Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Updates!

Wow, April 21st. Time is flying, swimming, dancing, and doing a lot of other funky things.

Here's what you need to know:

1.) I made it through senior sem with my sanity intact. Woohoo!

2.) Sheila and I presented our project to the students and professors in our department, who received it well with laughter, tears, and plenty of mind-stimulating questions. Our peers presented their projects, too, with much of the same.

3.) Coming up is the PREMIERE of our film, and YOU are invited! If you're interested in seeing the thing I've been pulling my hair out over all year, then join me at Saint Mike's in Cheray 101 on Sunday, April 26th at 3 p.m. for the first-ever screening of "I'm Still Here: Growing old in ageist America."


4.) While I'm shamelessly promoting myself, you might want to check out the product of something cool I did while studying abroad in Morocco. That's all I'll say here. Don't want to ruin the the surprise. :) Click here.

5.) I've been thinking a lot about different things that I want to say before I graduate. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to continue blogging after I move on from Saint Mike's, but regardless, it wouldn't be the same. I have several post ideas, so hopefully you'll be reading more from me in the next couple of weeks. 

But first things first, I want to make sure that I make my in-person thank yous and last remarks while I'm still on campus. This is terrifying for me, as I don't love getting overly sentimental in person (it creeps me out). But I think it's an important thing to do here. 

In both of these cases, it seems like it's the most crucial time for me to have the right words. So of course, it's one of the few times where I can't quite think of any (some of you may remember this same speech from my last days in Morocco). But that's life, I suppose. Chock full of wisdom (or so you think) until it's put to the test.

Anyway--hopefully I'll work on that and get back to you. Until then, check out our film's website (if you want).

Cheers.

Lauren

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Instant Gram.

Has anyone ever thought about picking apart the word "Instagram"? Like, how did they come up with that? Just a thought. Anyway...

In case you don't know about it yet, Saint Mike's started this cool new Instagram account this semester called @knightlifevt. It started with my housemate Alex, and has been circulating around to students with a new person taking over it every week. It's a great way to see what daily life is like for our students at #smcvt!



This week is my turn. I hope you'll join me as I work to finish up my senior seminar project (due on WEDNESDAY...yikes!) and partake in all the Saint Mike's-y goodness before I head home for Easter break on Thursday.

Follow me @knightlifevt and in any other normal week @laurenkopchik , and remember to like/comment or email me (lkopchik@mail.smcvt.edu) if you have questions about Saint Mike's!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Progress?

I haven't been here in such a long time that it's hard to even know where to begin. A lot has happened lately, not only academically but as well as in my social life and trying to make the most out of my final semester here at Saint Mike's.

However, as I sit here in Bergeron at 9:03 on a Sunday evening waiting for my Premiere file to export, I am more in the academic mindset and would like to use this post as an opportunity to organize my thoughts.

Senior Sem is EVERYTHING right now, and I hate to say it but a lot of other things have taken a back seat. Including dinner...I AM SO HUNGRY. As soon as I'm done uploading things I'm headed home to eat.

Anyway, our project is due April 1st, and that's much sooner than I'm comfortable with at this point, but it's also relieving to know that the end is near. On Wednesday we have the introduction (a.k.a the "Hook") and a chapter of our film due, as well as a written outline that guides us through the story structure.

Here is a short teaser Sheila made for the film, set to Brandi Carlile's "The Story":



Despite Sheila and I constantly scheduling interviews and going out to film, I'll be honest--right now I'm not feeling entirely prepared for this assignment. This has to do with a few things, mainly being that we're not done filming yet--we have a few things we still want to schedule, including some stuff we've planned over spring break, and it's hard to imagine how everything will come together when we don't know how our next few filming sessions are going to go.

And, since we've been filming so much, we have a lot of material to work with--both a blessing and a curse. We've been cutting and editing interviews as we go, getting rid of bits and pieces we know we certainly won't need. But even after cutting, we still have about 3 hours worth of great interview footage. For a 30-45 minute film.

A constant daily reminder that I sometimes need to force myself to believe.

So, that's what we're dealing with right now. We have a few ideas floating around about what we want to hand in for this assignment, so I'm not overly concerned about making the deadline. If there's one thing I've learned about myself, it's that when things need to be done, they get done. We might probably DEFINITELY will be making changes before we hand in our final cut, because that's just how it goes. Making a film is like writing a paper. You get the best results once you've gone through a few drafts first.

Unfortunately for us, that means a whole lot--too much--of our time this month will be spent in front of computer screens. But it will be worth it in the end.

