Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

Sexism and Pain


As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gain power and voices, I’ve been nursing my most recent story in my head. I was quick to jump on with accounts of my own harassment, assault and constant struggle to be taken seriously in my career. I think it’s time to talk about my most recent medical journey as well.

Two years ago, I was rehearsing for a show when I bent backwards to narrowly escape a fencing jab. My left knee gave out and I crumbled to the floor. An intense and sharp pain shot from my knee through my whole body. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.. so bad that when my writing partner went to grab her car, I started throwing up. My knee started swelling immediately and I couldn’t put any weight on it without unbearable pain.

The morning after I went to the ER, the hospital called me to let me know they found a small fracture in my kneecap and advised me to get to an orthopedist as soon as possible. As it was Friday, my options were limited. I called every orthopedic office until I found someone with a Monday appointment.

That following Monday, I saw Dr. Trash for the first time. (Why I’m concealing the identity of a doctor that doesn’t deserve protection is beside me, but his pseudonym is not only fitting but also very close to his actual last name so it works.) I didn’t think much of having to wait over an hour past my appointment time in his office (all doctors operate like that, right?) and didn’t care that he rushed the appointment. All I cared about at that time was getting the medication needed to ease my pain and the doctors note to clear my absence from work. He asked about the injury and I explained it to him. I told him that it felt like my knee twisted and that there was bone on bone. He laughed at the description, citing it’s impossibility. He looked at my x-ray for about 30 seconds then diagnosed me with a dislocated knee. He advised me to stay in a thigh to ankle immobilizer and come back after two weeks.

I went home and, despite my medication, was still in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even lay in my bed because laying flat was uncomfortable. For the next two weeks, I just dealt with the pain and powered through it.

Two weeks later, I went back to Dr. Trash’s office. When I said that I wasn’t doing any better, he said it was probably because I wasn’t icing or elevating. I told him I was doing that constantly and my office even got me a special chair to elevate. He told me I would be sore for a bit but that’s “just how teenage girls’ bodies are.” I was 25. I thought it was a weird comment but didn’t think much beyond that at the time. He wrote me a script for more pain meds and pushed me out as fast as I came in.

I started PT and spent the first month relearning how to walk because the immobilizer stiffened up my leg. I was in constant pain. I started to get worried that something more was wrong. My roommate has a strong history of dislocating her knee and I’ve seen her recover before. Her recovery was much shorter and appeared to be less painful, but I thought “oh well, everyone’s body is different.”

A month later, I was back in Dr. Trash’s office. At this point, I was starting to get really concerned. After relearning how to walk, I was finally starting to strengthen my knee at PT and it was met with intense, localized pain.

When asked how I was doing, I told Dr. Trash that my pain was getting worse with physical therapy. I told him it was localized and that it almost felt as if my knee was like a puzzle that didn’t quite fit together. He dismissed my pain, stating that these things take time and I would be sore for awhile, but I told him that I wasn’t sore, I was in pain. He told me that the way teenage girls’ bodies are stacked puts pressure on your knee and therefore causes discomfort. I revealed to him, yet again, that I wasn’t a teenage girl and that my pain wasn’t discomfort – it was sharp, localized pain. He mentioned my teenage girl body yet again, and said this is all common for girls dislocating their knee. I told him that I was concerned I tore something when I fell, and asked why I didn’t get a MRI. He told me that he usually doesn’t issue MRIs for women with knee dislocations since dislocations are so common in, you guessed it, teenage girls. Defeated, I gave up.

I feel like I need to clarify at the point that I never had a “teenage girl’s” body. I grew boobs and hips before I ever knew what they were and never hosted a typical teen body. As an overweight 25 year old, I DEFINITELY wasn’t hosting one. I also grew up as an athlete and had my fair share of sprains, pulls and thrown out necks. I had chronic pain due Lyme putting water in my knee as a kid and carpal tunnel as a teen. I understood the difference between long term ache and “holy shit something is wrong.” Something was wrong.

Over the next two months, both of my PTs and I started getting frustrated with my lack of results and increased pain. There were sessions that brought me to tears because I was in so much pain. No one knew how to help ease it and it seemed that everything they did made it worse. I recall holding my breath and concealing my tears as my PT rolled out my patellar tendon because the pain was so bad it sent goosebumps to my skin. (Turns out she was rolling right over the actual trouble spot without realizing it.) Defeated, my PT checked in with me one day. “So it’s just a dislocation. Your x-ray didn’t show anything else, right?” “Aside from the ER showing a small fracture, nope.” “And your MRI was clear?” “I didn’t get a MRI.” “Why?” “My doctor won’t prescribe one.” “You need to push for a MRI.” he mumbled under his breath.

