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Mountain Day of the Mind

One of my favorite events Juniata has every year is the Liberal Arts Symposium, or LAS for short. Each year, classes are cancelled for the whole day, and students and faculty are encouraged to travel across campus and attend student presentations about work/research they have done during the year. There are a lot of different types of presentations, and most common presentations are often in the sciences. This year however, I was able to present my own work at LAS, with focus on the Theatre Department.
This semester, I decided I wanted to do an independent study with one of my professors, Leigh Hendrix, and I wanted to attempt to write a full-length play. I have written several short plays (10 minutes or less) throughout my time at Juniata, but I have never tried to write something as complicated and in-depth as a full-length play. I came up with the idea to write a murder mystery, because that is my favorite genre to read/watch. I’ve always loved crime shows and mystery novels, but I never realized just how difficult it is to write a mystery yourself! There is so much background work that needs to occur before one even starts writing in order to create a successful, fluid piece. Once a week, Professor Hendrix and I would meet to look at my writing progress, and map out the entire storyline of the play. I honestly didn’t think I would finish this semester. I know that it sometimes takes years for people to complete a play, and shoving this project onto my already packed work load was definitely difficult for me. However, a few weeks ago I managed to finish a first draft! As soon as I finished the draft, it felt like I had given birth! I had worked hard toward this goal that I didn’t think I would reach, and I did! Over the following few weeks, I printed out the entire script and edited it over and over again. I then recruited a bunch of my friends to aid in my presentation for the Liberal Arts Symposium.

 

The cast of the staged reading of "Airborne", an original murder mystery play at Liberal Arts Symposium.

The cast of the staged reading of “Airborne”, an original murder mystery play at Liberal Arts Symposium.

Since I was just doing a public reading of half of the play, it was a less strenuous rehearsal process, since the cast only had to meet once the read through the piece before presenting it at LAS. My play has eight different characters, so I had to ask a lot of different people to be involved, but everyone did such a great job reading their character at the presentation! After the reading, my mentor facilitated a talk-back session, where I could ask questions of the audience and receive feedback about the process. My first question to the audience was: Who do you think did it? To my surprise, although the audience guessed five different characters, none of them had correctly guessed the killer! That was definitely a confidence-booster for me, and it showed me that I wrote a really great play. I received such amazing feedback from the students and staff and outside audience members who came to listen to the reading. It truly was an amazing moment of pride, excitement and joy to hear my words being read out loud, and receiving positive feedback from so many peers.
Although the semester is coming to a close, that does not mean my work on this play is done. For most, a play is never done. There are always changes that can be made. I hope to keep editing this play and make it longer and stronger, and hopefully be able to stage the show at some point next year! Overall, the Liberal Arts Symposium was such a great experience for me to present a project I had put so much effort into, and see how others reacted to it. I can’t wait to keep working on my play!

SPRINGFEST: A Tale of Many Sunburns (and some other fun stuff too)

Hands down, today was the best day I have ever had at Juniata.  To start, the weather was beautiful, especially compared to the nasty conglomeration of precipitation the meteorologists like to call “winter mix.”  The sky was clear and the wind that had plagued us all week had diminished to a light, almost refreshing breeze.  All of this provided a lovely backdrop to the amazing event of Springfest.  Every spring, our Juniata Activity Board, more commonly referred to as JAB, puts on a day-long event to celebrate the coming of spring and the sun and the warm weather that comes along with it.

Figure 1: Not the most majestic of pictures, but hey, Ferris Wheel.

Figure 1: Not the most majestic of pictures, but hey, Ferris Wheel.

This year Springfest was Coachella  themed, as the JAB member who  planned the event told me.  They  brought in four performers from  across the northeast, including Lee  Dewyze the winner of season nine of  American Idol, and an amazing  acapella group out of Canada call  Eh440 (check them out they were  AMAZING).  The event ran from noon  to seven in the evening and every hour  of the event was packed with bouncy  castles, food trucks, three encore  performances from the Downbeat  Percussion group, and a Ferris Wheel.

