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Explore the blogs of students at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
On summers and holiday breaks during my undergrad years, I worked at a large record store near my home in Annapolis, MD, and became lifelong friends with some of my coworkers there (yes, if you’ve seen the movie “Empire Records”, it actually was a lot like that). One year for Christmas, a friend who was an artist gave me a beautiful framed collage that she had made. It had dozens of images of butterflies pasted together over the backdrop of a blue sky, and was decorated with tiny sparkling stones. Toward the bottom, in small letters, were the words “let me really live.” I liked it a lot, thanked her, and hung it on my wall without thinking too much about its meaning. In retrospect, I feel that she chose to give me this piece out of a sense that something was holding me back, and she was right. At that time in my life I didn’t realize just how restricted I was by others’ expectations; by feeling like there were certain things I should be doing, as opposed to discovering and listening to myself.
More than a decade later, I have now officially survived my first semester of graduate school. Overall it was pretty incredible—not to say that there weren’t a few minor, even major, bumps along the road and adjustments to be made. I encountered a vast amount of new ideas and experiences-- both formally in the classroom, and informally throughout the whole process—and incorporated bits and pieces of those things into myself along the way, sifting through it all and taking the relevant parts with me. I feel that much of what I gained this semester was only able to occur because I managed to remain open to experience and change, and relied on my own intuition.
Sometimes things weren’t always what I expected. But I noticed that when I kept an open mind or strived to see other perspectives in situations, I’d usually find something in there that was both positive, as well as new and enriching to me. I’ve always considered myself a very open-minded person, but this semester really underscored the infiniteness of that concept to me: there is always room to explore further. There are always other perspectives to be taken in and understood, even if it means leaving behind everything you know to be true. And being willing to honestly, openly step outside of one’s prior frame of reference can be disconcerting: it forces us to reassess ourselves and our ideas about life. Suddenly there is the possibility that we could be wrong, or at least that someone else could also be right—and how would that fit in with our reality? Do we see this as threatening, or do we recognize and embrace the notion that different views, realities and ways of life can (and do) not only coexist, but actually strengthen and complement each other? I find that those who rigidly avoid acknowledging different viewpoints actually do so not from absolute certainty in their own opinions, but from a nagging insecurity that perhaps there is more to the story than they’re willing to admit.
Ultimately it is this transcendent, fearless willingness to genuinely understand others—and integrate our own realities with what we learn from them-- that ties humanity together and propels us forward, collectively. There will always be something new to encounter and be changed by—if you are open to it. This living, growing and experiencing is an ongoing process that can never really be completed… and frankly I wouldn’t want it to be, as life would become stagnant and boring. It’s easy to take comfort in safety and familiarity. It’s scary to listen to, and follow, that sense of intuition in the pit of your gut and the moment-to-moment beating of your own heart, once you realize that its rhythm is ephemerally dependent on what you might let yourself by changed by in the world today. But it is only through the latter that we become real; that we can let ourselves really live.