For longer than I’d care to admit, I’ve felt as though I’m waiting for my life to start. I could blame it on a bad breakup that took much too long to get over; I could blame it on the fact that I only recently finished my bachelor’s degree in information technology or I could blame it on the fact that I had four or five different jobs in one year.
But the fact of the matter is I’ve been holding out for a salvation of sorts. Not a holy trinity kind of salvation, but more of a “I’m struggling now, but sooner than later all these things will fall into place” kind of salvation.
Just last Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity of graduating from Miami Dade College with my Associate’s Degree! I refer to my graduation – or commencement, I should say – in this manner because accomplishing this feat is something that I wouldn’t have thought possible just over 2 years ago (as I summarized in “The Graduate Slump”). I longed to be enrolled in a post secondary institution and join the rest of my colleagues in the pursuit of a brighter professional future. Indeed, the bombastic celebration of graduates that Miami Dade College Wolfson and Hialeah Campuses hosted at the James L. Knight Conference center on a frisky Saturday morning was the reminder that I and the rest of my colleagues are doing something great. We’re chasing something larger than life itself – our dreams.
I’ve got many people to thank, but I can at least name a few. To begin with, my advisor at the Honors College, Virginia Fuillerat, for her tireless work in ensuring the focus and concentration of otherwise wayward Honors students. Next, my colleagues at The Reporter (Miami Dade College’s student newspaper) through whom I’ve learned so many vital lessons about the world of journalism.Third, my parents and sister, whom have always been supportive of my hectic lifestyle and professional endeavors. Fourth, my girlfriend, whom at times made me feel more anxious than I should’ve but ultimately helped me develop a tenacity and self-confidence that I wouldn’t trade for anything. She’s a very special person whom I appreciate immensely.
Looking to the future, my professional goals include landing an internship or extracurricular involvement with an organization related to journalism, such as a local newspaper or media station. My academic goals involve learning as much as possible about the world of computer information systems, which will be my major when I enroll at Florida International University in the fall semester of this year. And most importantly, my personal goals involve getting some much needed down time and coming to terms with the fact that the time is now. The time to take advantage of everything the world’s got to offer and to take advantage of the opportunity I have to go find those offers is now.
And I couldn’t be more excited. Here’s to the future!
This piece was published in the Miami Dade College student newspaper, The Reporter. It’s part of a series of articles I wrote for them between August 2013 and May 2015, now being uploaded in whole to ElMonzon.com.
At the Year-End Conference of the Florida College System Student Government Association (FCSSGA), about 250 students from Florida’s 28 community colleges (split up into four districts) united in Tallahassee from April 8-10. Their goal was to discuss the issues they wanted legislators to pursue during the legislative session. They also elected a new executive board and set of district coordinators.
Between speaker events and dining affairs, students got to meet and speak with state senators and representatives from their districts. Those personal interactions—formal and informal lobbying sessions were most meaningful for the students.
IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL – WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, 7:30AM
On the balmy morning of Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 7:30 a.m., 55 Miami Dade College Student Government Association officers and advisors from all eight campuses gathered bleary-eyed at the North Campus. Instead of studying political science in classrooms on campus, they climbed aboard a red and white VanHool coach bus driven by Barrington Samuels of Atlantic Charters, Inc. for a real-life civic lesson. They donned suits and ties, dress shoes and stockings to lobby in the marble halls of the Florida state capitol while the Sunshine State Legislature was in session.
“[We’re going] to unleash our power, unleash our voice, to let Tallahassee know what we’re representing and to try to make a difference for the students here on campus,” Gabriel Lechner, a senator from Kendall Campus’ SGA explained as the bus rumbled north on the Florida Turnpike.
Many in the group had never been to Tallahassee but Lechner and the other Student Government officers understood their mission to advocate for the College. Most importantly the College is seriously concerned about the cuts of appropriations for MDC of $6.3 million proposed in the Senate, and what MDC officials are calling the paltry $896,000 in new funding in the House budget. The House leadership has committed to adding more dollars to the budget, which the College would heartily welcome. Funding for the two initiatives of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Technologies remain to be seen. The same goes for appropriations for MDC-West.
There was a sense of excitement for all the students from MDC’s eight different campuses to be together.
The students and advisors endured 10 hours of travel time, with a handful of rest stops and two onboard movie screenings in between.
READY TO ROLL- WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, 3:30 PM
The group arrived in Tallahassee at long last. They stretched their legs and checked into the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott – located a few miles away from the bustling Tallahassee downtown that houses the Civic Center, Florida Supreme Court, State Capitol and other institutions – and filled up the lobby’s sitting area as they awaited their first briefing by Miami Dade College’s Governmental Relations Director, Victoria Hernandez.
Hernandez briefed the students on the College’s position on a range of issues, especially as wrought by the widely different budgets that each House has presented. The Senate budget stood at an approximate $80 billion while the House’s reached approximately $76 billion.
“The Senate right now wants Florida to be one of the next states that joins the federal affordable health care act,” explained Hernandez during the briefing session. “The House doesn’t want to do that. Everything else … suffers from that.”