For me, it wasn’t the terrifying awesomeness of a Ferris Wheel (what?  I’m afraid of heights) or the red chili chicken burrito served from a food truck that mad the day so memorable.  I think I can take the liberty to say that for most, Springfest is the first day in a long time that they can leave their rooms and homework, and bask in the warmth of a sun that is too often hidden during the winter months.  It’s a time to let loose a little before the final projects and tests start flooding in, robbing us of any time that we might otherwise have spent on the quad, lazily hammocking.

Even though I still have several homework assignments ahead of me tonight that I should have worked on today, I don’t regret spending my entire day outside.  Sure, I’ll be a little more tired this week, but it’s also only three days long for me (thank god for Easter weekend and not having classes on Thursdays).  My skin will also be red as a beet and burning up due to sunburn, but being uncomfortable for a few days will be well worth the day of music and food and fun that I just had.

Bailey Oratorical

You’ve all heard it before… Juniata is a special place. We all have heard it, we all know it, and we all sell it. For some reason, however, whenever I’m asked the question “why?”, my mind goes blank.

How can I tell you why Juniata is special any more than I can tell you why gravity happens or why bananas are the best when they’re mostly yellow with just a touch of brown? The words escape me, and it just seems like a fact of life. However, one thing recently gave me a true reason, a true piece of evidence to prove that Juniata is a special place – The Bailey Oratorical.

Winner of the 2017 Bailey Oratorical

Winner of the 2017 Bailey Oratorical, Anh Ha.

The Bailey Oratorical is the longest standing academic tradition at Juniata College, this being it’s 107th year. It is a speech competition that happens every spring and has 7 contestants who each give a 6-8 minute speech answering a prompt. I could go on, but these statistics of the Bailey, the history, the prizes, the try outs – they all pale in comparison to actually being in that room. None of those things are what amazed, captivated, and touched the audience this past Tuesday night. What we felt that night was pure heart and pure love.

36…7..3…and beyond. From 36 tryouts, to 7 finalists, to our top 3, and to hundreds of people who received the gift of hearing these speeches last night, the Bailey is a treasure. The speeches ranged from Claire Delaval’s questioning of the assumptions of the prompt: “At the heart of the liberal arts is civic engagement: How can we use the values of our liberal arts education to heal divides in our nation and world?”, Nitya Chagti decidedly stating that we are all her family, and Maeve Gannon welcoming us into the world of social change. It was heart wrenching to hear their personal stories, to feel their presence reverberating throughout the room. In the end, they were accepted and appreciated by each and everyone one of us in that theatre.

The second place winner of the Bailey, Nitya Chagti and myself.

The second place winner of the Bailey, Nitya Chagti and myself.

The first prize for the Bailey is undoubtedly impressive – $1,000. However, I do not think a single one of those seven finalists that night was thinking about money. I know a few of them personally, and their actions were not driven by a desire to win, make a quick buck, or get a resume booster. Each of them had an idea that they thought could make the world better if they shared it, and I think that they were right.

The love, friendship, and support I felt in that room was endless. And that feeling, that one of fullness, pride, tears welling in my eyes, warmth exuding from my heart…. That is what makes Juniata special. For as little as I can put it into words, I hope you all know what I am talking about, I hope you have all felt it before. There is no feeling like it.

If you ever get the chance, I suggest you tune into the Baileys. In person is preferable, online is second best. You will be surprised, happy, sad, angry, hopeful, loved. The people here will love you, and that is beautiful.

 

It’s Mountain Day!

Four years ago, when I was a senior in high school I browsed around different college websites hoping that something would catch my eye and nothing did for the longest time. It wasn’t until I found the traditions on the Juniata College youtube page that really peaked my interest. One of the main reasons why I decided to come to Juniata was not because of the academics; it was because of the traditions that occur throughout the year.

Mountain Day

Each fall semester of every year holds a random day when students get the entire day off of classes to go to Raystown lake and play games with peers and professors. The catch is, that no one knows when this day is going to be. Not even the professors know when this day is. This past Thursday was this glorious day known as mountain day and everyone woke to the sound of wonderful air horns and pots and pans at 5am to hear the incredible news. (When you are a student here, you will understand the feeling of excitement when those beautiful air horns sound in the morning.) As I am a senior with a car I didn’t have to wake up in time to get the buses that leave for the lake in the morning, so I slept in and made it to the lake just in time for lunch. Each year there are a variety of different bouncy houses and activities for students to enjoy. This year, there was a zip line, inflatables ranging from the original racecourse to trying to knock people off a pedestal with a wrecking ball, a caricaturist, a create your own spin art frisbee section, an air brush tattoo artist, and a photo booth, along with the many types of games and general activities that go on at the lake. It was a beautiful day to spend with my friends and just relax. It is not just a day off from classes but a time to connect with both of your peers and professors to create a stronger bond. Also, it was nice not having to worry about the test that I was supposed to have that day.

