The Final Act

It is a strange phenomenon to be stuck mid-stride; that is what most final semester student affairs graduate students must be feeling right now as we start our final semesters of graduate school.

The feeling is incredibly difficult to explain. You feel tired, anxious, and full of energy. The possibilities of the future (the ‘post grad’ life) are endless, yet daunting. The desire to discover where you will start the next chapter of your life in just a few months is intoxicating as you become fixated with the job search process. The immense fear of those possibilities lies beneath any hopeful conversation.

Of course, the attention of the student affairs graduate student is not fully fixed on the future. The reality of the current situation is very clear to the graduate student. They still have assistantship duties, coursework, and a personal life they must continue to balance. A strong desire to finish strong and leave a positive legacy is, perhaps, the goal of the student affairs graduate student. Or, the simple desire to leave and finish the graduate school experience is at the forefront of their present mindset. Either way, this feeling of stuck mid-motion is real.

Focusing on two realities is a challenge. On the one hand, I want to devote my every waking minute to applying to jobs, preparing for interviews, and finding the right fit for my first real job. On the other hand, my attention is fixated on the job at hand… I have students I need to work with and educate. I have coursework that needs to be completed and meetings to prepare for. The balancing act has never been more of a struggle up until this moment.

Maybe that is the real test of graduate school; how you finish. All the internships, meetings, coursework, presentations, and projects have been trials for this final challenge: balancing the desire to leave and move on with the desire to finish strong and be present. How we finish, coupled with how we transition out, is what defines us.

The Sunday Morning News show is a quintessential American ritual. The news show will cover a variety of political issues and invite a politician to speak on an issue. Whether it is CBS’s Face the Nation or NBC’s Meet the Press these news shows are a big deal, especially for presidential candidates.

Turn on any of the Sunday Morning News shows as of late and you will see a Republican or Democrat whining about some policy issue or how a presidential candidate worked with the ‘other side’ during their time in the United States Senate. Of note, is Marco Rubio’s work on immigration reform.

While both sides can criticize the bill itself, a great deal of the attack on Marco Rubio comes from the fact that the Republican base could not fathom working with a Democrat on a policy issue. That concept is not unique to the Republicans, as Democrats often whine about the same thing.

So what’s the problem? Why is there such a distaste at the notion of compromise in governance amongst our governing elite?

Even the casual observer of the race for the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination can see the lack of desire to compromise. Most notably on the Republican side, long-time front runner Donald Trump’s rhetoric is centered around the idea of not compromising and winning. And this appears, perplexing to the Brooding Millennial, to be working with the Republican base.

Again, why? Why does the rhetoric of divisiveness and unwillingness to compromise attract voters in a way that measuredness, bipartisanship, and compromise simply cannot?

Constitutional Compromise

Compromise created the United States of America. Famously, the Framers of the United States Constitution crafted a document that represented the interests and values of all stakeholders. While not a perfect document (the three fifths compromise, case in point) the Constitution is a document created out of compromise. What would Republicans think of that!

The most striking example of compromise is the Great Compromise. A major debate in the Constitutional Convention was how the legislature (i.e. Congress) would be structured, along with the rest of the federal government. Instead of simply yelling and then leaving the room, the Framers got to work during that hot summer in 1787 to create a structure that would appeal to many in the room.

While not perfect, the Framers designed the system and compromised for the betterment of the country. Further, at the core of the Framers design was one of compromise. For the government to function properly, governance would have to be done through compromise. Looking at the government today, it seems that history lesson was lost.

Partisan Compromise

The history of compromise did not stop with the Constitutional Convention of 1787. While a history of compromise in United States political history would be complete without talking about the Great Compromiser, for sake of time (and readers) a discussion of a more recent history of compromise is appropriate.

Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil are the patron saints of modern conservatism and modern liberalism, respectively. The 1980s are, for conservatives, a celebration of conservatism at work. For liberals, the 1980s is not the decade that they look on with the fondest of memory. Yet, for the moderate Brooding Millennial it is a time for celebration.

Chris Matthews book, Tip and the Gipper is a tale of how two titans of conservatism and liberalism clashed about how to craft policy for the United States and, ultimately, had to compromise to govern. While the Republicans (and Reagan) had the majority of the wins in the decade, their policy victories were still a result of compromise.

Compromise is not a sexy thing to talk about. Yet it is the only thing that, historically speaking, has lead to progress and good times.

Moving Forward

Since Reagan and O’Neil ruled Washington, compromise has been a rare feat for the political class. Instead, the hyper-partisanship has only increased to this new political atmosphere that, on its best days, leaves Republicans and Democrats simmering in anger as opposed to outright hostility.

With the rise of Donald Trump, an increased sense that compromise, even the mere idea of compromise, has been all but lost. It is not the fault of the Republicans nor Democrats on their own, but, rather, they have both created this atmosphere where compromise is untenable.