Students attending FCSSGA agreed unanimously on issues such as a sales tax exemption for textbooks (part of HB7125 and HB7127), the continuing availability of bachelor’s programs at the community college level (SB1252) and the prohibition of guns on campus (threatened by SB176/HB4005).
“I’d like to be able to tell you that everything looks really great, that we’re going to get all this money for the College, that all these programs are going to be there for you … but I can’t say any of that,” Hernandez said.
GETTING TO THE TOP – THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 9AM
When the Miami Dade College bus pulled onto South Duval Street across from the state’s Capitol office building in Tallahassee, the 55 student leaders and advisors on-board had an hour to wait for a speaker event.
But Kendall Campus SGA member Ireynne Diaz-Carnero wanted to use her time to jump right into lobbying – talking directly to elected officials about important issues.
Diaz-Carnero went up to the dimly lit halls of the 14th floor of the Capitol office building, She perused through office directories posted on the wall by the elevator. Her goal was to find District 117 Representative Kionne McGhee’s office. His district includes part of Kendall.
Diaz-Carnero walked past a poster that welcomed visitors to “Miami-Dade County Days” at McGhee’s door. The student was directed by an office employee to a closed door bearing McGhee’s nameplate.
McGhee was not there.
On an L-shaped desk diagonally opposite McGhee’s door, Diaz-Carnero found an alternative way to get her voice heard.
“This is his secretary’s card, and I am going to leave him a letter,” she said.
In her letter Diaz-Carnero voiced her complaints about insufficient financial aid for working students. She explained that she had sent the letter to College President Eduardo J. Padrón and emailed several representatives.
Right off the bus, Diaz-Carnero put her lobbying skills to work.
CAPITOL STEPS – THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 11AM
The Rally to Tally held on the students’ only full day in the Capitol was a show of force for the 250-strong group to motivate and visually put on display the groups’ important platforms.
Students from Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Broward and other Florida counties joined the group from MDC on the steps of the old Capitol Building. The columned supports and red and white window shades provided a regal backdrop to the mass of students and speakers stressing the importance of the students’ participation in their lobbying efforts.
Students waved pre-made signs saying “No Guns On Campus.”
The heat made many students use the signs to fan themselves or create some shade.
FCSSGA board members and special guests addressed an audience of community college students and faculty about the virtue of persistence and the vitality of student representation in the legislation.
“Students are the best ambassadors we have for anyone in the Florida College System; not presidents, not deans, not faculty,” Jeffery Allbritten, President of Florida Southwestern State College said at the rally. “And trust me, they listen to you.”
Ashley Gilbert, an Indian River State College student and a part of the FCSSGA’s executive board reminded the group of their mission.
“If a bill severely limits postsecondary opportunity or access back in our home districts, what are we gonna do?” asked Gilbert.
“We speak up!” returned the audience.
TAKING ON THE CAPITOL – THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 2PM
In a conference room on the side of the Capitol, MDC students finally have a chance to meet with an elected official.
Hernandez arranged for Florida Democratic Senator Dwight Bullard, who represents Hendry, Collier, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties to talk to the group.
Kendall SGA’s Lechner had taken the initiative in appointing these students to discuss the Idea Center, baccalaureate programs and guns on college campuses during a free exchange prior to Senator Bullard’s arrival.
“We have the Idea Center, it’s at the Wolfson Campus actually … and I believe it should go to all campuses because there’s actually a few of us here that would like to run their own business,” said Homestead Campus SGA President Stephanie Gutierrez.
Bullard listened to her concerns and agreed.
“If the state is concerned about the safety of our students, then we need to have a robust conversation on how to fund it, how to make it happen; not by allowing concealed weapons on campuses,” said Wolfson Campus SGA member Jude Bruno.
Bullard nodded in agreement.
Bullard was the only Dade County elected official to meet formally with the group. The students did not have a chance to lobby against opposing legislators.
To the group’s frustration, the FCSSGA conference this year was scheduled at the same time as Dade Days, an annual legislative session event that includes more than 1,000 representatives of more than 200 public and private organizations meeting with legislators whose constituents are from Miami-Dade County.
As of April 14, the Senate bill threatening bachelor’s degrees was postponed due to its sponsor’s inability to show up for a presentation before the Senate Education Appropriations Committee. Both House bills regarding postsecondary education affordability passed out of the House Education Committee with amendments. Finally, neither the House nor Senate bills for allowing guns on campus have moved forward since the House bill’s calendar appointment is due for a “second reading.”
The following is an extended analysis on the debut novel in the famous Harry Potter series that took the world by storm in 1997. All images featured here are licensed under Creative Commons.
The themes, subplot and symbolism within Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone combine to make it one of the most popular book series in history. The juxtaposition of “normal” characters and tribulations (students that go to class, take tests, do homework and grow up, like Harry and his crew) with fantastic characters and settings (wand-wielding teachers, dragons, trolls and a school in the shape of a castle next to a mysterious forest inhabited by unicorns) provides the reader with enough familiarity to allow them to relate to the story, but enough fantasy to allow them to be interested by the nuances of a new world.
