I can't believe my last entry was in July! Then again..I can. I find it hard to believe that 2014 is officially over. What a year!!
From Las Vegas back to Illinois, from being incredibly ill to feeling 10 years younger, and finally starting graduate school!! It's all very surreal at times, which is I why I feel so compelled to write right now. I'm on a short visit to Chicago and I'm staying in my old home, the Waxman family home in Rogers park. This house is very special to me for many reasons, one is that 3 amazing women live here and two is that this is where it all started.
I'll explain: In my late 20's I had a strong desire to go back to school and finish a Bachelor's degree, I didn't really get serious about the idea until 2009, the same year I moved into this house. When I moved in, the head of the household Elaine Waxman was finishing up her dissertation (for her PhD) and her daughters are some of the brightest kids I have ever met. I don't say that lightly, the intelligence that these girls possess on the academic, intellectual and cultural level is beyond anything I have ever seen. Being in this environment at that time was EXACTLY the kind of inspiration that I needed.
Walking into a university again at the age of 29 was incredibly difficult. I still remember having to look very hard in order to find the strength necessary to pull those doors open on the very first day. Who do I think I am? I thought. Look at all these 18 year olds fresh out of high school! You are too old for this, it's not going to work! I had so many negative voices in my head leading up to that very first day, I'm glad I decided to observe them, not let them define me or listen to them.
That first semester back was great, actually the first year back was simply amazing, I was so stimulated, I loved reading and studying. I did my first year back at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. I could truly see why I wasn't ready when I was 18 to finish college, I didn't have a clue what I wanted, and when I did, I realized I didn't belong in a university. And now this second time around, I was determined to make the most out of it. I fell in love with geography and environmental science, I came back to school with an interest in global warming and climate change, but I didn't really know 'what' exactly I wanted to do. And that's just fine, life takes us on many twists and turns in the journey, they coalesce, melt and yolk together into one beautiful serendipitous story.
I devoted my life to being a massage therapist from the age of 19 and became a yoga teacher at 25. I always found it interesting that these are careers in which people turn to AFTER they've had some other journey. Very seldom did I meet young people like me on the path, but that was not a bad thing. I have been very fortunate to be a part of the Yoga community in Chicago. I have had amazing teachers and role models in yoga and massage in Chicago. Looking back, going to get my Bachelor's was unfinished business that I needed to tend to, something I had started that I never finished. I don't think I could have moved past this, had I not returned to school.
People often ask me what I want to "do" with "that"? I find this particular question rather insulting at times because it implies that there isn't much to "do" with that degree. I think a better way to ask a student is to say: "What kind of job will you be applying to when you finish?" or "What are some of the different positions that you intend on applying to?". I think as a society we are very attached to one road, one way, one thing that you do for 30 years before retiring one single thing. I want to share that this is not my intention, it is not my intention to completely switch careers, denounce who I have been and start something completely brand new. But let's be honest here too, I know A LOT of people that got a degree in one field and ended up in a completely different area. An education can give us many things, direction, foundation, growth and experience. There are also many things that life experience teaches us too, these lessons can't be disregarded or minimized. Life experience gives us building blocks for whatever the next steps may be.
Through yoga and massage I have learned much about myself, and the most important gift from these careers is the gift of teaching. I truly enjoy teaching, yoga, English, Spanish, hooping, weather and so much more. My intent is to continue teaching what I already teach and more. With the Master's degree I'll be able to teach at the community or junior college level. I think this is a great place to start for me. I intend on pursuing a PhD. My advisor thinks that I should apply for a program right away. My family wants me to work in between. I have 18 more months of school before that time comes and anything can happen. I'm taking the necessary steps in order to prepare for a PhD program application by next fall, the biggest challenge will be to retake the GRE and get a better score, we'll see. I am open.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on what I should do, I always find that interesting. Many times when people say something to you it's not really about you, it's about them. As I was preparing to complete my graduate school application, someone that I respected told me that I was signing up for a life of poverty by wanting to be a university professor. Later in the conversation this person admitted that he once wanted to do that and opted not to, out of fear of being poor. It's important that we don't project our negative experiences onto other people. No job is every perfect, that is known by most, but we should encourage each other to pursue those things which we are passionate about.
If we can't do that for each other than what exactly are we doing in those relationships?
It brings me back to this house, Rogers Park, 2009..this is the launching pad.
The support and encouragement that I found this house six years ago is what set me on this new path and I couldn't be more grateful for it.
There have been many times in this journey, especially last semester where I questioned myself for being here, doing this, and time and time again I would think back on this house, with pillars that support social change, interfaith and strong educated women. They inspire me, they keep me going, even the little one (she's not so little, but she is to me :)
she's a skilled musician with impressive clarinet skills that she has been building on for years. I just know she'll be playing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra some day, or maybe something better!! She's also a little math genius too, she'll put most of us to shame on some algebra!
I'm really excited for the rest of my time in grad school. Not only have I been granted to opportunity to work on a project related to climate, but I'm also going to be part of a bigger project that is being funded by the National Science Foundation!!! There is another professor working on this, she is at Cornell University in Ithaca. I have uploaded my Master's Thesis proposal for those of you who are interested in reading. If you want the short version, check out the power point presentation under the Geography tab on this website.
As of now I know I'll be working this summer at SIU for 2015 and I'm looking forward to being a research assistant for our Department Chairperson, Dr. Justin Schoof. I have many challenges to face and learning curves to face, but that's OK. I'm excited! I absolutely love talking about the climate and weather, I love the idea of making a contribution to the field, however small it may be and most of all I love the idea of being a leader for other women. As an immigrant I have faced numerous challenges in order to get to where I am, but those challenges are what make all of this worth it. I want to help encourage young people to pursue their dreams and find their strengths.
There were many things that I lacked in my early education years, outside of music, being in band and playing the saxophone. I really didn't have any encouragement toward academics at my Las Vegas high school. I don't know that anyone in my school, outside my family really truly believed in me. I was a mediocre student who had a lot of untapped potential that was only realized through life experience. It was difficult for my parents to be involved in my education here in the states, the language barrier was a big issue, particularly in the mid 90's before the Latino population swelled in Las Vegas, translators were not as ubiquitous as they are now. I wanted badly to assimilate and be a part of American society, I knew that if I didn't do good in school I could just work for a casino. I'd find a job one way or another, there really was no motivation to go to college in those days. For what? What would I do? It costs money, we didn't have money. My world was so small, my world was only Las Vegas and what the city had to offer. This is why the city is so attractive to poor immigrant families, the promise of work is strong and high education is seldom necessary.
I want very strongly to change this. I don't know what it looks like yet, but I'm going to do everything that I can. I want to pull my people up. My junior high and high school was riddled with gang violence and drugs. I had the opportunity to try crystal meth at the age of 15, those were the people talking to me. No one saying:" Hey Mercedes, if you do better in math, we could get you into biology or chemistry! You will have a better chance of getting into college!"
My experiences as a musician in band were the most rich and profound from 7th grade through 11th grade. Band taught me how to work in a group as a team, it allowed me to be a part of a family, we traveled together, struggled together and made beautiful music. Had it not been for that, who knows where I would be today. I feel so strongly that I need to give back to that community. How many kids out there in that town, see themselves as future service workers, not aware of their full potential? I want to find these kids and show them their own greatness!
I'm so grateful and so excited for 2015! I am grateful for my friends, family and cohort. I am grateful for you reading this.
So much love!
Seasoned Yogini, Massage Therapist, Dancer, Lover and Animals, the divine feminine and so much more!! This blog contains my musings, stories of challenges, inspiration and the other things that make me human in this realm. NAMASTE