Don’t ask me what’s next

1IMG_4856 by Steph Holton

Last summer at a large family gathering, I heard my recently-graduated cousin get asked the same two questions over and over again—what’s next? And do you have a job? And over and over again, I heard him give the increasingly uncomfortable answers—I’m still figuring it out, and no. I, however, had no desire to ask him either of these questions, mostly because the thought of them being directed at me filled me with an almost existential dread, and at the time I was still an entire year from graduation.

Now though, I’m only one term away from graduation, and the terror of interrogation is ever mounting.

I envy my classmates who have it all figured out—jobs they can keep after graduation, apartments they don’t have to move out of. But the reason I envy them is probably different than the ones you’d imagine. It’s not the stability factor. It’s that they’ll have an answer to give their families when they’re ask what’s next?

I’m at least a little bit okay with not knowing what’s next. As much as I’d like knowing I’ll have a stable income once those student loan payments kick in, I’m also kind of excited by the fact that I could be anywhere six months from now. But I still don’t want to be asked what’s next? I’m not going to have a satisfactory answer, and it’s only going to make us both feel bad. You can definitely ask what I’m excited for post-graduation, though.

So you say have senioritis?

1IMG_4856 by Steph Holton

Students make up a lot excuses to get out of, postpone, or apologize for their school work. In the last 15 and a half years, I’ve heard and made my fair share of them.

Senioritis very much sounds like one of those made-up excuses, because you certainly can’t account for it with a doctor’s note, or, honestly, any other form of evidence save for an Urban Dictionary definition that, in my opinion, is right on the nose: laziness, lack of studying, repeated absences and a generally dismissive attitude. “The only known cure is a phenomenon known as graduation,” it states.

Some highly motivated students will deny the reality of this condition. But to the rest of you, who, like me, are looking toward graduation this spring, I am here to say: I see your senioritis, and I know you can stop the Netflix playback and power through.

Finishing up degree requirements, writing a thesis or completing a capstone, and trying to make plans for life after a diploma can leave a student feeling serious burnout. Denying that burnout is not going to help anyone make it down the homestretch. But if you recognize that your needs as a student change from freshman to senior year, you can create a plan to stay on track wherever you might be in that journey.

There are innumerable tips one could follow to be a successful student – drink lots of water, sleep, use a planner, prioritize both study time and time for health and wellness – but the bottom line is to figure out what works for you and give yourself a break every once in a while! Senioritis is real.

More than calories

img_4856 by Steph Holton

Food is the one great unifier. For starters, it quite literally sustains life. But the importance of food goes beyond mere calories.

In a world with such remarkable cultural diversity, it is sometimes difficult to find common ground. Every single culture has customs surrounding food, though, and therein lies an opportunity for shared experience. In the simple act of preparing a meal, one is communicating a willingness to expend energy nourishing a companion, and also a desire to share what is potentially a meaningful aspect of one’s life—a favorite food, a traditional mode of preparation, even the excitement of acquiring a new culinary skill.

Thanksgiving is coming up next week, and households around the country are already prepping for that magnificent turkey-centered feast—making grocery lists, contacting all the relatives, delegating side dishes. We’ve made Thanksgiving primarily about gorging ourselves. (Don’t get me wrong; I too purposely wear bigger pants to Thanksgiving dinner.) But I also think that on a day so dedicated to food preparation and sharing, we have an opportunity to do something more, like expressing awe for the unique story and the genuine care that goes into every dish on the table.

College students often don’t have the luxury of traveling home for Thanksgiving, so I think this message rings even more true among us who, perhaps for the first time, are spending the day with friends and bringing together a multitude of traditions into a new shared experience. Personally, I’m greatly looking forward to the experience.

What We Represent

img_4856 by Steph Holton

For two days in mid-October a building-high, six-sided display depicting bloody images of aborted fetuses alongside photos of Nazi Germany and lynchings in the American South took up residence behind a protective metal barrier in the PSU Park Blocks.

PSU publications covered this event, detailing the gruesomeness and the collective outrage felt by what seemed to be a large part of the PSU community. While I fully believe that we should be talking about these kinds of scare-tactics, so as not to be scared by them in the future, what I really want to add to the record is how remarkable I found the student body’s response to be. Almost as soon as the display started going up that Monday morning, students began to gather around it, making impromptu signs supporting Planned Parenthood and reproductive justice, and using their own right to free speech to question the ideas being promoted by this pro-life group. In what I would deem a small victory for the student protesters, a seventh panel that had been up the first day depicting a child with Down Syndrome and making a horribly insensitive claim, was nowhere to be found on the second day.

