Group Projects

Love them or hate them, group projects are the norm in college classes. Whether you are a Finance major or you are getting a bachelor’s degree in isolation, you can expect to be required to participate in at least three group projects per semester. There are some serious pros and cons to group projects.

On the plus side:

  • Sometimes you don’t have to do all the work.
  • It makes the Socialist inside all of us feel warm and accepted.
  • If you are paired up with people you’ve never met before, you can make new friends.
  • On very rare occasions it is a good way to meet women.

On the down side

  • You usually end up doing all the work.
  • It makes the Capitalist inside all of us cringe.
  • If you are paired up with people you’ve never met before, you can make new enemies.
  • It’s usually a bad way to meet women.

Much to the dismay of my leadership class, we were assigned a group project in which each group was to create a 15 to 20 minute documentary on leadership in the Velvet Revolution. If you are like every member of my leadership class, then you’ve probably never heard of the Velvet Revolution. Our leadership professor assured us that it would be a very interesting project because, “There really aren’t a lot of sources out there regarding leadership in the Velvet Revolution”

Interesting? Not so much. Horrifically challenging considering we had two weeks to put this together? Yes.

Much to my relief, I have the best group for a group project ever. Shaking the traditional expectation of getting everything done last minute, we began meeting as soon as we possibly could and had pieces of the video finished days in advance. This effort was supported in it’s final hours by our friendly neighbourhood University Fellows who supplied us with coffee, smiles, and an endless pile of Curious George fruit chewies.

The major caveat to a video project, however, is that editing can only be done on one computer. Specifically the computer that happens to be a Mac. So in our last couple of meetings four out of the five of us twiddle our thumbs, write blog posts, or go on Facebook while one edits, re-edits, and then edits some more.

Despite the unfortunate downtime, there is no doubt in my mind that a group project is only as good as each member of the group, and fortunately for me; everyone in my group is amazing. So here’s to you guys, we’ve exceeded the expectations on this project, which means we’ll probably get a B.

Above: My professor's reaction to stellar work.

End of the Year Complex

It’s hard to believe that year 2 at Hogwarts college is coming to a close. It seems like only yesterday I was getting in the car to drive back down to lovely Newport News, Virginia. As with most years in my life; I have made many new friends and far too few enemies. In the midst of finals week I am desperate to reach the end; crawling the last few feet to the finish like a morbidly obese marathon runner.

Yet in these moments I suddenly find myself looking back over a year in the life. My best friend just swung by my room to say goodbye for the summer. Though she neglected to give me a mockingjay pin, I can assume that she wishes me luck in all my endeavours this summer and I think she is also opposed to me being attacked by a swarm of tracker jackers.

But I digress. Suffice to say, it was a sad parting. Living 900 miles away from nearly everyone that goes to your college makes four months of summer as intimidating as a mountain without trails. Last summer I was faced with four months of a long-distance relationship. It was terribly difficult (as long-distance relationships are wont to be) and I’m glad that this summer I’ll be worry free on that account because I am single! (ladies)

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Pictured above: me.

At this time of the year I look back and think about all the things that I have done or haven’t done (chiefly; perform alongside Madonna at the Superbowl.). I’ve enjoyed the company of wonderful people both near and far, and isn’t that one of the best ways to measure quality of a year? (omit question mark, insert period.)

I’ve been in and out of love, I’ve experienced new things and new places. I got to sing Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” to a screaming crowd at an all-girl college; likely one of my best memories to date. I got to spend some great time with my family and if I had a dollar for every time I ate a piece of popcorn tuition rates wouldn’t be a problem.

I’m sure we all get these moments, when we become all introspective and nostalgic over a year in the past. All the things that happened to us this year is ours. uniquely. It’s not just the colour of our eyes that make us different, nor the prints of our fingers. It’s our life that makes us individuals. No matter how much we try to conform, we are all original. These are the things we realize when we look back at a year in the life.

Finals Week

It’s finals week and a literal dark cloud is hanging over the campus as if to mirror the metaphoric dark cloud of exam stress that hangs over the heads of every student in a three mile radius. Some people say that when it rains it means that God is crying. If this is so, then the tears must be tears of stress considering how many complaints I have registered as of late. If God is always testing us, then why do the professors have to do the dirty work once a semester down here?