Because in the end, as with everything we do, it's not just a project. It's what we've learned, the mistakes we've made, the laughs, the tears (more of those to come I'm sure), and most importantly, the people we've connected with over the past 6 months or so. We have become so invested in this film, and we want people to see it. Not just because we've been working so hard on it, but because it's important. And because of that, we want to make sure it's our best work that we put out there. Not only to represent ourselves in the best way possible, but to shed light on a social issue that's too often swept under the rug in a way that makes people question why they believe what they believe (or fear what they fear) about aging--and of course in a way that makes them want to continue the conversation.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Going Places with Senior Sem

Last week, Sheila and I went back to our hometown in New York. It wasn't just a normal visit home, though--we actually crashed there after a long 5-hour drive so we could recharge the batteries and then wake up early the next morning and get on a train to New York City, where we did some filming for our senior seminar project.

As I've mentioned before, Sheila and I have partnered up to film a documentary about aging and ageism for our capstone. This is one of many things I love about MJD. The senior seminar allows us to investigate any topic of our choosing--literally anything--and produce our findings in either a book, website, or documentary format. Pretty much the only criteria is that we do something that hasn't been done before (or explore a past topic from a new angle), work with a partner if it's a documentary, and check in with regular homework assignments and presentations. Otherwise, anything goes.

Which is a huge undertaking, of course, and tons on tons of work. There's a lot at stake too--the project isn't just a grade, but something that can be put in our portfolio and on our resumes, and maybe even something that's published for people all around the world to see (as has happened with some in the past). I like the way we do our senior seminar in my major because honestly, I don't think I could deal with writing a 50-page paper all semester. Sheila and I did write 52 pages for our proposal, but we took just a few weeks to do it and used it as a way to organize our ideas and research. While it was an important part of the project, it wasn't the only part, so there wasn't as much riding on it as there is for people who do something like that for their entire capstone. Besides, our capstone takes us places other than the library!

So last Friday we went to NYC and interviewed Ashton Applewhite, a prominent anti-ageism activist and author, and I swear if I hadn't been on a schedule I might still be there because she was so interesting to talk to. She had so many important things to say and her passion really came through on film. I think her voice is going to add a much-needed angle to our film, as she really helped tie together loose ends on a lot of different themes. Sheila is an angel and already made some rough cuts of the interview, which can be found here.

We also visited the offices of DoSomething.org, a non-profit that seeks to get young people actively volunteering in their communities. Whey them for a film on aging and old people, then? One of their campaigns, called Grandparents Gone Wired (GGW), pairs up a teenage mentor with an older mentee who wants to use a new technology, whether it's Skype to keep in touch with faraway family and friends or an iPad so they can download cool apps or anything in between. We spoke with some of the campaign organizers, and they said it's really helped improve daily life for the older people participating as well as created come great multi-generational friendships--something that Ashton, as well as Sheila and I, really advocate for and something that we're hoping to show others with our documentary, so they're inspired to do it too.

We had a great day in the city, and we took the train back home to Poughkeepsie to rest up. Then, the next morning, we left for Woodstock for one last NY-based interview.

I came into contact with Alix Dobkin through a really interesting chain of events, and I'm so glad I found her and she was willing to do an interview with us. An esteemed folk singer, Dobkin was an integral part of the women's liberation movement of the 60s and 70s. An activist for most of her life, I found her by looking through names on a roster at the Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) website. They're a group that works to combat "all the -isms," as Alix put it, and they've done a lot to raise consciousness about homophobia and particularly how it affects aging lesbian women. I'm lucky I've been taught to always do a Google search of the person I'm interviewing before I meet them. As I read about Alix's life and listened to her music that morning before heading out, I realized I had scored the interview of the century. It was incredible to hear some of her stories and she even performed a few songs for us! She also gave us each a copy of her memoir. I can't wait to read it!

So New York was a great success, and when Sheila and I returned to Vermont we presented our recent work to our classmates. They loved watching some of the footage and we got great feedback about where to go from here. On Friday we went to the Champlain Senior Center, which I've spent a lot of time at already both this and last semester, to film part of a Valentine's Day celebration. It was great to see so many familiar faces and a ton of new ones as well.

Coming up is another batch of interview subjects, and we have quite the array of people who have shown interest already. Right now we're working on confirming plans with a few women from the Burlington branch of OLOC, a local group similar to DoSomething's GGW campaign, and the Alzheimer's Association. We have a few exciting events coming up, too. Since we're taking a very holistic approach toward looking at every facet of aging and ageism, we have a lot of ground to cover. The more interviews to help with that, the better!

