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Four Years at the Mount

A new year offers a fresh start and an auspicious time for plans, goals and do-overs. With the new school year only a few weeks underway, our FYATM writers consider a single goal for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Goals for the year

September 2016

Paradise Found

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

If you told me two years ago that I would set goals for a Division I swimming season, I would have called you crazy. At that point, I had never once considered being on a competitive swim team, and my ambitions were scattered in a variety of other capacities. Interestingly enough, a combination of hard work and happenstance brings me to the following article topic: my journey towards becoming a collegiate swimmer and the goals I have set for this upcoming season.

My interest in swimming began organically from my interests in track and cross country. I had been running competitively for a few years and as I approached the winter of my junior year, I was hungrier than ever to win the Catholic League Championship and make the All-State team. In order set myself up for success, I decided to forgo a shot at varsity basketball and abide by an arduous winter running regiment instead. Shortly after I began my training, however, it became evident that this particular Michigan winter had other plans in store.

The winter of 2013 spawned unforgiving weather conditions. With over two weeks of inclimate weather-related school cancellations, and wind chill temperatures frequently dipping below negative 20 degrees, my winter training was less prolific than I imagined. I took to the treadmill or called for a "recovery day" more often than I would have liked. On the days that I braved the cold, I ran with an inconsistent cadence; I would fluctuate from running fast enough to keep warm but slow enough to skirt upcoming sheets of ice.

The following winter forecasted a similar strife, and by the time my fall cross-country season concluded, I wanted both a physical and mental break from running. I considered going out for a variety of other sports in the winter. I was not drawn to wrestling, I knew I could not pick up hockey, and I was not ready to return to basketball. Swimming, however, intrigued me.

I had always been somewhat envious of our schoolís swim team. The guys were close knit and known as some of the most disciplined student-athletes around. I had no idea how they managed both a rigorous college prep course load with taxing two-a-day practices, but I commended them for it. I wanted to know how I would fair in such a setting.

When my friend Alden, a member of my parish youth group and the best swimmer on my high schoolís team, heard that I was thinking about swimming he was ecstatic.

"Dude, youíve got to do it!" Heíd tell me over and over again. It did not matter that I had never swum competitively before in my life; to Alden, I had both the physical attributes and work ethic to contribute to the team. Although I had been considering it independently for a couple of weeks, Aldenís enthusiasm and encouragement empowered me to believe that I could excel as a varsity swimmer. "Itíll be tough," heíd say, "but so are you."

I remember my first practice like it was yesterday.

"So youíre a senior?" My coach, a fitness virtuoso with a megaphonic presence, asked with his head slightly cocked to the side. I nodded. "And youíve never swum competitively beforeÖ?" I nodded again, but this time with a bit more conviction. I knew which question he indirectly probed: "Do you know what youíre getting yourself into?"

My only goal that year was to make it through the season. Albeit I wanted to use swimming as a method to cross-train for track in the spring and mitigate senioritis, I was primarily determined to prove to myself that I could toughen out something new and physically taxing; however, I gained much more than I had ever anticipated.

A few weeks into the season, I was named captain for my leadership, work ethic, and seniority. While I was nowhere near the best swimmer on the team, I never let anyone hold a candle to my tenacity. I improved tremendously and made a load of new friends. I gained a passion for swimming and an affinity for trying new experiences. Most importantly, my high school swimming experience set me up for the opportunity I have to swim this upcoming season for Mount St. Maryís University.

Although I ran for the Mountís cross-country and track teams year-round last year, I will forgo my cross-country and winter track seasons to swim. I am thrilled for the new opportunity and grateful to both my running and swimming coaches who have encouraged me to pursue my interests.

As I reflect upon my high school career, I know that aiming to "make it through" the season would short circuit all the potential that this season offers. I want to lead as well as learn, work as well as laugh, and swim so as to win. I hope to make new friends and lasting memories. I want to become stronger, faster, and more resilient. All in all, I hope that, in four years, I can reflect upon this year and embrace this season as a capstone of my college career.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.

The year was...

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

The year was 2006. I was an eager nine year-old, all ready for school with the standard glossy folders covered in various baby animal pictures, pencils, erasers, glue, crayons, and other supplies necessary for a successful first day. Every year, my goals were the same, to remain organized and never once have I completed that goal. Permission slips, handouts, and homework all vanished into the abyss of my book bag. Folders no longer resembled folders, but worn out books with tearing spines. Pencils, pens, erasers, books, all disappeared without a trace and were never to be seen again. Luckily, and by the grace of God, I passed my classes.

Flash forward four years and I am 13 years old and ready to enter high school. My goals to become organized, focused, and productive remain the same. I did not succeed, but rather, I discovered a way to navigate my cluttered little world that seemed to only make sense to me, much to the chagrin of my label-loving, hyper-organized sister. My methods, to an outsider, were somewhat chaotic and higgledy-piggledy, but they worked (obviously, or else I would not be here as a Mount student writing this). I pray you forgive this next moment of self-flattery, but in high school I learned how to balance my messy world with unprecedented grace and no small amount of luck.

