This is a copy of an essay that I wrote as a final reflection for one of my classes this semester. I'm really proud of the way that it turned out and I wanted to share it with you guys.
I am a product of every person that I have ever met. I am my father’s selflessness and my mother’s kindness. I am my high school history teacher’s thirst for knowledge and my best friend’s witty humor. I firmly believe that everyone I have met and everyone I will meet plays a part in shaping who I am, and I look at every day as a chance to meet new people and continue to define myself through my interactions with them. Before coming to college, many of the people that I met were like me- middle class, suburban, mainly white- and although I don’t want to minimize the impact that all of them have had on shaping me, I also believe that coming to college opened me up to a brand new pool of people just waiting to leave their mark on my identity. That is what drew me to this class- the emphasis on interaction and the power of storytelling in forging relationships and impacting change not just in ourselves, but in each other, and in our community. I feel that through this class I have met people who have allowed me to continue to grow and change, and develop my own definition of civic engagement.
Obviously my engagement group played a huge part in my growth throughout the semester. Through our open and honest conversations I found that we were able to grow together as people and learn things about each other and ourselves through the process. Terrion is unlike anyone I have ever met. She is smart, outspoken, and incredibly wise. She taught me so much in our short time together and the wisdom she instilled in me will stay with me for a very long time. The most crucial lesson that I learned from her is that you cannot plan your life. Whatever your “Plan A” is, you also need plans B,C,D,E,F and G, because nothing is going to go the way you planned. Emma is diligent and hard working and I admire her motivation to succeed. Although we are so different we are also alike in so many ways and through this class I have come to treasure her as a friend. Through the process of our engagement, I made sure to be open and honest with my partners, and provide them with the same care and attention that I expected to receive. It is not easy to share explicit details about your life and your experiences with strangers, but as the experience progressed I feel that Terrion and Emma became more than just my group partners, they became my friends. I felt comfortable telling them things that I couldn’t necessarily go to my friends about, and I found over time that our meetings became somewhat therapeutic.
I believe that this experience of sharing stories has been the most impactful act of civic engagement that I have completed to date and has worked to transform my ideas about civic engagement as a whole. As Marshall Ganz so eloquently puts it in his article “Why Stories Matter”, “The story of now is realizing, after the sharing of values and aspirations, that the world out there is not as it ought to be. Instead, it is as it is. And that is a challenge to us. We need to appreciate the challenge and the conflict between the values by which we wish the world lived and the values by which it actually does.” (Ganz, 2009) Through using stories as a method of engagement, I have come to realize how we can work to engage with people, rather than serve them, and work together to recognize flaws within our society in order to begin to impact social change. That is what was and continues to be so compelling to me through this class- the idea in order to truly participate in civic engagement you have to do just that- engage. Once I fully engaged in my interactions with my group members I feel that I was able to truly appreciate the experience and finally understand the importance of civic engagement.
Overall, I was incredibly proud of the final product that my group produced. I think that our collaborative work not only reflected who each of us are as people, but the joint nature of our poems also allowed us to show how we have grown together over the past few months. I also find it interesting that we chose to use the topic that we had discussed in our first meeting as a group- I liked seeing how everything came full circle and they very fist topic we discussed became the focus of our final presentation. The performance also allowed us to share some of what we had discussed in our group meetings with the class as a whole, and I find that level of personal sharing to be incredibly special. I feel much closer to everyone in the class following our presentations, and it is my hope that they feel the same way towards me.
My civic engagement journey is just beginning, and while I know that this experience has given me the building blocks to continue to grow and change, I look forward to future experiences that will allow me to further engage and meet more people that will continue to advance my growth in the same way that this experience has. Had it not been for this class, I probably would have never spoken to either of the women in my engagement group, but through our interactions and the work that we did together, they have both left a lasting impact on me, a handprint on my identity, and it is my belief that that is what defines civic engagement- experiences that define you and shape you and make you different. People you meet that take who you are and what you think you know and change it and transform it until you come out a different person than you were when the experience began. That’s how I understand civic engagement now and although I’m sure my view will change as my journey continues, I’d say it’s a pretty good place to start.