That was the jolt of confidence I needed to make another appointment with Dr. Trash. I decided I would push as hard as possible for a MRI then take it to another orthopedic surgeon. The night before my next appointment, I ran into my old roommate who broke her femur when I lived with her. As I was telling her about my rough recovery from a seemingly simple injury, she asked me who my doctor was. I told her it was Dr. Trash and she told me to run away from him. He was the same doctor who did her leg surgery wrong, and when she questioned him about her pain and bowed leg, he dismissed the pain and told her she would just have to wear long skirts for the rest of her life, like her problem was that superficial.

The next day I went into Dr. Trash’s office with more confidence than I had over the last 8 months. When he asked me how I was doing, I was honest and told him worse than when I came in. I told him that I was in immense pain that only got worse with PT. He told me women tend to feel pain worse than men, especially when it came to TEENAGE GIRLS DISLOCATING THEIR KNEE. I was done with his shit, and demanded a MRI. He told me he doesn’t prescribe MRIs for women’s knees because of the high statistics of TEENAGE GIRLS DISLOCATING THEIR KNEES. I told him I was not a teenage girl, and even my limited medical knowledge told me that there were enough ligaments and cartilage in the knee that a MRI seemed appropriate. He told me “honey, you didn’t do any damage to your cartilage or ligaments, you dislocated your knee.” I asked him how he was so sure, and again he gave me the stats on how common of an injury it was with teenage girls. He told me insurance would never cover the MRI. I told him I didn’t care, I’d pay full price for it. He then, defeated, told me “Well I guess I can falsify your prescription and tell them we’re looking for floating cartilage or something so insurance will accept it. Will that make you feel better, sweetie?” I resisted the urge to punch him in the dick, said yes, grabbed my script and walked out of his office for good.

After getting my MRI, I went to one of the best knee surgeons in Chicago. In my first appointment, he spent more time that Dr. Trash did in all my appointments and told me that the problem was that I chipped a chunk of cartilage off my leg. He said it could be seen a bit in the x-ray alone, but was clear as day in the MRI. The MRI also showed bone bruising and minor ligament damage, all of this caused by… my bone coming together when my knee twisted. EXACTLY WHAT DR. TRASH TOLD ME WAS IMPOSSIBLE. My new doctor, Dr. Hair, told me nothing was impossible in medicine. A few months later, I found out that the second thing I felt, my knee feeling like a bad puzzle, was also true. I had surgery that revealed a piece of cartilage as big as a nickel chipped off and lodged itself into another part of my knee.

It has been almost two years since my initial injury and I’m still recovering from my most recent major knee surgery which should correct my defect. I spent eight months of that time with a doctor who dismissed my pain and diagnosed me off of statistics instead of symptoms then didn’t listen when I told him I was in pain.

I wish I knew at 25 what I know at 27. You know your body. Trust it and listen to it, and the second a man starts comparing it to the statistics of teenage girls, run to a doctor who will listen to you. I heard stories that women often had pain dismissed by male doctors but had never experienced it myself. I wish I listened to the little voice that kept telling me something more was wrong, but instead I trusted that someone who thought my biggest symptom was being female knew more than me just because he had 50 years of medical experience. Every single day I’m thankful for my PT and old roommate who gave me the confidence needed to run away from Dr. Trash.

When I think about that time in my recovery, I fall into a depression. This injury changed everything for me. It kept me from performing and pursuing my comedy dreams, cost me thousands of dollars, made me miss months of work and stopped me from being a typical mid-20 something. Instead of going out, I had to relearn how to walk three different times. I spend $90 a week on PT. I lost friends because I couldn’t do anything for weeks at a time. For two years, I couldn’t perform or hustle like I used to while I watched peers get closer to their dreams. My plans of moving to LA were replaced with surgery dates and recovery windows. When I realize that this all could have been resolved in a single year instead of two had I not gone to Dr. Trash, I become furious.

So, ladies (and gents too), what can I teach you? Listen to your bodies and trust that know them. You are not reduced to a statistic based on your gender. And the second a doctor starts dismissing your pain or comparing you to a teenage girl, run the fuck away.

To the girls in my life.

Life Lessons, Uncategorized


We usually communicate through snapchat and dance parties, cards and sleepovers and many, many jokes and laughs. I think about you more than you may realize and try to live a lifestyle that does right by you. I’ve watched you grow up into young girls, preteens and teenagers and I am so proud of who you are.

