Summer in the City

I’m participating in the DC Summer Institute for Community Engagement this summer. I have to say, it’s been an absolutely phenomenal experience. Check out this link to learn a little about it:

Basically, we spend two weeks learning about our issue and meeting the movers and shakers in our field. Then, we do a ten week internship with the organization of our choice. I chose to work with the DC Public Library’s Youth Programming Office. I thought I’d come in and work with teenagers or older kids helping to prepare them for college but when I got here another program stole my heart. DC STAR is an early literacy program that works with parents and their children in at risk communities to develop a love of reading. STAR stands for Singing, Talking, and Reading which are the three main practices that we teach. I love little kids as much as the next person. They’re adorable… for the first couple minutes… then they get too needy. I generally like them after that whole potty training and annoying puberty stage… right about the age when they’re getting ready for college. However, I absolutely love this program. I can see immediate results as the kids devour free books provided by the library and generous donors.

That’s the thing about William and Mary. You come in thinking one thing then *bang* your eyes get opened to something totally different. The best education is an experience, and I’ve gotten plenty of those here.

RSVP #tribepride

Deciding what college to attend can be a hard choice. In fact, it can be one of the hardest choices that you will ever make as a young adult. Deciding on a university is more than just deciding what institution will accredit your bachelors degree. It’s also about choosing a path, an identity, and above all, a community for the years to come. Distance from home, financial aid, undergraduate programs, rankings, reputation, all of these are significant factors that will impact your decision.

In my case, none of the above were ever considered. I am first generation college student in the United States. My mother did not know how the university system worked or what things should be taken into account when making that final decision. The culture surrounding college applications is simply not present in El Salvador. I never knew anything about WM’s advantages over other schools (student to faculty ratio, public ivy, research opportunities as undergraduates, etc.). All I knew was that this was the school of my dreams, and that it was simply meant to be. I came here with blind faith, per se, knowing that this was the place to be a polyglot renaissance woman. Williamsburg indeed became mi hogar my home; and W&M became mi orgullo my pride.

From my point of view, you can’t go wrong with the Tribe. If you have been accepted, there is a reason why.

Mi primer ESCAPE

ESCAPE is one of two annual recruitment programs for admitted multicultural students (the other one being Autumn Blast). I remember my first ESCAPE as if it were yesterday. My mother and I arrived around 4pm to the College. Prospective students had already been matched up with their hosts. I remember that the actual host-matching took place in Blow Hall, and that I was so late that the Admissions Multicultural Recruitment Team was already packing up. That’s where I met Shayma Jannat, ‘10, Crystal Nwokorie, ‘10, and Kristian Obcemane, ‘12. Back then, they were the multicultural recruitment interns (a position I would apply and be hired to later in my college career). From the very beginning, Shay, Crystal and Kristian were some of the friendliest people I had ever met. Since there were no hosts left, I was assigned to Crystal, and then we walked to her dormitory Jamestown North, whose construction had just finished.

Me and Crystal =)

My W&M experience began that day. I remember talking to Shay about Islam, the qur’an and research in Bangladesh, and Kristian about PLUS (a summer program sponsored by the Center for Student Diversity). I could see myself at W&M with them discussing not only the pressing issues of our time but also how to solve them. I met many of my future friends, mentors and heroes that day… Fuad Bohsali, ‘09, Adeela Tajdar, ‘09, Usmaan Bashir, ‘09, Renzy Bryant ‘10, and Kobie Gordon, ‘12 the latter of whom would become one my best friends.

Me and Kobie =D

My favorite part about ESCAPE was definitely the ghost tour. I am a big fan of “Paranormal Studies” (LOL), and anything regarding ghosts fascinates me. I did not know W&M had quite a number of ghosts. I remember linking arms with Shay and Crystal and walking around Williamsburg. Little did I know that ESCAPE would be one of thousands of events, and one of hundreds of memories that I would experience at the College of William & Mary. As my time here comes to an end, I reflect back to my first ESCAPE and how that program first welcomed me to the Tribe.

“Those who come here, belong here”

Mi madre, yo y mis tíos abuelos - Freshman Move In Day 2008

I never got to open my W&M acceptance letter. My mother did. The letter from W&M was the last one to arrive. January, February and March had been the longest months of my life. I didn’t know where I’d end up after graduation from high school. I was afraid that I would not get into a good school, or that I would hate the school I’d end up choosing. Honestly, every kind of scenario of results came into my head including the dreaded wait-list.

I was in World Affairs class when I got a call from home. Many seniors were talking about where they would be going the following year. I remained silent and awkward just listening to my classmates. I saw my phone kept ringing, but ignored it. Finally, I excused myself from class, and went into the hall. It was my mom Emma, and the conversation we had in Salvadoran Dialect went something like this:

“¡Fernanda! ¡Fer!”

“¿Qué pasó? Mami, estoy en clase. ¿Qué pasó?”

“Fer, te llegó algo de la William and Mary.”

“¡Ay no!”

“Ay cálmate, hija.”

“Puesi, ¿y entonces?”

“Nada, te llegó un paquete. ¡Te aceptaron!”