This year was my last mountain day and I have to tell you, I think this is the tradition that I will miss the most. I love the secretiveness about it and the thrill it gives you when you hear an air horn outside of your window. When I graduate, dependent on what profession I go into, I may not be able to call off for a random day of the year. I will just have to sit back at work and hope everyone else enjoys his or her mountain day. I have always proposed that we should have a mountain week. Maybe one day I will make that happen. A random week off in the beginning of the year is what everyone needs when life gets stressful. Don’tcha think?

Relay for Life

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The hula-hoop lap

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to participate in Relay for Life here at Juniata College. I was a team captain for the club Amigos de Guanin. This year, we decided to sell lemonade. Last year, we sold ice cream on the quad. Although we didn’t collect the highest amount of money, it was still really great to be a part of this event. It’s refreshing to be a part of something so fun around the time of year when things start to get really stressful. It’s even more fun to experience such a rewarding activity and spend the day in the sun!

Raising money for cancer research is one of my favorite things to be involved with on campus. I really enjoyed planning what we’d be doing for this event and I even more so enjoyed walking and participating. Some of my favorite parts of Relay this year were the cartwheel laps, the Zumba lap, and the clown lap. I really enjoy the survivor lap, too; it’s really empowering and inspiring to watch the survivors and their caregivers take on the track.

At the end of Relay, there is a luminary lap in which participants honor someone they’ve lost to cancer. The lap is done in silence as participants walk around the track. The track is outlined with glowing paper bags with names on them of people who have lost the battle to cancer.

Following this lap, there is a ceremony. Poems, personal stories, and songs were shared. It was a beautiful and empowering day from 10am-10pm. I am so honored to have been a part of Juniata College’s Relay for Life, 2016.

LAS 2K16: celebrating undergrad research

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Some of the presenters and their presentation titles (including me!)

 

The Liberal Arts Symposium is one of the most popular traditions in the spring semester, and is where classes are cancelled and the entire college community celebrates the research, project development, and performances of Juniata students. I remember my freshman and sophomore year attending the different presentations and thinking with excitement, “I’m going to present MY thesis senior year!” Well that day came, and let me tell you, I was not feeling excitement anymore but sweaty palms and a knotted up stomach.

This entire year, I’ve been working on my senior honors thesis. As I wrote in my last blog, I’ve been looking at how the Indian media talks about corruption, and though I’m still writing my paper, I was able to share with my friends, classmates, and professors my preliminary findings. (Which is that the way we think about corruption, innocence, and guilt in the West is very different than the way Indian newspapers frame it in a specific politician corruption case.) I practiced my presentation a countless number of times, but that didn’t keep me from feeling extremely nervous before I went.

It ended up going pretty smoothly though! To be honest, I don’t remember anything about it except that I think I talked pretty quickly. Whenever I stumbled over my words or suddenly felt uncertain about what I was saying, all I had to do was look out into the audience, where I had so many friends and classmates supporting me. After it was over, I felt so proud; it was so incredibly rewarding, sharing what I’ve been doing with the Juniata community.

Other presentations were just as good! One friend presented on U.S. immigration policies, and another presentation I went to was on research looking at how to genetically modify mosquitos to halt the spread of malaria. My favorite presentation, though, was about synesthesia and the museum experience – the two presenters are even designing their own art exhibition based on their research findings! All in all, the Liberal Arts Symposium was an amazing day!