I’m usually the comic relief. The cousin coming home from Chicago for a party or celebration. The babysitter who lets you mix sour punch straws with popcorn because I’m just as curious as to how it tastes. The bridge between my generation and your generation… in return for me making sure that you don’t set the house on fire, you serve as as a distraction from the bleakness of adulthood.

I was looking forward to you seeing a female president so early in your lifetime. When I was your age, I didn’t think women could be president. I don’t mean that I didn’t think they’d be able to be elected, I mean that I genuinely thought there was a rule that women were not allowed to be president. I’m happy you won’t be as ill-informed. I was elated at the prospect that for some of you, you would only know a black president and female president in your lifetime, and ready for the task of helping you understand the historical significance of that feat.

Instead you have a president that does not respect your body or mind. One that is racist, islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic and sexist. I hope you learn what those words mean and then how to fight them. I hope you get bossy and fight back for any of your friends that may fall victim to the bullying or violence that your president elect’s words have incited. I hope you understand the privilege you have and stick up for those who don’t. I hope you are taught history as it happened instead of a PG, whitewashed version.

The adults in this country elected a man that says it is okay to grab your bodies. That criticizes women who do their homework and show up prepared. That has been accused over ten times of assault. That has bullied women for the way they look and harassed them on tape. Who sees us as sex objects or nasty women. And you weren’t able to have a say in it, and for that I’m sorry.

Because someone is an authority figure does not mean that you have to accept their behavior. If a man on the street were to say these things to you, I would have you run as far away as you can from them. Just because the president elect is saying them doesn’t mean you have to support it.

The president elect won’t be the first, nor the last, man to say or do these things to you. I’m not naive enough to think that you will never experience them at school, work or in the world around you. If and when you do, I hope you are bossy. I hope you learn how to say no and that no is the final answer. I hope you scream and yell and seek help when needed. I hope you speak up for other women instead of putting them down. I hope that if you are ever violated, you know that it is not your fault and that those who love you will help you fight back. I hope you never accept limitations and that you promote intersectional feminism. I hope you know that you can love whoever you want to love. I hope you fight like hell to be treated equally, and I hope you win. I hope your generation can be even nastier than mine. You have a lot of fighting to do.

Fight back with intelligence. He’s afraid of your potential. Reclaim the names he calls you. Own being a nasty woman, a bossy kid, an angry feminist. Speak up and work hard. That’s what scares him the most.

Know that there will be a female president. Personally, I hope that our next elect will be a lesbian woman of color. While I’m not sure if it’ll happen in our next election, I know that it eventually will. We just have to work at it.

Work hard, study hard, and don’t let anyone tell you what you should or should not do. Women are not limited. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I’m very angry


This is my first entry in five days. Usually I don’t let myself go this long without writing but I am just at a loss for words. I’m so angry.

I get sick when I log onto Facebook. My entire feed is riddled with opinions, articles and statements about gun control.  Since they’re coming from my friends, I agree with most of them… but I can’t read them. I’m just so sick of it. Moreover, I’m very angry.

I don’t know why this is still an issue. I want so badly to grab every member of the NRA and scream in their face. I want so badly to take every politician who voted against gun control and show them what the absence of gun control does. I’m not talking about news articles or crime scenes. I want to bring them home with me during Christmas… where my church is full of old ladies wearing green ribbons. Where there’s a soft and sad kindness amongst everyone. Where one of the happiest seasons of the year will always be a little quieter… a little more reflective.

I want to bring them to Union Park on December 15th, 2012 and I’d love for them to stand next to my brother and me. I’d love for them to be with us as we found ourselves in a mix of Connecticut transplants and Chicago natives grieving the lives of children lost to gun violence. Holding candles in the rain, standing tall in a community of people that we never wanted to be a part of. Sharing a common sadness upon realizing that these things can, indeed, happen in your neighborhood.

I would love to personally invite every single politician who stands against gun control to my apartment. I would love for them to see the issue through my eyes. I would love for them to be sitting at their desk on a seemingly normal Friday morning when a news alert pops up saying that there was a shooting at a school the next town over. For them to count the ages of their past campers in their heads… trying to figure out whether or not they aged out of that school yet. I want them to dread looking at the list of names, praying that no one you know is on it. I want them to feel the guilt associated with feeling relived at the expense of someone else’s grief. Feeling relieved that none of your kids were killed, that it didn’t happen ten miles away where every teacher who shaped you into who you are today is in lockdown, that your friends who teach in that town found a job at a different school. Then I want them to have the burden of guilt for feeling relief since not everyone was as lucky. I want them to feel the guilt of being an asshole to their administrator who ended up giving her life for her students. I want them to feel the pit in their stomach when their mom tells them about how awful hearing the sirens from the hospital across the street was. I want them to understand what it’s like to truly be sick from the news. To practice celibacy of news… swearing off every broadcast because it literally makes you sick.  I want them to feel guilty for grieving, for sleepless nights, for replaying the scene in your head over and over again because your grief is nothing compared to those who lost loved ones & lived in that town.