As you can see, we definitely have a lot going on to keep us busy. Our film is tentatively titled The Art of Aging, and if you want to keep up with our progress you can follow us on social media:

Facebook
Twitter

We also have a (VERY rough) website, where we'll be posting more soon, here.

Who knows where the rest of the semester will take us? Stay tuned!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Snow Days at Saint Mike's


The view from my front door on this snowy day.

As I often tell my tours, the "snow day" is a rare occurrence at Saint Michael's College. Since we are a fully residential college, classes are never formally cancelled for the school. Most students have a less-than 5-minute walk from their domiciles to their classrooms, so it's pretty understandable.

("Come on, this is VERMONT. We don't stop for a few snowflakes!" says every native Vermonter, as they stand in 3 feet of snow bundled in their L.L. Bean coats wearing lumberjack hats and shoveling out their Subarus. Put on your big girl boots and toughen up, kid. We're in for a long winter--groundhog said so.)

However, just because it's still easy for the students to show up doesn't mean it's always this way for professors, so sometimes classes are cancelled on an individual or class-by-class basis. Every morning in the winter, students all over campus wake up in the morning and rush to their windows. If there's so much as a single flake in the air, they rush to their laptops with excitement equivalent to a small child's as they check their emails.

Now, I've heard plenty of stories. Profs SKIING to class in the morning to stay on top of their syllabus, doing everything they can to bring knowledge to their students (they're dedicated, and they are Vermonters, after all). In fact, many of them also live very close to campus and don't have long walks themselves. But, every now and then, a snowstorm can be too much for even the most well-weathered SMC professor.

So it is with great pleasure that I opened my laptop this morning, still wrapped in my cozy blanket and wearing my fuzzy sleep socks, to find that my prof for my only class today didn't want to risk it. He advised that we use the spare time to work on our projects and wished us a happy day.

Rather than venturing out in the cold, I decided to take him up on that opportunity and work from home on some things that needed to be done as well as more planning for my senior seminar project. I write to you from the warm comforts of my couch, wearing those same fuzzy sleep socks, sipping on some delicious French Vanilla hot chocolate.

Happy Snow Day to all! Stay warm everyone!

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Who is Not Here?"

This post is quite late in the making, but as my friend Merrill said--it's not exactly late when every day is a good day to talk about it, not just the national holiday to commemorate it.

And what's the "it"? Well, if I'm being honest, not just one thing. We learn at Saint Mike's that everything is connected--after all, that's the essence of a liberal arts education--and I can't think of a better example than this year's celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I began last week with a roommate outing to see Selma, the new film starring David Oyelowo as MLK. It's a heart-wrenching and incredibly beautiful tribute to not only Dr. King but the hundreds of thousands of people who supported the movement that we study in our textbooks today. I highly recommend seeing it, for anyone who hasn't yet.



One thing that really moved me about this film is the soundtrack, and my roommates and I have been listening to the song "Glory" on repeat. John Legend and Common together is a beautiful thing, and even better are the thought-provoking lyrics, which draw parallels between the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and today's modern movement for racial equality. This song is important because it drives us into the present, and over this past MLK celebration week, I've been impressed at seeing what can happen when we interpret our past in a way that can help us reflect on now.



The week started off with the MLK convocation, which is an annual event held in the chapel where different speakers are asked to come give a keynote address to kick off the week. This year, the headliner was Kevin Powell, an incredibly successful activist, writer, and public speaker. I think what I liked most about his speech was the inclusiveness of it. While the main takeaway was of course to continue working toward racial equality, he made note that we're not done with this conversation until people of all races, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability and age are treated with the same amount of acceptance and respect, all around the world. His words inspired and ignited. The night continued with speeches from students, beautiful music, and incredible poetry.

However, I think the most important thing about this event was the theme. The name for this week's discussion was, "Who is Not Here?" and I think that's the best question we, as a student body, should be asking ourselves. This is what I mean by bringing Dr. King's words into the present, into this time and place.



It's no secret that a private, Catholic, liberal arts college in Vermont would draw in a specific crowd. We are a school of predominantly white, middle-class skiers and snowboarders from the New England area. Despite Saint Michaels' best efforts to increase diversity on campus, the majority of our students have the same background and have lived very similar lives. So we must ask, who is not here? And by their absence, what are we missing?