Another four years and I am in college. Still disorganized, but managing. My tendency to procrastinate is, if I am honest, just as terrible as it ever was. However, I realize that time spent is mine to spend and whether it is done wisely or foolishly is my own fault. Nevertheless, I recognize that I am a college student who is entering the year that many have deemed the most difficult. If I am to succeed this year, last minute papers and cramming is not going to cut it. I am facing a new challenge in which I not only have to juggle school, but work as well. Not to mention, my dream of studying abroad approaches and with it comes responsibilities that I need to face.

I have a plan, a crude, unexciting, still not yet fully formed plan, but a plan, nonetheless. It may sound a bit simple and easy to many of you reading this, but I have learned that anything more complex than this has a tendency of not working. It all starts with a planner. Now I have had many, many planners in the past and have tried variations of color-coded and post-ited (donít bother looking it up, it isnít a word) systems, but they have all failed. So instead, I rid myself of the fancy highlighters and sticky reminders of varying hues. This year, I shall stick instead with a pencil and a journal and write down the date and the time it is due.

Some of you that read this might think about how idiotically simple my master plan is and I agree with you; however, it is not my "master" plan, it is simply a plan. One that will help make my life easier. Maybe you are the type of person, like my sister, that plans their path in advance. If you are, then that is wonderful! I envy your ability. Truth be told, I have never been one to cut out a ten-year plan into stone with full details of how I get from point A to point B. I am more of the mind that I know where point B is and realize that there is more than one way of getting there.

I told you it was not a very revolutionary plan; Heck, it is barely a plan at all, but it is something off which I can build. There is a small part of me who knows this probably will not work, a part that knows I am not the type of person to keep planners or organizers or written down schedules, but I need to try to show some semblance of order. My previous way of doing things, worked for high school, but I am not in high school anymore. I need to find a way to become truly efficient and not just scrape by on luck and a less than stellar, but passable work. I want nothing more than to make sure that I do not end up putting my name on sub-standard work this year and to work on becoming a better student.

This is my goal this school year. I did warn you it was not very exciting. It probably sounds mind-numbing to most of you; mind numbing and simple. And I admit it is not much in the realm of changing the world or transforming myself drastically, but it is something small and doable that can only help me become a better version of myself. My goal is to prove to myself that I can accomplish this small task of organization, which has always been my own personal Goliath.

So, this is my planóWish me luck!

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

Learning the language

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

I have a thousand goals, every year, ranging from waking up to my first alarm instead of my 12th alarm each day, to taking detailed notes in class so that I can effectively study for tests for the first time in my life. Most years, actually all years, a vast majority of these "goals" turn into unattainable wishes and dreams of a more optimistic and motivated version of my true self. This year, I will set these same goals and maybe, just maybe, since it is somewhat of a last ditch effort in my final year, some will come true; however, Iím not going to put all of my eggs into these same baskets another year. Instead, I will still try every day to wake up on time, be attentive, etc., but I will have a single overarching goal that will hopefully dictate a lot of my down-time: learn Creole.

Haitian Creole is the true language of the Haitian people, Google will tell you that the official language of Haiti is French; however, only the privileged speak French. Creole has been referred to as the broken French, or a dialect of French, but if that were true, then those who speak Creole may understand French, which they do not. It is a language of its own, derived from French and African languages spoken by slaves who were brought from West Africa to work on plantations in Haiti. Creole has its own system of grammar, pronunciation, and more that separates it from any other language.

Letís circle back around Ė this is obviously not a goal directly related to my final academic year, nor does it correlate to any of my coursework. It is, instead, tied to the calendar of the academic year. By the time I return to Haiti in May, after graduation, I would like to have made progress in accomplishing this goal. It is by no means fully attainable in eight months, which is why I hope to reach a benchmark, not fluency, in my knowledge of the language. I have academic goals and they do impact my study habits and the way I spend my time, but this year, as I look further from college and closer into my career, I do believe this is an appropriate goal.

Three weeks ago, I was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and I went with my friend, Reese, to get propane from a gas station so that the cooks could make dinner for the kids. We pulled into the lot, and the woman working the propane tank immediately approached us with a widening smile and starting speaking in Creole to Reese, who is close to fluent. I stood beside her, greeted the woman and had a very, very short and surface level conversation. It didnít go any further. She tried to compliment my hair and I couldnít understand. Next to me, Reese was carrying on a full conversation, with obvious depth, and ended up singing with her as she pumped propane.