While it is easy to get frustrated, it is vital that voters pay attention to how candidates speak about compromise on the campaign trail. Instead of flocking to the most partisan candidate, voters (and the silent moderate majority) need to embrace candidates who have paid attention to the history of the United States and know the importance of compromise. Voters need to elect candidates that not only speak of compromise fondly, but who go out and compromise.

Governing is not about pushing an agenda through without debate. Governing is not a zero sum game. Governing is a nuanced and methodical dance that requires leaders to sit down, get to know one another, and then get to the hard task of governing.

With the election coming up in 10 months, it is vital that compromise takes center stage rather than the hyper-partisanship that has plagued it thus far.

Book Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

For whatever reason, I rarely read collections of short stories. Yet, the few times that I have read a collection I thoroughly enjoy the read.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King was no exception. The 20 stories that King has compiled are varied and a fun read. King introduces each story with a short anecdote about the story or the writing process that, for some reason, adds to the enjoyment of reading the stories. Of particular enjoyment were the stories “Mile 81,” “The Dune,” “Bad Little Kid,” “Under the Weather,” and “Obits.”

The stories deal with the normal King topics, from death, mystery, and end of the world. They are all enjoyable and quick reads. Annoyingly, King included two of his narrative poems that I could have lived without (he admits he is not a gifted poet).

Overall, this was an enjoyable read that has a different pace than a normal novel.

8/10

Dining Alone

The first real snow fall finally hit the Midwest. Michigan, where I am staying during my semester break, got anywhere from two to seven inches of snow. Of course I would have to drive to Oxford Ohio on the same day that the first real winter storm hit the Midwest.

I loaded up my car with a few bags and laundry baskets, careful to keep my balance on the fresh ice that had formed on the driveway. I drove for two and a half hours. My stomach was growling, indicating hunger. I was only an hour away from Oxford, but thought best to eat right then because I wasn’t sure what would be open in Oxford and I had a gift card to a Cracker Barrel.

Anyways, I pulled in, tires skidding on the ice. I threw on my jacket and wrapped my scarf around my head, desperately trying to stay warm and block the cruel, icy wind that was boring down on the Midwest.

I walked into the Cracker Barrel which was moderately busy. I approached the hostess and asked for a table for one. She blinked at me and questioned my desire to dine alone by asking “Just one?”

I assured her that I had not lost my mind and would like to dine alone in the Cracker Barrel. She acquiesced my request and lead me to a table.

I settled into my table and began to look over the menu. Immediately I could feel the gazes of the diners around me glancing nervously, no doubt thinking is he alone? Why is he out in public? He must have the plague!

I sat back, ordered my dinner, and enjoyed the reprieve from driving and navigating the docile Ohio drivers.


This is the second time I have dined alone. The first time, I was on a study abroad trip in Turkey and needed a break from my peers on the trip and wanted a nice fresh fish dinner.

During both of these experiences, I have been struck by how both the waitstaff and fellow diners treat the solitary diner.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being with friends and family while eating. Breaking bread and having great conversations is always a highlight. But every now and then it is nice to sit alone and enjoy a meal with just your thoughts.

Why the skittishness around a solitary diner? Why the nervous glances and muttering at the dinner table? We all need to eat and stopping at restaurant to grab a bite during a road trip is nothing anyone should be skittish about. Dining alone is on the rise and is a normal fact of American life. Yet, too many people are startled or perplexed when they see someone eating alone.

It is okay that someone is eating alone. There is no cause for alarm.

So next time you see someone eating alone, don’t worry about it. Let them enjoy their meal in the solitude they have been craving more than you have been craving that gourmet burger.

 

Book Review: The N- in You

In The N- in You, Dr. J.W. Wiley discusses the link between diversity, social justice, leadership, and language. It was an interesting read all around, as Dr. Wiley has a great gift at writing and talking about issues of diversity, social justice, leadership, and language.

The way Dr. Wiley broke up the book into different chapters on offensive words (e.g. retard, gay) was a great way to approach the broad subject and focus the writing. Of particular interest to me was Dr. Wiley’s commentary on racism and not hating the hater because of how Dr. Wiley presented the ideas and how they were different than ideas I had already heard.

Yet, I finished The N- in You wanting more. Dr. Wiley glossed over the leadership portion of his text (or rather overstated how much focus leadership would have in the text) as the leadership moments were just being an active bystander. Additionally, the discussions of non-inclusive language were nothing I hadn’t already encountered in my graduate studies in student affairs.

All in all, this was a good book but left me wanting more. It provides some useful insights into the practice as an educator that every educator should read.

5/10.

#SAGrad Job Search

“So, what’s next?”

Everyone in my life right now seems to have gotten a memo that they need to ask me that when they see me; “So, what’s next?”

As I enter my last semester as a student affairs graduate student at Miami University, my thoughts are focused on two things: 1) the job search; and 2) completing my graduate studies. Nothing else comes close. When my mind wanders, those two topics are what my mind wanders to. I have already begun applying to positions across the country and am nervously thinking about what my final semester will entail (it will include a 23 day examination, three courses, and a “20-hour/week” assistantship).