But I digress, questions of higher power inadequacies are best reserved for theologians and people who aren’t studying for finals.

If there is one thing I can say is a positive influence about finals week, it is that I have finally found a time of year I despise more than February. If there is one thing that I can say is a positive influence about finals, it is that I have a comeback when old curmudgeons say that college isn’t all that hard. And if there’s one thing I can say that is a positive influence about all the projects that are due at the end of the semester, it is that…

No. Never mind. They just suck.

You can almost hear the collective groan of all the students of all the world when you utter the word “finals”. You can almost feel the millions of all-nighters pulled in desperation as a year’s worth of knowledge must be re-learned in twenty-four hours. The dreadful understanding that 99% of the stress for a year is confined to 1% of the school year make the huddled masses of students yearning to be free cry in unison, “Occupy Library!”

We would do this too if we had a dollar bill to burn.

Together, reluctantly, the students of the world rise to meet the occasion. Mirroring the story of Batman in our knowledge that the night is always darkest before the dawn, we fight the forces of finals to our last breath. Pure drive converts us into an unstoppable force, hell-bent on finishing what we started so we can break through that last wall of the year and taste freedom!

…And a minimum wage job to help us pay for tuition.

7 Signs it is time to take a bath

7. When the smell of a cow pasture is suddenly refreshing.

6. You find your bare feet are sticking to the kitchen floor, but no one else is experiencing that problem.

5. When a corpulent individual elects to take the stairs to the fifth floor instead of riding the elevator with you.

4. Your smoke alarms keep going off when you walk under them.

3. You drove through Newark, New Jersey.

2. You find yourself remarking how clean a male dorm room looks.

1. You are playing World of Warcraft.

How to get along with an enemy

It can be difficult to get along with an arch-nemesis. It’s not every day that you see Captain Hook and Peter Pan working together to try to provide affordable health care to Neverland, and your even less likely to see John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi working together to provide affordable healthcare to you. However, working with an enemy is not impossible, and can actually be quite rewarding if you allow it to be.

...This way 98% of the mermaids will be covered without leaving out the Indians in the lower classes!

First, identify, for your own benefit, why you consider them to be your enemy. Did they steal your significant other? did they slip a whoopee cushion onto your seat right before the big meeting? Are they a Nazi? This is important because sometimes you don’t have a good reason for considering someone your enemy. For example; if you don’t like someone because they have a cooler car than you, then you have a problem not them. If you can rationalize the hatred of that type of person then congratulations; you can get along with them easily.

“But Ryan, what if they are a Nazi??” You ask me frantically. You can get along with them too! Trust me, I can get along with some folks that think our president is a Socialist Islamist suicide bomber from Kenya. The trick is that when you have a serious disagreement with people or bad blood, just don’t bring it up.

Think about it. Say you work at the same place that your wife does, then one day she divorces you for a man half your age. (This example doesn’t work for me because my spouse would be leaving me for a ten-year-old which is kinda messed up, but…) She still works in the same place and next thing you know; you and she are paired up to do a project to promote synergy in the office.

Now, the comic irony of this situation may not be enough to bring the two of you together in a bonus-worthy effort, therefore, you have to work at it. First off: compartmentalize. Everything that you and she had going on whether good, or bad, is in the past and it has no bearing on the here and now outside of the possibility that the bad thing that happened in the past is the same, or similar, situation (in that circumstance, you simply learn from the previous situation.)

Secondly: Focus on positive characteristics instead of negative characteristics. If you spend your time with this person judging every thing that they do, then you make a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are looking for negatives, you will find them. If you want to focus on those negatives, there is nothing keeping you from doing so, however, this does nothing but create an internal bias that will not help you achieve anything. Instead, look for positives and aim to focus on them. For example, if you were bullied in middle school by a really big strong kid, chances are he’ll be great at lifting your larger grocery bags today. Respect and admire him for that and it will be much easier to get along with him.

