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Meet Sandra


Sandra Johnson


Year: Fall 2010
Hometown: Sunnyvale, CA
Major: Psychology (Writing)

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Sandra's E-Journal Archives:

June 4, 2010
April 22, 2010
March 22, 2010
February 12, 2010
December 1, 2009
September 9, 2009


Graduation Anxiety

June 4, 2010

Last Saturday (May 8th), while I was toting my kids along on errands, I happened to drive by the Rollins campus shortly after the commencement ceremony. Among the happy faces along Park Avenue, I saw several recent graduates wearing their ceremonial garb, and I felt a sudden, but familiar, anxiety.

Before I explain why I had this feeling, I should mention that in December I decided to scrap my plan for a May 2010 graduation in order to graduate with a minor in May 2011. In the fall, I will bear the disgraceful title of fifth-year senior. This is largely due to changing schools and majors more than once. But it’s easy to make choices to delay something when you’re scared about what happens when that something happens.

Now, it’s not working that scares me. I’m actually looking forward to working fulltime and having an above-meager paycheck again. What I’m scared of is that this event, this big to-do, this thing that I’ve been working toward, this moment that I’ve put my energy and thought into, my graduation, will mean very little to anyone besides me.

There is the anxiety about inviting people to see me walk up to accept a piece of paper that represents a piece of paper that says I’ve worked hard for four or more years to get a piece of paper. And there are the feelings I may or may not have if people do or don’t show up to see me walk across a platform to accept this piece of paper.

Then there is the bleak economic outlook. Graduation means no longer marking full-time student on forms and documents, but rather being unemployed for the foreseeable future. Having steadily reduced my work hours in the past three years, graduation will bring me a lot of time to wonder if I made the right move. This sort of anxiety comes from wondering if my degree will bring me rewards greater than my own warm fuzzies. And if, when I do return to full-time employment, this paper will have the desired open-the-door-to-opportunity effect that I thought I needed when I started on this course.

In my mind, I can counter these concerns by acknowledging with pride that I will be the first in my family to earn a degree; I can think about how what I’ve learned at Rollins has helped me grow as a person; I can consider that the confidence I have in myself is the real measure of my education.

As I enjoy my last voluntary summer vacation, I anticipate another academic year full of high achievement, excitement, frustration, and anxiety. During the year, I’m sure I’ll debate with myself about the pros and cons of walking on graduation day. I’ll tell myself I need to walk because graduation will be the culmination of what I’ve worked so hard to obtain. I’ll convince myself the ceremony represents the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in my life. In the end, I’ll decide to walk only after I give myself permission to celebrate my achievement and my self.

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An End-of-Semester Equation

May 12, 2010

Originally, I intended to write a practical guide to help my fellow Rollins students get through finals week. I thought I could help. I thought that I had some wisdom to impart. Then finals week happened to me.  

x = 3r  

The first week of April, I began to assess my situation. Having never quite recovered from spring break and sensing that the end of the semester would be difficult, I opened my planner and reviewed my assignment due dates. Since I have only three classes at Rollins (3r), the end of the semester should be completely manageable. But add life and family to school, and the equation becomes much more complicated.  

x = 3r + u  

A look at my calendar revealed that I had a presentation, a portfolio, and a project all due between April 22nd and April 23rd. I reasoned that if I divided my remaining days evenly between these three assignments, I could complete them with no problem.  I did not predict the unpredictable (u).  On Tuesday, April 20th, my son’s school called to say he was running a fever of 103. I stayed home with him that week. He helped me edit: I read aloud a paper on Diego Rivera for my portfolio, and he corrected me by saying, “No! It’s ‘Go, Diego, go!’” Luckily, my professor gave the entire class an extension on the portfolio, and my presentation was moved out a week.  

x = (3r + u) 1.5s  or   x = (3r + u) s + t  

My son’s fever broke just as crunch time officially hit. Now I had a decision to make: Would I work late into the night these last few nights even though my typing and thinking speed (s) may suffer? Or would I try to do my work in the morning and risk losing time (t) to daily interferences?  

x = (3r + u) 1.5s / c2  

My favorite coffee mug

My favorite coffee cup

Late-night homework always works out best for me. I bet on late nights because they encourage my creativity (c) when I need it most. Equally and exponentially potent for my late-night writing is coffee (c).  In theory, these two elements combine to counterbalance the reduction in thinking speed caused by late-night studying. So, for the last week of the semester, I did not sleep. I wrote.  

x = ((3r + u) 1.5s / c2 ) – a  

Since, as any psychology student will tell you, optimal anxiety (a) is an essential element to getting through finals week, I fittingly started worrying two days before my first final and finished worrying after my presentation on Thursday, April 29th. Properly appropriated worrying earned me reduced study time and passing grades in each of my classes.  

