Opinion: Marisa and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week
By Marisa Balanda, Guest Columnist
My mom is a high School English teacher. She is also quite strict and very candid. Since I have been able to communicate, I grew accustomed to hearing lines of literature to reinforce whatever life lesson she was attempting to instill. My mom never stops teaching. Obviously, I was not always familiar with the characters or the works she quoted, but she always provided a thorough summary and context for me. She also reminded me that I would read these works in high school. So, Atticus Finch and Nick Carraway became extended members of our family. Eventually, I did read most of her favorites, and I must admit – after much eye-rolling at my mother – that those iconic lines truly do support the claim that art imitates life.
Last week, I was forced to navigate a challenging situation in which I never thought I would find myself. Claims of Student Senate election violations were made, and I was implicated. I was shocked. I was upset. I was confused. I became offended. I was frustrated. I was angry. As if the first year of college is not challenging enough – especially for an anxious person – this week’s events exacerbated the typical stress of a first-year student two weeks away from final exams. I tried to remain focused, but I continued to be distracted by the fact that my character was being called into question. As the product of nine years of Catholic school and 19 years of Balanda Boot Camp, hubris was never an option. So, although I know I am far from perfect, I also know that I did nothing unethical. Thus, the mixture of emotions became a boiling pot of bitterness and disappointment with the very organization I had committed to serve.
I spent some of my time preparing documents to respond to the questions from the Student Senate Executive Board. I also spent some time – okay, a lot of time – in communication with my mother. I kept her informed of all that I knew – which, frankly, was not much, especially during the early part of the week. In classic Mrs. Balanda form, I was interrogated. As usual, I was taught. And I was reminded of one of Mom’s favorite passages about life being a game from Holden Caulfield’s teacher in The Catcher in the Rye. However, I was also heard. My mom listened to me, requested details which I could not provide because the request for anonymity by the peers who implicated me was granted, and she offered her typical verbose counsel. In theory, her advice made sense. In reality, all of those initial negative feelings still swirled within me. I was forced to endure scrutiny without the benefit of the proverbial “whole story.”
I proceeded to engage in my regular school week activities, but obviously, this issue consumed my thoughts. I sadly pondered the fact that of all of the activities in which I chose to participate at Gettysburg College, the one that allows me to serve the student body by representing peers was the one in which my actions were criticized. Frustratingly, my mom never missed an opportunity to remind me that though my idealistic notion is admirable, a dream of harmony among all will not always be the case. She also admonished about the fact that not all people “buy in” as I do, care as much as I do, or maintain objectivity in their roles as “the voice for all” representatives as she always demanded I remember. I ignored her advice because, well, I was naïve. After all, I am still a child. And as good old Mrs. Balanda reminds me regularly, we are all still children.
College students do not want to hear that. I did not want to hear that, but I learned that statement is often accurate. If we are taught the science of frontal lobe development and its age correlation to rational decision-making, I wonder why are forced to immediately live an existence in which we the students are almost entirely self-governed – and without much guidance or supervision from those whose lobes are older and wiser. I understand the merit in that notion. That is part of our transition to adult independence. However, as one who has always had – and begrudgingly appreciated – the wisdom of years, this shift to “almost autonomy” seemed extreme.
The events of this past week illustrated some disappointing facts of life that every person will have to experience at some point. Adversity exists. It will not be the same for every person, but tough times will occur. I was accused by peers – but there was no official supervisory adult involved. I was summoned to a meeting and questioned by peers – but there was no official supervisory adult involved. And I was interviewed for a story for this very publication, and my remarks were published by peers – but there was still no supervisory adult involved. As a result, I had to defend my actions and my character – and there was never any official supervisory adult involved. Where was the accountability? Students charging foul play were able to remain anonymous (because apparently, I am quite an ominous presence).
Conversations about me among Senate leaders did not include me. And decisions were made by peers without all of the alleged parties involved – but there was no supervisory adult involved. I was attempting to advocate for myself, as an adult should, but I was put on a seemingly perpetual hold. Students were in charge of everything. I was not accustomed to this. I know that Gettysburg College prides itself on developing leadership skills. That was a primary reason I chose this school; however, I still believe that the checks and balance system of any effective government should incorporate more than peers when such situations arise.
Immediately, Mrs. Balanda’s Crucible quote became the only voice in my head. John Proctor kept asking me if the accuser is always holy now. And within the confines of my dorm room, I dejectedly responded, “Preach, Proctor. Apparently, they are.” I sensed hints of the afflicted girls in Salem to whom John Proctor referred when he charged that the “children are jangling the keys to the kingdom.”
I still vehemently reiterate the statement I gave to The Gettysburgian when asked for an interview: I deny all allegations made against me regarding the perceived interpretations of others that I violated an election rule. I fiercely oppose all claims of misconduct surrounding the recent elections. I absolutely did not commit an infraction of any of the Student Senate Constitution election rules. But I did learn that the Senate Constitution is in need of another overhaul, in my opinion (since opinions seem to trump accuracy). I also believe that The Gettysburgian should have done more to verify the content that the anonymous sources offered. The “reporter” should have contacted the other person who was present during the alleged incident. I realized that this situation became that event we all must endure: the first trial that will test one’s fortitude and impact the way one chooses to live his or her life. This uncomfortable event has motivated me. Rather than remain disillusioned with any organization and its system of function, I have become inspired. I still wish to complete a project that I proposed as a freshman senator to create a mentorship/induction program for new senators. I still want to create improvements for our school community. I specifically plan to review and edit the language of the constitution to reflect specific actions rather than subjective emotions. And, ultimately, I hope to fairly and objectively represent all of my peers in my role as a senator.
For the past academic year, I have told people back home how much I love Gettysburg College. When catching up with relatives and my mother’s colleagues – my former teachers – over winter break, I gushed about all of the wonderful experiences I was enjoying at Gettysburg College and I thanked them for their wise mentorship. I was trying to do great work and become an independent leader – a philosophy for which Gettysburg College is famously known. Talk about the honeymoon period. Just like a marriage moves into a new phase but the spouses still love one another, I still love Gettysburg College. I am still enjoying wonderful experiences. And I definitely see the merit in learning to become an independent advocate for myself. So, I will move beyond this unfortunate and unjust incident. And as I reflect on this past week, I will channel those extended relatives who always have an open invitation in the Balanda house. As I escort the final guest to the door at the conclusion of this metaphorical uncomfortable visit, I remember a crucial piece of advice – “This above all: to thine own self be true.”