Third: Find common ground to retreat to. Much like the Keep during the battle of Helms Deep, you will sometimes need a place to go when your metaphoric walls are breached by a metaphoric orc with a torch that blows away the weakest part of your walls. In other words, if both you and your enemy consider each other enemies, then you will probably end up getting into situations where that boils to the surface despite your best efforts. In this situation, it is key to have a fall-back topic. Find out what you and your enemy have in common, and you can redirect the conversation to a more relatable topic in which you can be more friendly. For example: if you know that you and your enemy both root for Bengals (a rare coincidence) then when he/she starts going toward enemy territory, you can pull them and yourself back by tossing out, “But how about then Bengals? Maybe they won’t suck in a couple years!”

Finally: Realize that having enemies is petty. If you are looking for some kind of victory over this other person, I can assure you that it can only be attained the mature way, by getting over it before they do. If you don’t care, and you don’t make a big deal out of not caring, then eventually your enemy will join you there. At that point, they are no longer your enemy and could turn out to be a good friend. Or, if you are Luke Skywalker; your father.

The Pink Ones

Below is my submission to a writing contest on belief. It was supposed to be a short story and explanation about your strongest belief. Most of the entrants were about a cause or their religion, but they gave me an opportunity to get creative. So I did.

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I was a fool once. I was just another aimless youth experimenting endlessly with one thing or another. In first grade I was an outcast. Like a small acorn hidden in the shadow of an oak, I wasn’t very good at talking to people. Desperate to fit in, I easily succumbed to peer pressure. I convinced my mom to buy me Gushers to take as snacks to school. All the other kids liked Gushers ergo I should like them. I remember the first time I bit into one of those disgusting, bloated pimples of sugar. It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

I broke my leg skiing once, and the feeling of my shattered tibia was far more preferable than the hideous torment my taste-buds received at the hands of that Gusher.

I was desperate to somehow remove the taste from my mouth. Frantically, I scoured my lunchbox for any remaining food only to find (to my horror) that besides the remaining Gushers, I had nothing left.

Seeing me gag and desperately try to keep down my lunch prompted my friend to hand me one of the few things he had left in his lunchbox: a pink Starburst. I immediately popped it into my mouth and chewed furiously. With each muscled motion of my jaw I began to realize, this little pink chewable had saved my life as I knew it, and if that wasn’t the case, then it was still really tasty.

As I’ve grown old I’ve travelled America, I’ve done all kinds of things and I’ve met all kinds of different people. Some people think red Starburst are the best, some think orange-flavored. Some even think the yellow kind beats out the rest. But they are all wrong.

You see, from that moment back in elementary school I have formed a fanaticism for the pink ones that is rivaled only by the fanaticism of the fully-costumed Trekkies at your average Star Trek convention. Red people, yellow people, orange people, they just don’t understand. They don’t know where I’ve been. I’ve been on the event horizon of sugary disappointment, on the brink of never touching a chewy treat again, but I was pulled back just in time by the greatest candy of them all: The pink ones.

I believe in the power of pink.

Yearn for Escape

Sometimes the world becomes so stressful, so rushed and so crowded that you feel as if you are staring at a cluttered desk with so much to do and not enough time. Sometimes expectations pile up like bricks on your chest until you feel like you can’t breathe any more. When it feels like the weekend just can’t come fast enough, or a vacation is just too far off that’s when you need an escape.

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Take a look at that picture. I took that last summer when I was off camping in the woods of Maine. By canoeing up the rivers and streams toward Canada my cousin and I found places that seemed utterly untouched by mankind. All around, the only things that could be heard were birds chirping, and the sound of our paddles in the water. I kept my eyes peeled in the hopes that we might see a moose lapping water from the edge of the lake. The breeze was cool and kept us from over-heating as we paddled upriver. The further we went, the further from civilization we got, and eventually no matter where we looked we could find no evidence of mankind.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of peace that comes with being in such a place. We were so far removed from obligations and responsibilities. We entered into a world without requirements, a place with no taxes, no war, no heartbreak. It’s in a place like that, so far removed from society that you can get a taste of what the world was like before we came along.

As I spend day after day working, going to classes, writing papers and studying I am inexorably drawn to thinking of the untamed wilderness of the north where you can taste freedom on the wind. Living in nature would be a great challenge. Yet when confronted by finals week, I find myself if hunting and fishing for survival would be more preferable.

As summer draws near, and my time to return to Maine comes closer, I can’t help thinking about the Maine wilderness, a defiant front by mother nature toward man’s encroachment. As long as the trees still stand, so too will the taste of freedom in the mountain air.