“¡Madre, qué barbara!”

“¡Felicidades hija! Te quiero mucho.”

It was surreal. I went back to class feeling that it was all a dream. I had envisioned the moment I would open the letter from the College of my dreams. I thought that I would cry or scream of joy or shout it to the world after having opened and read it. As it turns out, it didn’t happen this way. I never thought my mother would give me the news. In the end though, it only made sense that she, the woman who left her family, her country, culture, her motherland, would give me the biggest news I could ever receive…

… ya que amo este lugar.

Wren Building at 8AM | Spring 2012

San Francisco Dreaming

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…” Wearing sunflowers in my hair isn’t really my thing, but after visiting the West coast for the first time during spring break, I can definitely see the appeal. I will not give you the rundown of my entire trip – there was much accomplished in seven days. From driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, to capturing the breathtaking sights of San Fran from the Marin headlands, to exploring ominous Alcatraz, to navigating the undulating city streets on mountain bikes, to wine-tasting in Napa valley, to kayaking in the quaint town of Sausalito, my trip will forever be memorialized as the first time I discovered a place beyond Bermuda in which I could see myself living. Yes, the sightseeing was fantastic, the people were friendly, and everything worked out better than planned, but there is one word to describe what made San Francisco such an attractive place to live: balance.
To illustrate, my first day there, a Sunday, my friend and I discovered what we thought to be a party in one of the many parks that adorn the city. People were tossing the rock, kicking the football, playing catch, partaking in libations. We set our bikes down and watched the scene as hundreds of twenty-something year-olds enjoyed each other’s company. Turns out it was just a sunny afternoon and people were taking advantage of the weather and great company. That’s when I knew San Francisco would be etched into my beyond-graduation plans in the near future. How could I avoid a place where people take full advantage of life’s offerings: nature, health, friendship, love. My weekends are already planned: Lake Tahoe in the morning to ski, beach to surf in the afternoon, and a barbeque in the evening with friends. That’s balance. That’s worthy of some flowers in my head.

Biking through Golden Gate Park

Biking through Golden Gate Park

Islam Awareness at W&M

From March 27th to March 30th, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) hosted its Spring Annual Awareness week featuring the significance of the Qur’an in history and in the lives of individual Muslims. The Quran is believed to be the literal word of God revealed to the prophet Muḥammad through the archangel Gabriel. The first event of the event featured Haris Tarin, the Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council Haris Tarin. Mr. Tarin spoke about the Qur’an, Peace and Conflict Resolution. On Wednesday, the MSA screened the film “Decoding the Past: Secrets of the Quran” and on Thursday an interfaith panel discussed the significance of the Torah, Bible and Qur’an. Free tea and baked goods were provided.

Friday’s concluding event featured our weekly jumma service and a Halal Barbeque in the afternoon. Similar to Jewish Kosher Dietary Restrictions, Halal means “lawful” in arabic, and the barbeque featured halal burgers, and hotdogs. the College has many grilling spots on campus, and one of them is located at the Randolph complex by the Arabic House. Muslims and non-muslims alike came together not only to learn about the history and significance of the Quran, but also to enjoy great company and great food. Indeed, that is the beauty of W&M’s diversity. It is a diversity shared by all, enjoyed by all.

Welcome to the Tribe

I vividly remember the day I received my acceptance letter to William and Mary. I was working my second job as a private reading tutor when my father called. I remember being annoyed that he would interrupt the session but I answered anyway because I didn’t want to face the consequences of not answering. “Hey Daddy,” I said trying to mask my annoyance. “How are you?” “Not good,” he replied. “William and Mary sent you something so I opened it.” At that moment my heart sank, all my fears had been confirmed. “Did I get in?” I asked slowly. He paused for a moment then replied, “No.” I looked around the room blinking back tears wondering how I was going to finish this session without breaking down. “Ash?” I heard my dad say, “Ash? I’m kidding.” “What?” “I’m kidding, you’re in!” My heart found its way up from the pit of my stomach and I shouted “I’m in? I’m in!” I ran and hugged my student who looked at me quizzically and asked, “What’s going on Ms. Ashley?” I thanked my dad for the news and told him I would talk to him later. I then turned my attention to Asia and explained to her that I was accepted to the college of my dreams. She turned her head to the side and said, “So does that mean you’re leaving me?” Her question, as innocently as she meant it, soon became the theme of my last months at home. It was hard to leave my friends and family, and especially my students but I just kept telling myself that it wasn’t “goodbye,” it was “see you later.”

As you venture on this exciting journey I want you to know that everything is going to change. But remember, the more things change the more they stay the same. You will leave some of your best friends at home but you will meet new friends. You will leave your high school community but you will join a remarkable college community. You will miss your mom and dad fiercely but you will take your first steps into adulthood and learn that you are only standing where you are because they are holding you up. You will be okay, scratch that, you will be more than okay. You will thrive here because you belong here.

Welcome to the next chapter of your life. Welcome to your new home filled with people who care deeply about you and your success. Welcome to the Tribe.