An example of this juxtaposition is Harry’s experience at the train station. As he arrives, Harry sees Ron and his multiple brothers getting dropped off by their parents — a perfectly normal and physically appreciable sight. In a matter of fact way, however, Ron and his brothers crash through a brick wall to get to the Hogwarts Express, creating the juxtaposition between the realistic and the fantastical — “all you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it … Go on, go now …”
The whole situation is akin to a student’s first day of school, with the real life equivalent of Ron and his brothers crashing through the wall possibly being a teacher rounding up the students and walking them, in a line, to homeroom.
That’s the Harry Potter formula to success: posit a relatable childhood or adolescent characteristic and discuss it in a fantastical manner. Take the Mirror of Erised, which uses fantastic means to disguise Harry’s longing for his late parents. Instead of narrating Harry’s desire to be with his real family again, the author chooses to use a magical device to convey this emotion, shown when Harry enters the empty classroom and stares into the mirror — “The Potters smiled and waved at Harry … his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them”.
Another instance is Harry and Ron’s adventure to save Hermione from the troll during Halloween — it’s similar to three kids acing a hard final exam after a study session together and bonding over the accomplishment, only more fantastical.
Some of the novels’ subplots also describe relatable themes. An example of this is the segment of the story that involves Hagrid and his dragon. Harry and company come to the conclusion, along with Hagrid, that Hagrid’s dragon has got to go. Harry and Hermione decide to play hooky and end up getting caught by Filch. Typically, “hooky” is “played” out of a childish desire to be rebellious or mischievous, but Harry and Hermione’s illicit actions stand a on a higher plane of morality — they do it only because they’re saving a creature’s life, cementing the value of their midnight excursion as a righteous crusade that Filch, Professor McGonagall, and the malevolent Malfoy simply won’t understand — “You don’t understand, Professor. Harry Potter’s coming — he’s got a dragon!”
The theme of good versus evil is present throughout the novel as explored through the value system of a growing boy and his friends. The actions that land Harry and his friends in trouble are almost never done maliciously (though a notable exception is Harry sneaking out of his dormitory to duel Draco Malfoy — who doesn’t show up — and landing himself in trouble); rather, they’re almost always in the spirit of benign exploration or in the active pursuit of something worthwhile (like Harry’s parents or the Sorcerer’s Stone). The narrator’s and/or Harry’s contemporaries’ failure to really question Harry’s actions indicate that what Harry’s doing is what’s “right” (except for Harry, who “flatly” and half-heartedly says “we’ve done enough poking around” the day before serving their detention). For example, upon learning that the evil Voldemort is after the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry decides — and his company agrees — that he must secure the stone before Voldemort. Harry’s authority figures’ recommendation to stay away from the Stone and all it entails take a backseat to Harry’s clear rectitude.
In fact, the adult authority figures in the novel illustrate the childhood dilemma of learning who to respect and who to dislike. It’s clear, for example, that Harry quickly garners a dislike for Severus Snape based, subjectively, on cold intuition and physically on Snape’s dark appearance and his menacing warnings — “Be warned, Potter — any more nighttime wanderings and I will personally make sure you are expelled”.
But much like the naive teenager who finds that his strict and mean teacher actually cared the most for his education and career prospects, it’s revealed that Severus Snape is actually the good guy while the pushover Quirrell is the bad guy — “Snape was trying to save me”?
Children and developing adolescents are sometimes judgmental and narrow-minded when deciding on the value of an authority figure, a characteristic that arises not so much from an earnest desire to be that way but rather from a general naiveté about how to look beyond a figure’s surface personality. The arc of development that Severus Snape is put through from Harry’s perspective represents a coming of age for Harry.
This growth is compounded by the fact that controlled egomania is also a theme in this book. At various points throughout Harry’s “firsts” in the world of magic — aboard the train, when donning the Sorting Hat, and in his classes — he wishes he wouldn’t be there and that others not laud him as much as they do, namely because he’s afraid of not living up to his potential. The reaction is best summarized by a character in the popular Metal Gear Solid video game series. In one of the games, the character Solid Snake, upon meeting his number one fan, says “The reality is no match for the legend, I’m afraid”. This is the way Harry initially feels, but as he begins to discover the untapped magical prowess he always had, the humility gives way to egomania that ultimately convinces him of his ability to take on the three-headed dog and stave off Voldemort’s malevolence — after all, Harry’s bare existence, and his mother’s love was enough to stave him off when he was but a baby. The scar symbolically demonstrates this, and Dumbledore speaks of the power of love — “to have been loved so deeply … will give us some protection forever.” What problem would he encounter fending off Voldermort now that he’s in the company of his good friends?
The sum of all these parables is a book series that captures the imagination of an audience who relates to the characters’ plights and imperfections, for they too are going through the same ordeals — just not in a magic school. Ultimately, the juxtaposition of the realistic and the fantastical has provided a winning formula for the book series that has led to its widespread popularity and standing as one of, if not the, most popular book series in history.