I conclude my semester with good intention to be more organized moving forward, but I know end-of-school-year resolutions don’t differ greatly from New Year’s resolutions. And as I look at my summer to-do list, I wonder about the variable of procrastination (p).

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Spring Break

April 22, 2010

spring – to rise, leap, move, or act suddenly and swiftly, as by a sudden dart or thrust forward or outward, or being suddenly released from a coiled or constrained position

break – to smash, split, or divide into parts violently; reduce to pieces or fragments

I object to spring break.  Every spring break I can remember has started or ended with me or someone close to me getting sick.  It may be that my immune defenses finally break down after holding their ground for the first half of the spring semester.  Or maybe the break just coincides with the worst of allergy season.  Whatever the reason, spring break is synonymous with illness for me.  This spring break was no different.

This year, my classes at Rollins adjourned for spring break on Thursday, March 4th, and I promptly readied myself to do nothing at all.  Then, around 8 p.m. that evening, my daughter started complaining of an earache.  Her complaints were followed by a restless night — her only relief came from a heating pad placed under her head.  We were at the doctor’s office at 9 a.m. on Friday morning.  Ten days and plenty of antibiotics later, my daughter was better, but I had completely lost my voice.

Losing my voice could not have come at a more inopportune time.  I was expected to recite a monologue in The Vagina Monologues on the Friday following spring break.  It was Monday, and I had no voice.  I popped into Leaves and Roots, an herb shop around the corner from my house, where I found a tea for sore throats.  By the end of the day, I could speak in a raspy voice.  By Wednesday, my voice was almost back to normal.  By Friday, I was performance-ready.

The drama of having a sick child followed by the drama of losing my voice followed by the drama of performing served together as a distraction from all things academic.  The Monday following the performance, a full two weeks after the official start of spring break, I reviewed my to-do list and panicked.  My list included several items to be completed during spring break: write a paper on borderline personality disorder; read the second book assigned in my editing class; write three more reviews for the specs journal; make up reading for psychology.  None of my intentions survived the distractions of spring break or the following week.

That panic — that sense of time flying by without my consent — that is why I would gladly forfeit my spring break.  The second half of the semester is always a race against time.  I can predict some sleepless nights as I finish up assignments.  I am finally catching up on my list, but the close of the semester is catching up on me.

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Pick Your Spot

March 22, 2010

Gazebo by the LakeIn addition to challenging academics, helpful resources, and educational events, Rollins College has a beautiful campus.  Unless you’re an art major focusing on landscapes, you probably shouldn’t let the aesthetics determine your choice of college, but there is nothing wrong with enjoying the scenery.  So it is that I have enjoyed finding spots on campus where I can relax or study.

Sandra’s Top 10 Spots

Spot 10 – Pillow Room in the Library

Studying in the pillow room is almost as good as a cup of tea on a rainy day.  The bean bag in the left corner sits close enough to the outlet to allow you to plug in your laptop and type away in a reclined position.  This spot is best for daytime studying and writing.  Napping is much too tempting if you lounge here early in the morning or late at night.  Or, if you prefer, you can study and sleep in succession.   You can sleep while you are supposed to be studying or study while convincing yourself that you are sleeping.

Spot 9 – Gazebo on Lake Virginia (the one by the pool)

Photo op on the lake!  This spot screams, “Take a picture of me!”  You can take pictures sitting in the gazebo or on the steps leading to it.  If you forgot your camera in your other bag, then you can pretend you’re in a magazine as you enjoy the beautiful Florida weather.

Spot 8 – Benches in front of Rice Bookstore

Rarely utilized, this spot is ideally suited for people-watching.  Set back a little from the bookstore, you can watch people coming and going.  And, if you are so inclined, make up stories about them.