On the Portland State campus, where there seems to be a weekly protest of one kind or another, it’s easy to become disenchanted with the notion of fighting for a cause. I feel that the PSU student body rarely voices a majority opinion on those causes. But on those two days, I was incredibly proud to be a part of a student body willing to raise its collective voice

Easing the Moving Blues

img_4856 by Steph Holton

It is not uncommon for college students to be on the move, especially in the fall. I’m about to move for the eighth time in three years, and with all of that back and forth, packing and unpacking, settling and relocating, I feel that I’ve picked up enough wisdom on the subject to help you lessen the annoyances of uprooting your life. Here are my top five tips from going from home to dorm and back again:

  1. Storage bins. I have a set of 10-gallon plastic tubs, as the 18- or 30-gallon tubs end up being too heavy to haul. You can basically pack up an entire apartment with 10 of them, and after you’ve unpacked, you can stack them just about anywhere until the end of the school year.
  2. Label everything ­especially if you’re headed back to your parents’ house for the summer. “Need” vs. “Don’t need” or “House” vs. “Garage” is a very useful way to go.
  3. Pack a suitcase as if you’re going away for the weekend, so when you get to your new abode, you don’t have to overturn every box to find clean underwear before you actually get a chance to unpack.
  4. Recruit help and be good to them (this includes returning the favor as often as possible). Moving is exponentially faster with extra hands.
  5. Limit buying groceries starting a few weeks out from your move. Cut down your packing load by getting what you’re going to eat, but not more.

In all honesty, though, the best advice I’ve ever gotten or given about being a frequent mover is the secret Tip #6: Acquire less stuff! And don’t be afraid to donate and throw away during the moving process. Happy moving!

What’s the deal with tipping?

img_4856 by Steph Holton

Unless you want to look like a jerk, you can’t not tip. But after some thought and research into the matter, I feel that our cultural compulsion to leave gratuities for services rendered is perhaps a more sinister institution than we believe.

Tipping at full-service restaurants is a standard 15%, while tipping hairdressers, tattoo artists, drivers, and innumerable others “isn’t expected but is highly appreciated.” The American consumer likes to believe that leaving a tip is an act of kindness for a job well done, but studies show that the amount of a tip rarely has anything to do with the quality of service provided and often depends on factors of race, age and sex. The practice of tipping in restaurants can create both unnecessary competition between waitstaff, and a rather large wage disparity between front and back of house workers. Psychologically, tipping is a way for consumers to assert dominance over a server, and also to flaunt social status.

The no-tipping movement is struggling, however, because it is a financially risky stance for a restaurant to take: Consumers have shown they’d rather tip than be charged a service fee. I’m not suggesting anyone stop tipping when they go out to eat or get a haircut. At this point, it’s part of our social contract. But I am suggesting we all question the tradition, because like many other institutions in our country, just because that’s the way it’s been doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it should be.

Smile for the Running Community

img_4856 by Steph Holton

I’m an avid runner. I have been since my high school Driver’s Ed instructor (also the cross country coach) convinced me to sign up, despite the fact that I couldn’t go more than a mile without thinking I was going to keel over right there on the course. And I definitely would not have stuck it out that first season, or the two more that I ran after that, if not for the incredible encouragement of not just my own team, but of the entire community that surrounds high school competitive running.  

When I moved to Portland, I almost immediately fell in with the Campus Rec running club, Running Around Portland, and gained several running buddies who share my enthusiasm for the sport. I’ve often lamented to them, however, that the experience of running in the city is lacking the kind of support from other runners that is so prevalent in high school. With the alive and well running culture in Portland, I’d expect there to be more “hey there’s” and “keep it ups” between passing runners on the waterfront.

I recently was running down Springwater Corridor along the east side of the Willamette, a popular route for runners and cyclists, and passed a woman taking the trail at brisk walk but clearly out to enjoy the day more than anything. As I passed, she made a point to smile at me and say “good morning,” and honestly, it made my day. Since then, I’ve made a more concerted effort to smile when I pass other runners, and usually, they smile back. It’s a small thing, but it’s already made me feel closer to the Portland pedestrian community.