The Semester is ‘Final’ly Over

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Figure 1: Getting Ready for Madrigal

 

The end of the year at Juniata is a fun and exciting time that’s here and gone faster than you can say ‘finals’. One minute you’re picking out your Madrigal suit, the next you’re spending way too many hours awake studying for the final you’ve known about for three months but have been ignoring till two days before. The most fitting metaphor I can think of is that of a dance… and that’s not just because Madrigal was last weekend. When we got back from Thanksgiving break, the campus was abuzz with excitement about Madrigal, what dresses people were ordering, what tie was going to go with whose dress, and which professor would be serving you at the dinner. There is always a frenzy of activity the week leading up to the traditional dinner and dance because it is the last big event before the end of the year. As soon as we wake up the Sunday after the dance, we stop performing the excited happy dances of young people and start the exasperated stress induced dance of the overworked and under slept.

Finals week and the week leading up to it are not all that bad. They just sort of creep up on you. One minute you are going through RA training, the next you are living in some forgotten corner of an academic building trying to remember a semester’s worth of Inorganic chemistry in preparation for your upcoming test. Madrigal is rather well placed, because although it cuts a bit into study time before finals, it gives us one last opportunity to let loose with friends, to reminisce about the semester, and to hang out with some of the best people you will ever meet before you all go home for a month.

We go through the semester attending classes, completing homework, hanging out with friends on the weekends, procrastinating, procrastinating on the procrastinating, and before we know it another semester has come and gone, another year coming to a close. Similar to how I danced at Madrigal, I think as a school we go through the year in a very eclectic way. One minute you could be doing the hustle, the next dancing a slow waltz. One Thursday you are pulling an all-nighter to make up for your weeks of procrastination and Friday night you’re procrastinating again. And while this cycle may seem grueling at times, it really makes the time fly by.

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Figure 2: Ochem, Not even Once

 

The semester is almost over and that means the end of a lot of things. For me it’s the end of organic chemistry, a class that has reshaped how I think about science, and the first half of my sophomore year. There are those older than I that may be graduating and ending their time here at Juniata. The ending of anything brings with it a sense of melancholy. Even though I will be returning for RA training in only a few short weeks, another stage of my college career, however small, is over.

Thankfully with every ending there is a new beginning and I personally cannot wait to see what next semester has in store.

Tenting for Madrigal: the last tradition of the semester!

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Tents tents tents!

 

Sometimes in life you’ll walk past something happening, and just think to yourself “who would ever think that was a good idea?” Tenting at Juniata is one of those things.

Everyone says that Juniata is all about traditions, and you know what? They’re right. We really are. I have made it to November, meaning I have overcome the challenge of prying open a lobster with just my bare hands at Lobsterfest. I tried my best to break through the ranks of rugby players for Storming of the Arch and was thrown to the ground many times as a result. I eagerly awaited the arrival of Mountain Day, and was disappointed many, many times before it finally came. Finally, after that barrage of traditions, we have reached Tenting.

Tenting only consists of a few simple things. You have to gather a group of 6-8 people and take turns sleeping in a tent for six nights. Also, it’s in November. Oh, and they wake you up for roll calls in the middle of the night with an air horn. I almost forgot… when they wake you up in the middle of the night, you might have to compete in challenges like a game of Ninja or Four Corners. One more thing: we have different competitions every night to earn points for our tent.

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For the scavenger hunt competition, one of the required items was a photo with William J. von Liebig.

 

You might be thinking: why would you ever do that? Well, at Juniata we have a yearly dance and dinner right before Winter Break called Madrigal. At this dinner, professors serve you food, you get to dress up, and you get to sing The Twelve Days of Christmas. The purpose of tenting is to get tickets to that dinner. Groups get dibs on tables based on their ranking at the end of the six days. So obviously, it’s worth it.

I’ve never been a person to function well off of small amounts of sleep. Tenting this week is going to force me to change that. I’ve also never been a person who enjoyed freezing in my sleep, but tenting might just change that as well. I realize that I’m making this wonderful event sound awful, but that’s just the two hours of sleep talking, so don’t take it to heart. In all honesty, based off of the one night I have done it, tenting this week seems like it’s going to be a blast, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the week goes. Plus, why start skipping out on traditions now? I’ve made it this far.

Having Fun Along With the Workload

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Looking pretty for the Homecoming dance! (Photo: Morad Chihab)

We’re finally in October, and as the Fall Break approaches, we can’t help but feel excited! Well… not so fast.

