Senior Letters: Arielle Distasio
The Gettysburgian celebrated the graduation of several writers and editors this spring. Photo courtesy of www.ccsf.edu.
By Arielle Distasio, Co-Editor-in-Chief
I love this office. I think this every time I sit here looking around at the memories stored not only in the pages that we publish but posted on our walls, scrawled across our whiteboards, and stuffed into the drawers of our desks. It’s a bittersweet (and at this exact moment perhaps more bitter than sweet) realization that this is the final Gettysburgian that I will have even a small hand in printing.
I procrastinated many hours of schoolwork a few weeks ago by writing and rewriting and rewriting again a speech that I would feel proud to give at Commencement. Though that speech got me to the final two, I will not be the one standing alone in front of my graduating peers on May 20, reviewing our time here and sharing my personal experiences from the past four years. It’s disappointing, but it is perhaps far more appropriate that I represent my experience here, in the pages of the newspaper that I have spent countless hours writing for, editing, and even dreaming about. In fact, The Gettysburgian and its staff have gotten me through some of the most difficult times of my college career and provided me with some of the most wonderful. So, hang on: this is going to be a long one.
When we first crossed the steps of Penn Hall four years ago, I stepped down to the other side sobbing (not tearing up, but full, body-shaking sobs) into my parents’ shoulders. I also called them crying after they left the College that day and left a message that I believe my mom still saves on our answering machine. Unfortunately, my embarrassing waterworks didn’t stop there but continued throughout the next few days, weeks, months, and even years. But those tears, strangely enough, became exactly why I wanted to give the speech at Commencement.
While there are plenty of Gettysburg students who immediately met their best friends here and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of their experience, my suspicion is that there are plenty more who struggled, just like I did. Now, I have met some of the best, most inspiring friends, mentors, and role models that I could have ever wished for. But, it wasn’t always easy.
I was fully excited at the possibility of my giving the Commencement address because while I might not represent the stereotypical Gettysburg College student, I made the best out of my time here, got involved in everything I could, and was ready to be the example of how a student could start off by struggling so much and eventually learn to truly love this place.
Over the past four years we saw Barack Obama win the presidential election and Janet Morgan Riggs inaugurated as our own 14th president of Gettysburg College; we watched the Phillies win the World Series and watched in awed silence as Cory Weissman returned to the Gettysburg basketball court; we lived through floods and power outages and Snowpocalypse; oh, and the removal and subsequent return of ESPN and the Great Easter Break Debate. But, along with our fond memories, we were also the youngest Gettysburg class to experience the loss of one of our own. I had the overwhelming responsibility of covering the memorial service for Emily Rachel Silverstein whose selflessness and passion for others had an impact far beyond those who had known her personally.
Along with all those memories, I am always the first to admit that Gettysburg has a tendency to make a person feel a combination of inadequate and frustrated. I sometimes feel it even to this day. It often feels that certain things are expected of you even beyond performance in academics: you are expected to go abroad, you are expected to sit with a million people at Servo’s now even longer tables, you are expected to join Greek life or at the very least go out on weekends (and sometimes during the week), and you are expected to drink. If you do not meet those expectations, it is often easy to slip through the cracks and feel completely unconnected to the College. That, for me, is where The Gettysburgian came in. I will never be able to thank the people I have met through this organization enough for helping me realize at some point that college is about finding ourselves. I found myself in the pages of this newspaper (even if I may have created my best journalistic work by Photoshopping Andrew Ferreira’s and Alex Ferraro’s heads onto American Gladiator bodies) and wrote at least one article every week until last semester.
