitment--and guts--of Lewis and others who were willing to risk everything for what was right.

In a sense, John Lewis, who'll speak at NCC this Monday (2 p.m., College Center), is fortunate. Having survived the tumultuous sixties, he's become a civil rights icon, a voice for equality for all, an author or co-author of several books (including MARCH, NCC's common reading for this year), and a respected member of the United States Congress, where he's served since the mid 1980's.  Many of his fellow activists were not so fortunate, victims of the mindless hatred and violence that were part of the American South during that chaotic time.

Not everyone can be John Lewis, of course.  Not everyone possesses the passion to devote one's life to righting wrongs and to risking everything for justice.  So when we cross paths with someone who's repeatedly taken that brave stance, we need to stop and listen.

That's why, come this Monday, we ALL need to listen to John Lewis.  It's not everyday we get the chance to meet somebody who's made history and who's changed the fabric of America.  He may be older now, but his spirit and message remain as young and vital and inspirational as they were all those years ago.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Campus Life 101

Whether you're an athlete, an artist, a musician, an actor, a poet, a photographer, a hiker, a sports writer, a breaker, a gamer, or a fashionista, there's a place for your interests, talents, and dreams at NCC.

Whether you like to ski, play soccer, go to museums, stage concerts, make videos, read manga, sing karaoke, mess around with computers, or figure out ways to save the world, you can do it all (and more) here.

100+ clubs, twenty sports teams, a cool art gallery, a great theater program, a 24/7 radio station, parties, concerts, speakers, trips--campus life rocks at NCC.  And you owe it to yourself to be part of it.

Here's how to get started.

1.  Get to know the Student Activities Office (College Center, Rm. 150).  The Student Activities Office is the center of campus life at NCC and the place to go to begin making contacts.  Drop by and pick up a copy of its Directory of Student Clubs and Organizations, a neat publication with descriptions of all active clubs on campus.  If you're interested in a specific club, ask someone in the office when and where it meets and take yourself to a meeting (no invitation required!). Or leave a note in a club mailbox--every club has one in the Activities Office--requesting a call or text about upcoming meetings. And if you have a special interest, ask how you can start your own club.

2.  Get into the Game.  If watching and/or playing sports is your thing, the Phys Ed Complex--aka the Gym--is the place to be.  You can pick up team schedules (no charge for admission to games) and find out about NCC's ever popular Intramurals program, which gives you a chance to play everything from flag football and co-ed volleyball to dodgeball and three-on-three b-ball. You don't have to be a super athlete to take part in Intramural activities--just somebody who likes competing and who doesn't mind working up a sweat. And speaking of sweat, you can lift, swim, work out, shoot hoops, and keep in shape during the Gym's open rec period, times when facilities are open to all students.

3.  Get on "Stage."  Want to be in the NCC choir or a campus theatre production? Head on over to the Music Department (Building H) or the Theatre Department (nearby) and ask about audition dates.  Want to have your own radio show?  Drop by the radio station (Building H) and see what's available. Interested in writing for the campus newspaper? Visit the Vignette office (College Center, Rm. 347) and introduce yourself. NCC is always on the lookout for students willing to display their talents, be it in the literary magazine, the campus art gallery, the annual student fashion show, or someplace else. No shortage of opportunities for those wanting to make their presence known. . .

4.  Get to the Activities Fair. If you want to get a quick "feel" for campus life, stop by the Activities Fair on Tuesday, Sept. 29 at club hour (11:30 a.m.) in front of the College Center. The Activities Fair is a kind of club flea market--tables everywhere you look, each staffed by a different student group. You can browse, chat with club reps, ask questions, and make connections with a group (or two--or more) that seems interesting. Going to the Activities Fair--or even signing up to be contacted about meetings--doesn't obligate you to join something. But it's a good way to get started. There are also good snacks at the Activities Fair, along with some cool giveaways!

Notice how all of these suggestions involve doing something: visiting an office, checking out possibilities, showing up at the Activities Fair, etc. etc.?  The key to getting involved in college is taking those first steps: making that phone call, knocking on someone's door, walking into that club meeting and introducing yourself.  If you're not used to doing these things, there's no better time than now to learn. Just about everybody you meet will be glad to meet you.