I remember as a first-year student taking my Race, Gender and Ethnicity in the Media class. I was excited for it, and then on the first day looking around the room and thinking, how are we going to have a conversation about race when the student body in this classroom only represents one of them? When the most racially diverse class I had here came my senior year, and that was because a whopping 4 out of 18 students were a race other than white, I had to take a step back and think, how have I isolated myself so much from being able to learn in a diverse community--and what am I not learning because of it?

That's not to say that it's not an inclusive community here. Looking around at my peers, I know that I am surrounded by intelligent, socially engaged people who are quick to strike up a conversation with anyone around them, no matter their race, class, age, etc. They're interested in everyone and everything, they aren't quick to make judgments, they're good listeners, and they care about the world and the people in it. They're like me. They were attracted to Saint Mike's for the friendly community as well as the rigorous academics, the challenges they knew they'd get here. They came here for those things.

And yet...and yet. They came here too, though, because they were able.

They were able to come here because they went through a school system that prepared them for college. A school system with enough resources to truly challenge them and to empower them into believing they would accomplish everything they set their minds to. Most of them had supportive families and friends encouraging them. Many of them had guidance counselors and other helping hands. Many of them had money. They took tests that favored literature they grew up knowing, written by men who looked like them, cultures that were familiar to theirs. They grew up comfortable, and that led them here.

Moise St. Louis, Dean of Students and also our Director of Multicultural Affairs, said something at the beginning of the evening that really stuck with me. He told us that sometimes, we do our best learning when we are uncomfortable. He told us not to bat off our discomfort, but to sit with it. If it feels like something's wrong, then something's wrong.

On an individual level, it's nobody's fault. But collectively, we don't have to accept this separate world we live in the way it is. And to begin that conversation, well, that does start with individuals. So, this is me acknowledging my privilege. It is my privilege to be here at this prestigious institution, because I was able to be here. I chose it because it was the best education I could possibly get, and that is my privilege--one of many. I support the diversity initiative here at Saint Mike's, but I'm arguing (and I think everyone would agree) that we need more. More needs to be done, and it needs to happen now.

That's all very good and idealistic, isn't it? So where are the real, concrete answers here? I'm going to be honest--I don't know. Even after sitting in the chapel and being so impassioned by Kevin Powell's words, by this beautiful collective moment of catharsis we shared...I walked out of there and immediately felt flattened back out. What do I do? What do we do?

The answers aren't easy to come by. That's why I needed this education in the first place. Sometimes I think that the only thing I learned here is that I know nothing. But, ironically, I had a professor who once told me that that was all I ever needed to know. Because if I know that I know nothing, then I'll keep searching.

Hopefully, enough of us will keep searching. If we do, we will find each other, and someday we will all end up here.

PS: On a related note, I want to take a moment to congratulate my long-distance friend Fatima, who has been awarded for her outstanding journalism on her city's response to the Ferguson verdict. You can read her work here, on her school's newspaper website. Keep reporting the truth, Fats, even when it's something other people might not want to hear.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Second Semester, Senior Year.

Well, here we are, folks!

Y'all know how much I love it here at Saint Mike's, so it's a little bittersweet to know that my time is so extremely limited now. I feel like I have to accomplish so many things in a very small number of days in order to have had the true Saint Michael's and Vermont experience. I'm suddenly rushing to write a bucket list with my housemates, hoping I'll have time for everything in this race against the clock.

But at the same time, I realize that feeling does a total injustice to everything I have done here over the past three and a half years. And I've done a LOT.

And, despite the mixed feelings about having to leave so soon, I can't help but feel that the time is right. Even though I have some really interesting classes this semester with some fantastic professors (we'll get to those details in a moment), it's been taking me some extra motivation to care about attending them as much as I did when I was a first-year. I'm still learning so much, but I'm starting to feel a bit beyond the classroom vibe. I'm ready to show up (to whatever I end up doing in a few months) in the morning with the same vigor that I went to an 8am class with three years ago (thinking that's what it means to "sleep in"...silly young Lauren).

That feeling has nothing to do with my schedule and everything to do with senioritis (a post on that is in progress). So, without further ado, here's what I've got going on as well as my predictions for the semester:

1.) The Great (Fire)Wall: Monday & Wednesday, 1:30-3:05 P.M.