Spot 7 – Chairs and tables outside Woolson House

The gray, rough chairs and tables outside of Woolson House beckon the artist or writer to sit.  Just sitting in them can make you feel more creative.  They are set a few feet lower than the surrounding walk and camouflaged a bit by the surrounding plants, making the perfect hiding spot.  Still, it’s close enough so you can dash to the library if you must.

Spot 6 – Tower Room in the Library

This spot gives the best view of the Rollins campus.  Go to the fourth floor of the library and up the stairs to the tower room.  Be sure to visit on a cool day so you can enjoy the view out the windows at your leisure.

Spot 5 – Last pew in Knowles Memorial Chapel

Sitting in the back of a chapel allows you to take in the artistry and architecture:  the texture of the wood grain, the details in the stained glass, the colors of the ceiling tiles . . . .

Spot 4 – Patio behind Cornell Fine Arts Museum

This little-known spot gives the feeling of being secluded from the rest of the campus.  It has a great view of the lake, and if you walk out from the patio, you find another gazebo at the water’s edge.  When no one is looking, you might run, jump, and somersault on the lawn between the patio and the lake.

Spot 3 – The Rose Garden

This finely manicured garden doesn’t get many visitors.  It’s worth the few extra steps on the brick path between rose bushes and rosemary just to enjoy the scents and the beauty.

Spot 2 – Bench with Benjamin Franklin

How can anyone resist striking a pose next to a full-sized bronzed image of Benjamin Franklin?  How about handing him some text on Jungian psychology to see if he can make any sense of it?

Spot 1 – Fred Stone TheatreBenjamin Franklin

The black, bare stage in this theatre is suitable for a modern minimalist one-act.  For now, stop by this spot and imagine yourself reciting your own monologues to an invisible audience.

Pick your spot.  Find the place you’ll recall in your mind’s eye many years from now — a place that represents what it was to be who you are here at this time in your life.  There are many more than these from which  to choose.

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Word Count Requirement

February 12, 2010

dscn1247This is the first time that I’ve taken four classes in a single semester at Rollins.  In my previous adventure as a full-time college student, four classes were my standard load.  It was not unbearable.  In fact, I recall a lot of time that I wasted tree-climbing and napping in the shade.  Nostalgia may have been a factor influencing my decision to take such a heavy load. Taking four classes when you are a wife and a mother of two children does not compare to the dreamy existence of an 18-year-old without responsibilities outside of school.

The most challenging thing for me this semester is the amount of writing required.  In order to keep track of everything, I’ve made my own personal word ticker.  So far this semester, I’ve written 5,300 words, and I need to write 4,000 additional words by Thursday.  When I’m on a steady clip, I can write up to 700 words per hour, but usually I self-sensor, reducing my output to 350 words per hour.  In order to optimize my word production for school, I have reduced my average email to 40 words and eliminated text messaging altogether.  Still, I feel that in order to keep up with my schoolwork, I need to be writing constantly.

The most difficult thing about writing constantly is that inspiration does not come on demand.  Inspiration seems to come sometime after midnight, or otherwise, it comes while I’m sitting at a red light and cannot reach my notebook before the light changes.  Inspiration refuses to pop its head into the three hours each afternoon that I’ve set aside for writing.  Unfortunately, it feeds off some combination of deadlines and coffee.

To complicate matters, one of my courses, Editing Essentials, issues homework that consists of hours of sentence diagramming.  I’m beginning to wonder what my own sentences look like chopped up with lines and partitions.  No doubt, the long-term benefits of this course are improved sentence integrity and less dependence on Word’s grammar check.  In the meantime, I busily identify prepositional phrases and try to figure out what they are modifying.

As I begin this semester of writing and editing, I imagine myself as a real-life Word Girl.  I think about modifying the sentence “Sandra finishes her homework at midnight.”  In my imagination, I don a superhero cape and fly around the predicate to replace the prepositional phrase “at midnight” with “before lunch.”  In this imaginary world, inspiration comes easily and slight sentence modifications have the ability to change circumstances.

Word Girl Wear

Word Girl Wear

Back to reality and my word count.  By the time I finish this piece, I will have written 5,800 words.  By the end of this week, I will have written 9,400 words.  By the end of the semester, I will have written no less than 26,650 words.  As the real-life Word Girl, I will have eliminated dangling participles, mastered verb modification, and improved my sentence variety.  The end of the semester holds the promise of improvement but getting there requires lots of words.