And that is the second important aspect of my career here that I can’t end without recognizing. Student teaching last semester changed my life, and I maintain that it changed my life more than studying abroad ever could have. Student teachers hold a full time job while juggling the responsibilities of life as a student. They are responsible for the education of, in my case, 100 eleventh grade students. Many college students can barely get themselves to class, let alone get up at the break of dawn (or before it) to make sure that they are ready to excitedly encourage 100 other people to come to school each day. I don’t know exactly what difference I made to my students, and I won’t be presumptuous enough to assume they’ll remember me years from now, but I do know that that experience changed me into a far more confident, strong individual than I ever thought possible. It was by far the most difficult and the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
The third aspect of my Gettysburg experience that I must mention is academics. I chose Gettysburg College because of two main things:
1. The absolutely beautiful campus that still makes me fall in love with it every time I walk across Stine Lake on a sunny day and see people sunbathing or throwing around a Frisbee in an almost nauseatingly all-American, picturesque setting and
2. The academics. The academic aspect of Gettysburg College has never disappointed me.
The faculty, staff, and administrators here are supportive, honest, and thoroughly giving of their time and effort in order to give you the best education you can ask for. I have been invited to a professor’s house for a group viewing of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, dog sat for another, hugged in congratulations of my Phi Beta Kappa induction by a professor with whom I only had the privilege of taking one class, and even been taken out to dinner by a science professor and her science professor husband. Professors in every department, thanks to the liberal arts requirements that I have come to love after my four years here, have made me feel comfortable, reassured, and challenged.
More specifically I must thank my English professors who allowed me into already full classes, allowed me to invite myself into the honors thesis program and write a thesis on a topic that was significantly outside those of my peers (if anyone is interested in reading 61 exciting pages about gender and language, all the honors theses are kept in the English department…), and now have given me the honor of carrying the department banner at Commencement. I must also thank my education professors who mentored me through my admittedly narrow-minded views of education, allowed me to camp out in their offices even when they weren’t there, became role models of the kind of teacher I want to be, and helped me balance my course load to not only student teach in the fall but also have the possibility of graduating a semester early.
Graduating a semester early was the solution I had reached after I realized it was too late to transfer like I had thought about doing for multiple semesters. If I could no longer leave the school and go elsewhere, I could at least get out as quickly as possible. But, clearly, I am still here. I have The Gettysburgian, The Mercury, the professors who teach such interesting classes that I couldn’t pass up a semester of electives, and the reassurance and support of my incredible family and friends to thank. Despite the challenges of my first few years, I have met people who truly appreciate and love me for who I am. They accept my flaws and allow me to vent my significant amount of frustration, but, more importantly, they have never pressured me to be anything that I am not. They have reassured me that all of those tears had a purpose: I did not have to adapt myself to fit in but instead eventually found others who fit me.
So while the College still has its pros and cons, and I can be found on most days alternately crying, yelling, and laughing about the things I run into here, I have learned to appreciate everything it has given me.
To conclude, I urge all of you to remember that whether you play a sport or an instrument, run a fundraiser, lead a club, join Greek life, get straight As, earn one of those coveted intramural T-shirts; whether you sit in a professor’s home movie theater, have an independent study that meets at the Parrot, lay out on Stine Lake in the sun or under the stars, backpack through Appalachia or kayak off the coast, or teach a class of high school students about the election of 1868 using tug-of-war; whether you stand in the shadow of Mount Olympus in the Sanctuary of Dion, drive up the Eastern Coast of Australia and camp on the beach, or get lost and hitchhike in the Andes; if you still can’t remember your mailbox combination after four years, spot a girl eating breakfast cereal out of a red Solo cup on the way to class, or watch as one of the Gettysburg squirrels falls out of a tree…and onto someone’s head – you will have had the Gettysburg experience.
And particularly to students who find themselves struggling the way I had, be strong and constantly remind yourselves that everything will get better, there are other people out there who feel the same, and it is much better to wake up the morning of Commencement knowing you stayed true to yourself and have a few friends who love you for you than to have a million friends who love the person you pretended to be.
So when May 20 comes around, I know I’ll be crying once again (as will my dad since he will no longer be able to use me as an excuse to visit The Pub), but…
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”