I am of course very excited to be taking this course, as I'll be learning about a culture I know nothing about--just like before I went to Morocco. I'm especially curious about the media environment in China, as we're all aware that the internet is heavily monitored (I wonder if you can access my blog in China...?). One thing I am NOT thrilled with: hearing the other students discuss their excitement to go on the trip, as I unfortunately won't be able to make it. The group leaves a couple days after graduation, and between my financial situation after having traveled so much in the spring and summer (read: I'm broke) and my current state of "what the heck are my plans for a few months from now" I wasn't comfortable with taking off for another adventure just yet. Everything is a bit too up in the air for that.

So yeah, I'm a little jealous, but I'm not the only one in my class who isn't going. Despite my travel bug, I do think the class will be worthwhile. This is also my first experience with Professor Rob Williams, or "Dr. W" as he refers to himself, and he's super charismatic and definitely passionate about this subject. He opens every class with a loud and proud "Ni Hao!"

2.) Environmental Hazards: Tuesday & Thursday, 9:45-11:20 A.M.






This is my final class to complete my Environmental Studies minor. I had the option to take any ES course offered this semester, as I already completed the required courses. At first I really wanted to take Buddhism and the Environment, but for scheduling purposes I thought this might work better for me. It turns out that what started out as my second option is quickly becoming a major topic of interest for me. I'm more interested in the social side of natural disasters, including anything from prevention to human impact to legislation. We're covering all of that, plus learning about how natural disasters occur and some of the science-y things behind them (yes, I'm truly a liberal arts kid through and through...).

We're also looking at this from a global perspective, so I'm pretty pumped for our research paper (yes, you heard me right. Pumped. For a research paper.) where we get to choose a country and look at what types of environmental hazards they've had within the past generation or so, and how they've dealt with them. At first I was totally ready to start looking at Morocco, but now with my China class I'm thinking maybe I'll do some searching there, too. Actually, this week in my China class someone mentioned the smog over Beijing due to factory processes, and the types of human health and environmental impacts this has had. Maybe I'll do some more digging around, but it's nice to know I already have a few options in mind.

The major con: as with a lot of topics in ES, this can get incredibly depressing. You can't talk about environmental hazards without talking about degradation and death. But I think that's what makes it so important, too, and why it needs discussion. The other con is that my textbook still hasn't arrived in the mail, but thankfully Professor Stroup is super nice and allowed me to make copies from hers for the time being so I don't fall behind. I'm glad I asked for help!

3.) Senior Sem: Wednesdays, 3:15-6:20 P.M.


This course description is accurate, and yet it tells you NOTHING. What do you need to know about this course?

This course will empower you and routinely crush your dreams at the same time, and it is fantastic.

What do I mean by that? Okay, so maybe it was a little melodramatic, but basically this course is a whole lot of work with a whole lot of reward. It's just like the ISJ I did in Morocco, but on a bigger scale. And honestly, after doing my ISJ, I absolutely can't wait to jump into this project.

So as you know, I'm working with my best friend Sheila on a documentary film about ageism and forming relationships in senior citizen communities. We've been doing research and establishing contacts, and now it's time to get filming. I'm meeting up with her and Professor Hyde later this afternoon to discuss our next steps and how we're going to accomplish the huge task we have in front of us.

It's obviously a ton of outside work, so why the three-hour class? It's a great time to collaborate with other groups, learn about their topics, and bounce ideas off of each other. Each week a different person brings snacks, and it's basically having a homework party with your best friends. I can tell, this class is going to be like hitting a refresh button for me. Whenever I get stressed out, it helps me to walk into class and talk to my professors and classmates. Not only do they validate my concerns, but they also help me work through them when I'm stuck. Looking around the room at our first meeting the other day, I was so content. And once we got talking and pitching our ideas, it was like someone lit a fire. We feed off of each other's passion and drive, and that is by far what I love most about our little Bergeron community.

What a perfect way to end four years, right?



So, in case you haven't noticed, that's three classes, four days a week. That leaves me with one less class than normal and a whole gosh-darn day!

I only needed 8 credits to graduate, as some of my high school AP courses carried over and counted for college credit. So I chose to take 12 (that way I'm still a full-time student with health insurance) and allow myself a day off in the process. Since I'm really committed to this senior seminar documentary, I honestly don't think I'll have as much free time as one might expect. And I'm glad to have a 3-day weekend--Sheila and I are already planning a trip to New York City to interview some people there for our documentary, and this gives me more travel time without missing class.

But for now, I'm happy to use my Fridays as blog days and to get a head start on work for the next week. I'm feeling really good about getting back into the groove after a long and mostly uneventful winter break--not having any projects gets a bit boring!

To all my readers, good luck embarking on this new semester!

Lauren