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The Volcanoes of Fire and Ice

January 15, 2010

View of the Volcan de Colima from the ValleyI spent my winter vacation in Mexico.  I did not, however, visit a resort in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, where one lounges on the beach and sips margaritas.  Instead, my children and I visited a small town not too far from two peaks locally referred to as the volcanoes of fire and ice. This small town is where my parents were raised.

My previous visit to this sleepy town coincided with the sesquicentennial anniversary celebration and an eruption from the volcano of fire.  As far as anyone in the town remembers, the volcano’s activity has never caused a serious threat to the community, and I am considered lucky to have witnessed its show. Experts suggest that the volcano is due for another massive explosion.  Rumor has it that the indigenous people of this region live nearer to the base of the volcano. They have been urged to leave for their own safety, but when the volcano erupts, rather than cower in fear, they collect the ash for cleaning.  I secretly wish to witness its wonder again, but the visit this winter offered me entirely different surprises.

When we arrived at my mother’s home, I assumed I would visit my cousins’ homes over the course of a few days, and I promised my daughter that we would explore the town the first morning after our arrival.  To my surprise, shortly after my daily coffee, my cousin Mario came over to welcome us and take us wherever we needed or wanted to go.  His visit was followed by a visit from another cousin, and that visit was followed by a visit from one of my uncles.  When my daughter asked what was delaying us from our adventure, I told her that things move more slowly in Mexico, and our first obligation was to welcome the visit with our family.  We eventually took our time in exploring the town, ate ice cream in such flavors as guava and mango, and looked for the best view of the two peaks.

My second surprise was when my mother introduced me to a woman named Emilia Rangel.  Emilia is a distant relative who works for the museum that displays the artwork of her grandfather, Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo.  Even though our connection with her family is twice removed, Mexican custom is to refer to one another simply as cousins.  As a result of this family connection, Emilia joined us at the museum on her day off and shared stories about our mutual relatives and other information passed down by her parents.  In addition, she gave us a personal tour of the grounds of the former hacienda, which her family owned before it too became a museum.  Looking at the structure of the hacienda, I noticed that much of the building was formed from a porous material I didn’t recognize.  When I asked, Emilia explained that when it was built, they used volcanic ash to form a type of cement.

View of the Nevado de Colima from TownThe biggest surprise came when my mother went to the emergency room with a cough and ended up having heart surgery.  The cardiologist explained that my mother’s bouts with loss of breath were related to the inefficient functioning of two arteries.  Luckily, the scare was short-lived, and using the wonders of modern technology, the doctors were able to broaden the arteries with a simple procedure that didn’t even require general anesthesia.  The day we returned from the hospital to my mother’s home, the volcanoes honored us with an infrequent event — the ice volcano lived up to its name and was covered with snow.

As my mother’s health wavers, I see her attempting to make her mark in this life:  She writes our family history, explores information about our genealogy, and reconnects with distant members of our family.  Her actions are no different than any of us, really.  Each of us pursues our individual course of study, hoping to make some indelible mark on this world.  The result of our efforts is yet unknown.  Our impact may be as perpetual as the cement made from volcanic ash and the family stories that are passed on through generations.  We hope.

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B is for Balance

December 1, 2009

lesson in balancing 1

B is for Balance. This is what I tell myself as I sit down to write my term paper — surrounded by stacks of articles previously read and annotated. Settling for anything less than an “A” is completely out of character for me, but I am attempting to convince myself that it will mark balance in my life. Such balance has personal significance—identifying me as a good student and a good mom and a good wife and a good employee and a good writer and a good citizen and good recycler and a good gardener. This list reflects my personal interpretation of The Tyranny of the Shoulds.*

B is for Balance. As I filter through the various articles for my paper, deciphering my unique code of earmarks and chicken scratch, I think about how elusive that desired balance is; I contemplate what I lose by achieving or failing to achieve a state of equilibrium. The term paper and my stream of consciousness are both interrupted by the kids who have wakened — marking the beginning of the battle of the balance. The challenge is not ensuring a healthy breakfast or appropriate outerwear, but staying engaged in the present while I struggle with my mental list of should do’s and should be’s.