Hope you have a blast at NCC!


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ready for Nassau?

Hope so--cause in a few weeks, it'll be here, with all of the excitement, energy, and (yeah) chaos that the first few weeks of the semester invariably bring!

Nervous?  Don't be. The experience will be memorable--not perfect probably, but definitely more positive than negative.  

Just In case you're wondering, you don’t have to be a genius to succeed in college, but you do have to take school seriously and make smart decisions. Here's some advice on putting your best foot forward at NCC.

1. Go to New Student Orientation.

If you want to make a good start at Nassau, attending Orientation is a must! You'll learn about the College, tour the campus, meet other students, and go home with some good ideas on succeeding in school and enjoying yourself at the same time.  When your invite to Orientation arrives, show up!

2. Get a campus map.

On a fairly large campus, it helps to have a good map to find your way around. If you don’t want to wait until Orientation to get a campus map, you can pick one up in the Information Center (Tower), the Public Safety Office, or the Office of Student Activities (College Center). There’s also a map on the NCC homepage-- http://www.ncc.edu/nassauVT/default.html

3. Be smart about parking.

Leave at least 45 minutes to park and get to class. Also, pay attention to signs in campus parking fields. While most spaces are available for student use, some parking is restricted. If you're traveling to Nassau by NICE bus, pick up a schedule from Public Safety, the Office of Student Activities (College Center), and the Information Center (Tower) and become familiar with campus bus stops. You can also check the NICE schedule  -  http://www.nicebus.com/Maps-Schedules/Bus-Maps-and-Schedules.aspx

4. Use your Daily Planner.

The Daily Planner, distributed at Orientation, is an essential publication. It contains a college calendar (which you can use to keep track of assignments, exams, due dates, and other college business) as well as important campus telephone numbers. Use your planner to stay on top of things.

5. Get your textbooks early.

At the first or second meeting of each class, you will receive a document called a syllabus. The syllabus will list, among other things, the textbooks you will need for that course. Since many professors make assignments from books early on, it makes sense to buy your texts as soon as you know their titles. All can be found in the campus bookstore.

6. Get off to a fast start in your classes.

The first few weeks of the semester are too valuable to let slip by. Use this time to get a jump on assigned readings as well as papers and projects. Quizzes and tests will be upon you before long; there’s no time to waste.

7. Get to know your professors.

Though college faculty have busy lives, most welcome the opportunity to get to know students in their classes. They are especially interested in students’ responses to material being studied in class. Don’t hesitate to speak with your professors, either after class or during their office hours. Developing positive relationships with professors is an important part of your college experience.

8. Use campus services.

Nassau offers a range of academic and support services, everything from help with writing and math skills to career counseling and financial aid assistance. You may not have to know about every service right away, but you should learn about those you think you will need. 

9. Take part in campus life.

By joining clubs, attending events, and being a part of campus life, you'll meet other students and have a fuller and more enjoyable college experience. A good way to get involved in campus life is to attend the fall 2015 Activities Fair, scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 29 at club hour (11:30 a.m.) in front of the College Center Building.  Don’t miss out on this important part of college. You can get a good education here and still have a good time!
10. Stay connected to NCC.                                                                                
Read the NCC homepage, check your College email, and keep up with NCC news through Facebook(www.Facebook.com); Twitter (http://www.Twitter.com/fye_nassaucc); and this blog (www.whatsupncc.blogspot.com).  Also, keep up on campus events by text (text Nassau to 313131). And if you have questions, don't be shy about asking! People at Nassau—classroom teachers, counselors, librarians, and others—are more than willing to answer questions, offer advice, or help in other ways.  Got questions?  Ask.  Remember: It’s your education.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

On Graduation Night, A Final Lesson for Grads

So if you're heading to the Coliseum on May 28 for NCC's graduation, be prepared for bright lights, music, balloons, selfies, smiles, and nonstop congrats, shout-outs, and applause--all in roughly two hours.

Expect speeches also, including one or two that (with a little luck) will offer some serious thoughts about life.

I can't say for sure the latter will happen, of course.  Many graduation speeches are more bromides than broadsides, talks that neither offend nor, sadly, inspire. Commencement addresses may be heartfelt and sincere, but they're rarely heart-stopping.  