The Best Tips Don’t Come in Jars

Freshmen year of college I decided that my new found independence would not be the same if I phoned home every week asking my mom and dad for money. So, I decided to find a part-time job. To me, finding a job was my Emerson like way of trying to be a bit more self-reliant. When I finally nailed a job at a local ice cream shop I was so excited to begin working. Now for those of you who have ever worked in the food service industry, I think you may agree that you typically meet a lot of interesting people, and you come to gain an arsenal of unforgettable moments that you wish you could forget. For example, I’ll never forget the kids who pay me in all pennies and realize they are short long after their orders have been made. Or, the customer who walks in, looks at all of the ice cream descriptions, and proceeds to ask me “well what flavors do you have?” Oh, and then there’s my favorite unforgettable moment that I wish I could forget. An older customer once asked me for a free sample, and when I reached my arm out to hand him the small sample spoon, he leaned in and opened his mouth. Thinking it was a joke, I giggled. When I realized he was serious, panicky and completely weirded out I just left my hand there, and I’m sad to say I actually fed him. All the while I had bulging eyes of horror, a smile through clenched teeth, and I asked myself the only question on my mind “is this really happening?” Aw yes, good times.

Being in college with a job, it sometimes gets difficult trying to juggle being a student and an employee. Especially on nights when you know how much studying you have to do after work you may find it daunting to take order after order. One night during my closing shift I was feeling just this way when suddenly a moment of good made my list of unforgettables. Five or six boys walked into the store and after asking for a few samples they tried to scrounge up enough money to buy a little something. Then suddenly, the woman who had just ordered told all the boys to get what they wanted, and she would take care of it. I was as surprised as the boys, but once the woman conveyed to both me and the boys her absolute seriousness; I went to work scooping the kindest scoops of ice cream I had ever made. At the register I heard one of the boys say “we can pay you back if you want.” Then the woman replied “you don’t have to pay me back boys, but you do have to pay it forward.”  Even if it were today, tomorrow, next month, or next year, she wanted the boys to do something for someone. We made some pretty good tips that night, but what that woman said was probably better than any tip left behind in our jar. I want to challenge myself to pay it forward whenever possible. Living on a college campus it may seem like the world is so small, but there is always room to do something for someone. Even if it’s just sending a smile to a fellow classmate who has “I’m having a bad day” written all over their face, or picking up the tab for someone in line with you at the MEWS, random acts of kindness go a long way no matter where you are!

“The Journey Continues”…

St. Patrick’s Day brought more than just green wearing revelers to our Williamsburg community today. The Lemon Project’s 2nd Annual Spring Symposium joined together William and Mary students, faculty, Alumni, and the Williamsburg community at large. The theme of this year’s symposium was entitled “The Journey Continues: Learning from Differences,” and with panels, breakout sessions, and time for Q&A, it was truly a memorable day. “The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation,” came to life on our campus in 2009 after the BOV, in support of resolutions passed by both our Student and Faculty Assembly, committed to the examination of the College’s role during slavery and the Jim Crow Era, as well as an ongoing discovery and preservation of African American experiences on campus and in the community. This year’s symposium took place at the Bruton Heights School. Nestled just off of First Street, Bruton Heights opened in 1940, and it was the educational home for black students during the unforgiving time of segregation and Jim Crow.  During today’s first panel it was surreal hearing from Bruton Heights’ graduates and Educators, but while it was disheartening to hear of the adversity black students faced, it brought immense joy to learn of the strong supportive community that formed in spite of oppression. As I looked around at the sea of different faces and races that came to support, engage, and contribute to the work of the Lemon Project, I felt that same joy. As a graduating senior I am so thrilled to be working on an Independent Study that is under the umbrella of the Lemon Project, and I can’t wait to see how using a shared past, the Lemon Project will continue to impact our campus, enlist the community, and challenge ourselves!

A Mosaic within a Mosaic

“I’ve been to Newport News a few times. You need to come visit me in New York. I’ll take you to get the best pizza outside of my mother’s kitchen… Forget about it! This is the best pizza!”

I heard this from two boys walking behind me after dinner yesterday and I couldn’t help but smile. I didn’t have to turn around and see their races to know that they were a wonderful example of William and Mary’s diversity. I thought later about just how much I’ve learned since I’ve been on this campus. In my high school I was often the only black girl in my classes and I began to forget about the diversity within my race. Just within my group of friends of African descent we have one from Jamaica, one with the thickest Southern Belle accent you’ve ever heard, one who’s lived in almost every state and several European countries, one who traces her ancestry back to Mexico, Japan, & Woodbridge, Va, one that won’t leave her dorm unless completely done up in her finest pearls, and another who runs around campus in her dance leotard; one from a very rich family and another that’s working three jobs to support herself.

Often times we forget about the most important kind of diversity, diversity of experiences. Here at William and Mary we never forget about just how much you can learn from everyone, even those that look like you. That is one thing I love about the black community here. We are all different shades, with different hair textures, different sizes, and completely different backgrounds but we make a beautiful mosaic and we’re only one part of the William and Mary community. Next time you visit our gorgeous campus, take a moment to talk to the students. You might be surprised at what you find.


the girls at bso honors