B is for Balance. Does balance mean I find an activity to distract the kids, which then allows me the time to finish the paper, before I pass the baton and rush myself to work? Or, does it mean that I postpone the paper until the end of the day when the kids are asleep and the first load of laundry is in the wash? Is it more reasonable to give personal and academic pursuits first or last priority? What am I neglecting for the sake of papers and projects? And is it even possible to fully appreciate a two-year-old’s rendition of the ABC’s without slowing down enough to hear the missing letters? These particular questions may be unique to my status as wife/mother/employee/student/gardener, but managing priorities is a universal pursuit.

B is for Balance. Presently, I am not a good gardener. The flowers I planted last spring are struggling to survive under my neglect. Rather than a letter grade, I suspect that the scraggly inflorescence outside my front door is my personal measure of balance. I am not measuring up. It’s time to admit that I won’t allow myself to turn in a “B” paper, but perhaps I could cut out the fifth round of final revisions. In it’s place, I might be smart to put an attentive ear to the latest recitation of the alphabet, or take my kindergartner outside to water the plants. It never fails that some useful fact about psychological development comes to life through the actions of my two children. This may be my opportunity to learn about the letter B.my kids balancing

*A term used to describe our perception of our ideal self—appropriately coined by the first female psychologist, Karen Horney.

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Enjoying the Train Ride

September 9, 2009
Coming 'round the bend in Winter Park

Coming 'round the bend in Winter Park

The first time I heard the train roar through Winter Park, I knew I’d rekindle my college career at Rollins. In my life, as is true in lives of many Holt students, the direct flight to graduation had an unexpected delay, and I ended up taking the train. This alternative mode of transportation offered experiences incomparable to air travel, but, sadly, I spent most of that time envious of plane-goers. Not until I met students and professors who traveled similarly unconventional routes was I able to value my own experience. The convergence of people from vastly different backgrounds is what I find immensely valuable in the Rollins experience.

The other day, a former Rollins student and I met on Park Avenue to review each other’s writing. She brought along a green bag filled with old paperbacks boasting titles such as Lessons in Clarity and Grace and New Poems. Her voice would rise with the description of each article, culminating in her announcement that we should begin with a writing prompt. The enthusiasm she brought to the table was matched only by the intensity of the topics in her essays – addiction, gang life, homelessness. Pulling from her own colorful life, she broadened my perspective. I had just finished my first of cup of coffee when I heard the muted sound of the train go by.

Another day, I encountered a former classmate in the hall on the way to class. Quickly, she told me how she had to drop out last semester because her parents left the country, and she had no one to watch her 3-year-old daughter. My mind raced to find an answer to her problem, but I soon realized that I had none. Instead, I gave her my sympathy because I’m familiar with the areas her train had traveled. She beamed her smile at me, assuring me that she would move forward. This encounter offered what cannot be measured by classroom evaluations – the encouragement to stay the course.

Today, I’m watching the train pass by while my own children make wishes out of pennies that they toss into the fountain. My daughter responds to my request that she finish her lunch by saying, “I know. I know you want the best for me.” This first makes me laugh; then it makes me think about the experiences I want for my children. Although I don’t wish them the delay that I had in moving toward my goals, I do hope they will have the opportunity to learn that their best teachers are the students around them. While my mind busies itself dreaming for my kids, the train moves on to another town.

Tomorrow, I plan to take a new train. Perhaps I will board one that treks cross-country or travels intercontinentally. This time, rather than envy those traveling via jet plane, I’ll enjoy all that train travel has to offer: slow, steady progress; windows for observation; and time to learn the value of those around you.

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Read more about... Sandra:

Sandra Johnson started her college career in a small town in Iowa 15 years ago. After a 10-year hiatus (which included one marriage and two children), she started searching for a small, private liberal arts college that would feed her desire to learn and to write. While visiting family in Orlando, she discovered Rollins College and subsequently moved from Miami to Orlando in order to attend Hamilton Holt. With a Psychology major and Writing minor, Sandra finds the curriculum at Rollins challenging to both her analytical and creative sides. She hopes that her contributions as an e-journalist will communicate the positive experience she has had as a returning student at Rollins.

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