Still, there are exceptions.  On YouTube you'll find Apple founder Steve Jobs telling graduates (not at NCC but at another college) to love what they do, to stay "hungry" and "foolish," and above all, to live their own lives, not someone else's.  

You'll find author J.K. Rowling encouraging grads to use their voice and influence to benefit those who are voiceless: "We don't need magic to change the world," Rowling notes, with a nod to Harry Potter. "We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already--we have the power to imagine better."  

You'll also find my favorite, Stephen King, America's literary bogeyman, reminding his young audience that life doesn't last forever and that the only thing that really matters is what people give to others:

"Should you give away what you have? Of course you should. I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others, and why? All you have is on loan, anyway.  All you want to get at the getting place, from the Maserati you may dream about to the retirement fund some broker will try to sell you on, none of that is real. All that lasts is what you pass on. . . .

Like Rowling, King also reminds graduates that the fate of the world is in their hands:

"Imagine a nice little backyard, surrounded by a board fence.  Dad--a pleasant fellow, a little plump, wearing an apron that says 'You may kiss the cook'--is tending the barbecue. Mom and the kids are setting the picnic table by the backyard pool: fried chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, a chocolate cake for dessert.  And standing around that fence, looking in, are emaciated men and women, starving children. They are silent. They only watch. That family at the picnic table is us, ladies and gentlemen; that backyard is America and those hungry people on the other side of the fence, watching us all sit down to eat, include far too much of the rest of the world.  It's Asia and the subcontinent; it's countries in central Europe, where people live on the edge from one harvest to the next; it's South America, where they're burning down the rain forests to make room for housing developments and for grazing lands where next year's Big Macs are being raised; most of all, it's Africa, where AIDS is pandemic--not epidemic--but pandemic--and starvation is a fact of life. . . .

"What we scrape down the kitchen disposal after Thanksgiving dinner for a family of eight would feed a Liberian village for a week . . . . While the national wealth has tripled over the last quarter century, the help we give to the world's poor has sunk back to 1973 levels . . . . In West Africa, the average life span is thirty-nine years. Infant mortality in the first year is fifteen percent. It's not a pretty picture, but we have the power to help, the power to change.  And why should we refuse?"

Will NCC's graduation speakers--students and members of the administration--offer similarly stirring remarks?  Will they remind graduates of their obligations to the world? Will they leave their audience with something substantive to ponder?  

Let's hope so.  You don't have to be famous to be inspirational, after all, only courageous, passionate, and genuine.   

And what better way to bid farewell to our graduates than with a reminder of what really matters in life?  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Be Like Abe

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
                                                         --President Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865

                                           *                   *                    *

In his second inaugural address, delivered just five weeks before his assassination in 1865, Abraham Lincoln held out an olive branch to a nation divided and convulsed by war.  Aware that the end of the conflict was near, Lincoln understood that the work ahead involved redemption rather than retribution and healing rather than hatred.

It's not hard to imagine what Lincoln would have thought about the years that followed--the sad collapse of reconstruction, the rise of hate groups, the passage of laws creating two separate but unequal Americas, and the brutal violence accompanying the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 60's.  And you can easily hear his disappointment and dismay at recent events in America, many of which suggest we've a long way to go before achieving a "just and lasting peace among ourselves."

One hundred and fifty years ago this week, America buried Lincoln, a President for the ages, maybe the best we've known.  Following his assassination on April 14, 1865, Lincoln's body was carried by train from Washington DC to Springfield, Illinois, passing along the way through Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Chicago. The funeral procession took a few weeks, with thousands turning out to pay their respects.

Given the racial strife that's sometimes as toxic today as a century and a half ago, it's on all of us to realize that creating a fair and respectful society is everybody's business. Righting wrongs and putting the past to rest isn't just the government's job or schools' job or some other generation's job, but yours and mine as well.  

I know everyone's busy right now, with the semester winding down and summer ahead, but sometime this week, remember Abe Lincoln--someone who put it all on the line for America.  

We could all stand to take a page from Lincoln's life and try, now and then at least, to be a bit like Abe.