I walked away from that conversation hearing the woman tell Reese that she wished I knew Creole and to come back to visit next time Iím in Port-au-Prince. For the first time in weeks leading up to that point, I was truly frustrated. The Creole that I thought I knew didnít end up being enough. Even in Haiti, I am spoiled because the children that I work with all speak English. They are raised bilingual. The school I have taught in teaches English. Even when going out into the Ravine or out to the countryside, I have always been surrounded by bilingual children or young adults who work as translators in their free-time. I have never been forced to learn the language, and truthfully, I cannot claim to love a culture in which I canít even communicate naturally. Not only am I an English major, but I believe so deeply in the value of words and the rich history of language. By relying on my language and remaining in my comfort zone, I have taken the value of the Haitian culture and cut it in half. Language and culture are not mutually exclusive, and they never will be. They enrich each other in a way that cannot even be understood while it is happening. Years later, words develop from events and events are under-stood only by time-specific words. Language changes over time, from place to place, and to assume that I could ever truly and fully experience all of Haiti while being less than proficient in such a vital part of the culture was naive, to say the least.

Fortunately, I also believe that love rescinds language and I have been lucky enough to not experience a true barrier until I pulled into the gas station, but if I do want to go deeper and if I do want to leave the boundaries of my comfort zone, I will have to learn the language. So this is my goal: before I land in Port-au-Prince this May, I will be able to walk through the airport and communicate with every official that stops me. I will exit the airport and find the children whom I love so dearly and ask them to not speak to me in English for a day. I will experience Haiti in a whole new way, and then I will return to the gas station and find the woman with the huge smile and beautiful voice and thank her, in Creole, for teaching me a valuable lesson.

Through the craziness that is to come this year, I will keep this in my mind. Sometimes it will have to be pushed to the back and other times, it will be my focus, but I will not return to Haiti without leaving my comfort zone. Let us all hope that I remember how I felt when I left that propane stop so that this goal proves more successful that the silly goals of years past. I will never wake up to that first alarm.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

Pursuit of happiness

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

One afternoon last November, I walked to the pool with tears in my eyes. I had received my third rejection letter in two weeks and I was losing hope fast. I sobbed into the arms of a trusted ARCC employee as I let my worries fly. I am not good enough. I am not smart enough. My degree didnít prepare me for another job. I will never be successful in the real world. What will I do without swimming, or grades even, to tell me when I am doing well? She reminded me that I was well-respected, regarded as highly capable, and the president of the student athlete committee. "If you donít get in anywhere, itís a loss for the whole profession, if you ask me," she told me. That calmed me for a day or so, until I remember that along with the rest of the Class of 2016, I was hurtling toward graduation day without a plan. The days were speeding up, the Ott House nights were plentiful, but the job opportunities and graduate school seats were few and far between.

It was a pretty low point for me and for many other of my classmates, and I am sure that every class before me, going all the way back to 1808, can attest to the experience.

The denial letters continued to roll in and I was forced to abandon my dream for the time being. I had it in my head that the only way to measure my success was by getting a masterís degree, so I started applying to other programs.

In late April I was accepted to a graduate program in gerontology and things started to turn around. As I write this, my fall semester is beginning and things are certainly looking up. However, I still have a sincere goal that I have yet to achieve.

My goal is to be okay with where I am at in my life and career. I do not have a "big girl job" lined up for the fall, and I am working on accepting that as what it is. I am taking time for myself. I worked my summer job, as I have done every summer since I was 13. This fall, I am going to Norway as a graduation present. I am going to celebrate the fact that I graduated college, a feat that many people do not accomplish, and when I come back, I will look for a job.

As of now, I still intend on becoming an occupational therapist. Getting into an OT school is part of my career plan; however, it is not part of my plan to be happy. I am recognizing that school and grades are not what I need to define myself as successful.

I am going to try my hardest to create other ways to measure success. Of course I will no longer get the rigorous daily workouts that swimming provided, with that exhausted-yet-proud walk from the ARCC to Patriot Hall every morning and afternoon. But, I am still going to compete. I havenít found what it is that I will do, but my backyard wiffleball and volleyball games are getting far too intense for me to keep playing.

Physically, I am going to drink plenty of water, eat right, and shoot for those elusive eight hours of sleep every night. Mentally, I am going to recognize the mean things that I say to myself and work to counter them by celebrating the positive things I have done. Career-wise, I am going to put forth all of my effort into getting into an Occupational Therapy program. And whether or not I get in, I am going to be proud of myself and recognize that my career will not define me as long as I do what I love.

The past year has been an absolute whirlwind for me, and I know that for the current Mount seniors it is only beginning. Having just been through the most emotional year of my life, I wanted to end this article with a little reminder for the Mountís next graduating class.

To the Class of 2017: It is okay that you do not have a job lined up. It is okay that you know someone who does, or someone who got a full ride to grad school, or someone who is staying at the Mount forever, getting their masterís, and then working there too (because who honestly wants to leave?). It is okay that all of a sudden, you do not think that you are capable of what you want to do, because the adults have let me in on a little secret: sometimes, they donít feel capable eitheróand a lot of them have been working for years! It is okay that you still feel like a kid, because everyone still feels like a kid. And it is okay that you will no longer be getting grades, because teachers should have been teaching us all along how to judge our worth on who we are and what people think of us rather than the numbers they use to rank us. I wish you the best of luck, and if you ever feel like you are not enough, just remember: you are doing the best you can. No one can ask for more than that.

Read other articles by Katie Powell

Read Past Editions of Four Years at the Mount