First off, this month is when the college workload finally shows you its true colors. From CWS courses wanting 4 page essays, plus reading responses, plus lap journals and mandatory freshman meetings, to history courses wanting research papers and 200 page readings per week, college just dumps everything on you at once! Oh, did I mention the commitments that you have to clubs?

I actively participate in five different clubs: Plexus, Chinese club, Japanese Club, French Club and the African club. The clubs are all very diverse and do their best to stay true to their moto. Just last week, the Chinese club not only organized the Chinese Moon festival (also known as the lunar Mid-Autumn Festival and zhōng qiū jié in Chinese) and shared moon cakes with others, but they will also organize Chinese dinners (monthly) at the Chinese village. Ok, I must admit that the Chinese club is one of my favorites because, after all, I am a food person! The Japanese club does not hesitate to invite members to cook with them, and the French club puts together movie nights (the next one is this Friday!). Speaking of French club, they organized a trip to Montreal and Quebec City during Fall Break, for which I happily signed up. My Fall Break is going to be a blast!

I had the most amazing Friday on campus thanks to the Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra. I was expecting the show to be dull and average, but the next thing I knew, everyone around me, including the lead singer and the entire orchestra, was moving with energy and dancing their souls out! You couldn’t help but move along. It felt very refreshing being in the Halbritter Auditorium that night. Thank you, Juniata Presents!

Homecoming, something that my friends (mostly Francophones like me), were looking forward to, took place last weekend! Before the actual soirée, we saw families arrive on campus to visit their students. Tears were shed, hugs were given, and students’ rooms were cleaned up. My international friends were feeling homesick. Seeing other students’ families made them miss their own families and friends back in their home country. I missed my mother as well, who was not able to come visit me that weekend even though she was about 3 hours away in Maryland. Nevertheless, I had a great time dressing up for homecoming and dancing with my friends.

As I am sitting at the library and writing this blog, regardless of the workload (4 more research articles to go through, 3 IA assignments to turn in, 2 reading and a research topic that I need to start), I enjoy being at Juniata. If you are like me and procrastinate from time to time, well, start early, take things one at the time and see where the wings take you. Remember the light at the end of the tunnel?

Mountain Day: A Retrospective

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When I was a freshman, Mountain Day was more of a myth to me than an actual event. There was a poster at Lobsterfest, letting people guess when Mountain Day was, and every now and again I would hear not-so-quiet conversation about the actual date. Plus, there was an art to the speculation. Everyone had their own telltale sign that let them know Mountain Day was tomorrow. But most of these speculators forgot the one important fact about Mountain Day: It is always tomorrow.

Of course when Mountain Day did come it was amazing! After all, it’s a day off from the rigors of academics and, for once, a day to sleep in. It provides an opportunity to rest, to have a break right before Midterms begin, and it can also be a catch up day, a time to study for the upcoming Calculus test or to work on an Organic Chemistry pre-lab. Whatever reason the students of Juniata College have for wanting or needing Mountain Day, they all let loose a collective sigh of relief, as the news of Mountain Day echoes across Campus.

For me, Mountain Day this year was meant to be a day to catch up on homework. But fate had other plans, and instead I spent most of the day catching up on sleep and friends. Looking back (a mere three days later) that is really what I needed. As classes get deeper into material and professors begin to expect more from their students as they get into the groove, we often lose track of some aspects of our lives. We forget to call home because we might have an essay due the next day that we have to finish (or start). Sometimes we even neglect our friends because we are so busy with keeping up with work that any free time that we have is dedicated to homework, a job, or sleep.

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A much needed nap

I found myself exhausted on Mountain Day from lack of sleep and from not having enough contact with my friends. They are the people who keep me from getting homesick, the people I confide in, and the ones who help me to hurdle barriers when I cannot do it on my own. Sitting under a tree at Raystown Lake, I was able to slow down and to even stop a minute and reflect on my first month as a sophomore, to be able to take just a moment to appreciate the people I have surrounded myself with here at Juniata. College is an amazing experience, and the one Juniata offers is unique in so many ways, but it does not come without its trials. Days like Mountain Day offer a respite from the rigors of everyday college life and life in general.

So my advice for next Mountain Day… just see where it takes you. In the end you might find that what you did was more worthwhile than what you had planned.

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