But why the fixation of my friends, family, and colleagues on the job search? Yes, this may be hypocritical of me, but the minute I get asked “So, what’s next?” I get a pit in my stomach. The individual who asked me that question had no bad intentions when they asked me that; they weren’t trying to cause me harm. They were just curious as to what I will be doing after I complete my graduate studies.

I’m aware of this fact, yet I still get uncomfortable when asked the question. Do I get uncomfortable out of fear of failure? The unknown? Or is it something else? Do I just not enjoy being pressured and constantly reminded of the big life decisions that I am facing in the coming months? Most likely it is a unknowable combination of all of those things.

A saving grace, though, when I get uncomfortable from non-student affairs folk asking me the question, I can turn to my peers in my cohort. We are all, whether we want to or not, going through the same process. Sure, some may search in another functional area or outside of higher education all together, but we are all going through the same process with only one result certain: we will not be able to return to our current positions.

My supervisor has reminded me a few times that this job search, this initial job search, will be unlike any other. With the end of graduate school quickly approaching, I do not have a ‘safety’ option to fall back on; the contract for my assistantship ends mid-May and there is no option for renewal. Any future job search I will always have a safety option, to stay at my current institution. There will be no frantic search and fear of the unknown when I can always stay content in my current role for another few months.

So maybe that is where the uncomfortableness comes from when I am asked “So, what’s next?” by a friend or relative. I’m afraid of the unknown in the sense that I have no other employment options at the moment. I cannot stay in school for another semester, I can’t continue working as the Graduate Resident Director of Hillcrest Hall. I have to leave and start new. I have to start a new chapter, no matter how much kicking and screaming I do.

Yes, I get nervous when asked the question. I get uncomfortable; I squirm in my seat. It’s because I’m not sure what is next. I have a vague, ghostly idea. I know I’ll be working! Where? In what part of the country? What will I be doing? Will I enjoy it? Public or private? How much will you make? When do you start? I can’t answer any of those questions; I have no idea how to even begin! That’s why I, along with thousands of other student affairs graduate students, are uncomfortably beginning the job search.


I’m not sure how these next six months are going to go. I know I’m going to apply to a lot of jobs and (hopefully) get a few interviews. I’m going to be stressed and I am going to be irritable. Yet, here is what I’m going to do to keep some sanity through this process. Hopefully those of you going through the same process find some usefulness to the tips:

  1. Stay focused. For the entire length of the masters program we have been prepared for this moment: the job search. We know our theory, we can talk about issues of social justice and diversity, and we (hopefully) are aware of what we bring to a team. The job search will happen, so just keep your eyes on the end goal.
  2. Keep grounded. Much to our chagrin, work and courses do not stop for the job search. We will be applying to jobs, interviewing, working with students, and staying up late working on papers. If graduate school has taught me anything, it is that it is incredibly easy to forgo the things that keep me grounded. Thus, this semester, more than ever, it is vital I make time for me. Whether that is running, reading, writing, or listening to a podcast, I need to do it.
  3. Talk about the job search. Find a few people, whether they are in your cohort or not, that you can talk to about the job search. I know a few people, both at Miami and outside of it, that are going to be getting the late night call and the early morning text as I have a stressful moment or need to run a thought by someone. Rarely can we do something alone, and the job search is something that you need a lot of helpful hands to get you through it.
  4. Reflect on what is important to you. And no, I don’t mean whether the job has the ability to teach a course or not. Think about what you need to live. Do you need to be close to family and friends? How close do you need to be to an airport? What about city life? Mountains or lakes? Think about what you need to thrive in your life outside the workplace.
  5. Finish strong. Whether or not you get a job before you graduate does not matter. What does matter is finishing this chapter of your life strong. Make sure the folks you work with, the people who will be able to speak to others about you, remember you in a way you want to be remembered. Sure, the going is going to be tough this semester, but leaving Miami with a positive impression of me is something that I value, if only because I want others to know that I do quality work.

So…

What’s next?

 

Book Review: The Art of Fielding

It is not often that you close a book and just sit there, thinking about what you read. Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding not only made me do that but was a gripping read from cover to cover.

I have a lot of thoughts still swimming in my head as I write this about The Art of Fielding, but the one that keeps jumping up is Harbach’s commentary on purpose. As someone who is about to start a job search, purpose is something I have been reflecting on and to have Henry, one of Harbach’s characters, struggle with the purpose usefulness concept of purpose has me thinking quite a bit. Is purpose essential to our lives? Are we always lost without a purpose? Does repetition and structure hold the key to finding purpose? What role does discipline play in finding ones purpose?

This is not to say that The Art of Fielding is purely a commentary on purpose and its role in human life. It is a fun, engaging, and powerful read about baseball, college, coming of age, relationships, and the expectations we put on ourselves. Harbach crafted a beautifully simple story with powerful themes that keep the reader yearning for more.

This seemingly simple book will leave you wanting to know more about Westish College, the baseball team, Henry, Mike, Pella, and Owen because of the powerful writing of Chad Harbach.

10/10.