I rarely write about my experience with 12/14 because I hate reading articles about it. I think that they’re usually written to be sexy – to bring in followers because you know that it’s a hot topic. Or written by people who want to feel connected to tragedy. But I realized that remaining silent about my feelings about this isn’t going to push anything forward. As someone who grew up in the town next to Newtown and lives in Chicago, I feel obligated to state my raw feelings about this issue. So I’m writing how I feel as a citizen of a city that has a major gun problem. As a previous camp counselor who had the naivety of some kids she cared about stripped away from them. As a current comedian whose first stage she performed on lies in a town that now has a heartbreaking reputation.

My heart breaks for all of the communities recently wounded by gun violence. For everyone on every ring of that grief circle.

But honestly, I’m mostly angry. For two reasons:

  1. How the fuck…? I don’t even have the right words so I’ll just put it like this: How the fuck did Elliot Rodger get away with this? He published disturbing videos a few days before his spree. He was clearly mentally unstable and was able to have a gun registered to his name. To his name. To his own fucking name. Because of our failure as a nation to ensure that guns only go to those mentally stable enough to own them. I’m sorry but I don’t understand how we can blame anyone but ourselves for this one. We live in a world that is so fucking advanced, yet we let shit like this happen? I mean, we can’t even get background checks? I’m too angry to think clearly so I’ll stop at that. Fuck.
  2. I was reading an article the other day about shootings on the south and west sides of Chicago over Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, this happens all the time in Chicago. You almost become immune to it, accept it as a part of life. But do you know what really upset me about this particular article? The bodies were found the next day. The next fucking day. Someone was shot in the street at midnight and not discovered until the morning? In the middle of the fucking street? You’re telling me that no one heard the gunshots and called the cops? That no one was suspicious upon seeing a body? It makes me angry and disheartened.

I’m sick of this and I’m sick of writing this post. I hate talking about this issue because it disgusts me. No one is trying to take your guns away. If you read through this post and think that your freedoms are going to be violated, maybe you should have actually read Obama’s proposal. Tell me where he stepped out of line and I’d be happy to debate this issue with you. I think you’ll have a hard time.


Lessons from a political science major.


One of my majors at DePaul was political science. I wish I could tell you some intelligent and mind churning explanation as to why I majored in political science, but I’m afraid that I’m just going to disappoint you. There were two reasons why I chose this specific major:

  1. I initially picked it up as a minor so that I would be forced to follow the news. I thought that my comedy would improve greatly if I knew what was going on in the world.
  2. I had a crush on my professor. It’s so cliché… but it’s so true. Dr. Khalil Marrar stole my heart and I decided that I wanted to take more classes with him so I bumped political science up from a minor to a secondary major.

Regardless of why I picked it up, I learned invaluable lessons during my time as a political science major. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Don’t just study the problem… find a solution.

One of the first things Marrar broke down for us was the meaning behind the name political science. It’s not history. If you want a history class, major in history. Political science is a form of… well, science. Which means that you study the problem… and then solve it. One of the most life changing lessons I ever learned in college was during Marrar’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict class. It was an advanced class where we spent weeks studying everything there was to know about the history and politics behind Israel and Palestine. We debated sides, read books on various wars and studied the psychology behind the leaders of both sides. At the end of the term, he presented us with our final paper: solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in four pages or less. Draw the borders and explain why you chose them. Every word you write over four pages counts as ten points against you.

Uh… excuse me? I have to solve it? Me? Numerous scholars, academics and politicians have already tried to solve this to no avail. And you’re putting it in the hands of a 20-year old sorority girl? It’s a conflict bred from hate, which means that no matter how logical a solution, they have so much emotional hatred towards each other that nothing works. But I had to solve it. And I did. In four pages or less. It was the most difficult paper I ever wrote – but I did it and turned it in.

No problem, no matter how large, is incapable of being solved. Maybe the solution won’t work, maybe people won’t listen to you… but at least try. Learning the past does nothing if you’re not going to help things move forward. No matter how impossible a problem seems, at least try to fix it. Proposing a solution shows that you were actually listening to the problem at hand. I use this lesson constantly with my friends. When they vent to me about a problem, I don’t stop there. I give my advice on how to make things better. I let them know that I was actually processing the information they gave me. It shows that you actually care.

  1. People will judge you. Prove them wrong.

I was an east coast sorority girl studying politics. The majority of my classes had no more than three females in them… and even some of the ladies were rude to me. I didn’t really make any friends in my major. While I had some wonderful classmates and professors, some weren’t so nice. People thought that I was stupid or airheaded and the amount of times classmates threw a Legally Blonde reference my way almost made me dislike the movie (almost, not quite). I had two professors make fun of my involvement in Greek life in front of my entire class… one dig was so bad that I had to take it up with my department head.

I got angry at first. But then I realized that anger is wasted energy. It all made me work harder. I felt like I had something to prove… that just because I may not look the type, I’m smart too. I had a classical political theory class where we had to write an essay every week about our readings. This teacher was known as a hard grader and only handed out A’s to those who blew his mind. I worked really hard in this class… I wanted to prove a point. I tackled Plato’s Republic and got straight A’s on my essays. One day, about five weeks in, we were chatting in class and my professor gave me kudos for my straight A’s. The look the faces of my classmates was enough to satisfy any self-doubt they caused me.

If someone slaps a label on you, defy it. Don’t get angry at another person’s ignorance. Instead, use that energy towards proving them wrong. You may be able to change their perception of an entire group of people in the process.

  1. There are so many other people in the world. Your problems are nothing compared to someone else’s.

Unfortunately, I’m not as traveled as others. Toronto is the furthest that I’ve been out of the states. I once had a history teacher tell me that being born in the United States is like winning a lottery at birth. For the majority of us, we’re able to experience opportunity and security that other countries only dream of. I understood this even more when I studied political science.

My every day is someone else’s dream. I haven’t experienced apartheid and no one ever recruited me to be a child soldier. As a kid, I was able to experience an education and didn’t have to worry about soldiers kidnapping me in the middle of the night. Clean water is a given and I don’t have to hunt for food. Not everyone has this.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I forget how fortunate I am. Even when times are tough and I feel helpless, I take a second to remember that I am healthy and I have more than enough. Just because I can’t do everything I want due to financial constraints doesn’t mean that I’m poor. Poor is relative. Poor people don’t have iPhones and an apartment in the city.

  1. You’re capable of understanding more than you think.

Let’s reemphasize that I took up this major because I had a crush on my teacher. He intrigued me, challenged me and treated me with respect. That means that I was pretty much a blank slate going into this major. I didn’t read the Wall Street Journal daily and had no idea what Al Jazeera even was. The area I knew most about, local politics, became irrelevant since no one in Chicago cared about the political happenings of Danbury, CT. A lot of my classmates chose this major because they were passionate about it. They came with prior knowledge that I just didn’t have.

I had to learn everything. I had to study and work really hard because I didn’t have the foundation that most other students had. There were times where I thought it would be impossible to get on the same level as everyone else. However, I reached out to my teachers and was honest and open with them. I let them know that I didn’t have the proper educational background and knowledge. I asked for explanations and supplemental readings. I worked really hard to be at par with everyone else. However, when all was said and done, I was extremely satisfied when I felt like I learned enough to step up to the plate. There’s this inexplicable satisfaction in knowing that you worked really hard to learn something that you didn’t think you would ever understand.

  1. There are multiple sides to every story.

Don’t just form an opinion based off of one perspective. When I was taking my Israeli-Palestinian conflict class, we had to read four books. Two were historical explanations of the events but two were from authors who were highly biased. One from Israel, one from Palestine. Authors whose families were murdered from the opposing side and had years of hatred in them. Authors that most educators would warn students to stay away from because of how biased their stories were.

But you have to look at every side to understand the story completely. By reading biased authors, we learned how deep seeded their hatred was. That this was an extremely personal conflict.

It’s easy to dismiss something you don’t want to hear. Most of us have opinions on topics. For example, I’m huge on gun control. It’s easy for me to see an extreme right stance and decide not to read it. I want to turn off the TV every time Fox is on. However, I listen to the other side. By listening to the other side, I can form an informed and educated position instead of one bred from emotion and personal taste. I can see the points that those opposed to me are making and counter them. There are two sides to every story.

  1. Read.

Oh man, did we read. Reading helps you formulate ideas… it helps you imagine and question the world. It gives you the opportunity to see conflicts through other peoples’ eyes. It keeps your brain active. Just trust me on this one and read.