Tuesday, May 26, 2015

An Open Letter to the Class of 2019

To the SMCVT Class of 2019,

I've thought long and hard about what to say for this final post.

(For those of you who have followed me for the past 4 years, and perhaps discussed my blog with me at some point, you'll know that I wasn't sure if this day would come. After much deliberation, I have decided to close down "Lauren Likes Saint Mike's." Someday, possibly soon if I feel up to it, I may blog on some other forum, in which case I'll make note of it here. But I think I've outgrown this blog, for reasons you'll figure out as you read on.)

This post is coming to you over two weeks after graduation. I've needed time to think about it, especially because as I watched all my Facebook friends land jobs, get engaged, and generally move on with their lives while I sat around stuck in a sort of incredulous haze wondering how I actually got to this point, I suddenly lost the confidence that I had the authority to advise you on how to spend your next four years.

After two weeks of constant "What do I do with my hands?" moments, I realized that exactly what's making me feel a little self-conscious right now is in fact what gives me the position to say this--it's not authority. It's relatability, at a time when the people on both sides of this letter are in need of assurance.

Class of 2019, I am here to tell you that just like the majority of you, I do not know what I want to do with my life.

I struggled with this, and to a certain extent still do. As anyone would. I thought that this made me ill-prepared to graduate, and part of me was afraid for the coming of that day.

But it came. And when it did, I reported to Alliot, where a seat was waiting with my name on it in order to line up alphabetically for the procession. I was surprised to see that an envelope was waiting for me on the chair, with my name scribbled on it in pencil.

I opened it to find a brief, yet very important note. It was the letter I had written to myself during one of my first days at Saint Mike’s, in orientation.

It listed five things I wanted to accomplish during my four years, most of which I managed to do (how it is that I lived in Vermont four years and still never went skiing, I will probably never understand).

After the list, I wrote some notes to myself.

In big, bold letters: “TRUST SAINT MIKE’S.”

And the very last thing my wise 18-year-old self wrote: “Trust yourself.”

For those of you who may not know, Saint Mike's has gone through just as many transformations over the past four years as I have personally. They range widely from new bathrooms in the first-year dorms and my (unfortunate) bangs phase to an entirely new student center and my stint as a freelance journalist in Morocco.

Just as the exteriors changed, the faces changed, too. I had gone to Morocco during my Spring 2014 semester, meaning I didn't get to say any official congratulations or goodbyes to the people in the Class of 2014 who I had gotten to know so well. I didn't realize how hard that would hit me until I got back, of course. When I returned to Saint Mike's in the fall, I recognized almost no one, other than my friends in the Class of 2015.

Though I did meet a few of these new faces, I mostly kept to my now much smaller group of friends who were there before I left. At this point, I was totally consumed by my senior seminar documentary project. I was also working an internship, and trying my best to look outward and seriously consider what I wanted with my future.

Blame it on senioritis, or reverse culture-shock. Blame it on whatever you want. All I know is that at some point during my senior year, I stopped feeling like I belonged at Saint Michael's College. Although I had plenty of moments of rejuvenation--especially while giving tours and being able to remind myself what I loved about this place at least once a week--I was suddenly a stranger in a strange land.

Everyone has a Saint Mike's Story. How they got here, what they did, the experiences that made Saint Mike's another home to them. During the last months of my senior year, though I was scared to leave, I also felt as if I was trying to continue writing a story that should've already ended.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because you need to know, Class of 2019, that Saint Mike's is no longer mine. It's yours.

I think the straw that broke the camel's back was when we found out that the rumors circulating around Bergeron, otherwise known as Home of the MJD Majors Zombies, were true. The place that I grew up in over the past four years was being re-purposed.

There were good reasons for this change, mostly because it was going to give a much-needed update to our health services. However, most people in the department were against this decision. Bergeron wasn't the best space for us as it was, but we were making do and happy enough that we had our own place equipped with two multimedia labs. We were all very skeptical that the new plan that someone (not our department) had come up with, which was to relocate us (the third largest major) into the same hallway in Jeanmarie as the business majors (the first largest major), was going to work. 

Needless to say, I was glad to be graduating when I was, as I had serious concerns. 

Now back to graduation day. That letter to myself. The phrase written in big, bold letters.


I realized that my trust had faltered, knowing that Bergeron will not live to see another class of MJD majors. 

RIP Bergeron/Berg/70's Rest Stop/Pizza Hut/That place next to the tennis courts/Zombieland/and most recently, Ber_eron.

That's not to say that the incoming MJD majors need worry. If any of you are reading this right now, you should know that despite my opinions, I am still 100% certain you will receive the best education possible. That's because it doesn't matter where you learn on this campus, what matters is that you're here. And here, you have the best faculty and staff possible. Not only because they come from all walks of life, and they're all incredibly accomplished in their fields, but also because they care about you. They don't know you yet, but they will. They will know your name and face, and they will welcome you into their classes, their offices, and their lives. They will dedicate all of their time and energy to you. The professors in the MJD department are brilliant and resourceful people, and they will give you what you need. Jeanmarie will become the home to you that Bergeron was to me, because your professors (and classmates, by the way) will make it that way. Just as Bergeron was an integral part of my Saint Mike's Story, Jeanmarie will be a huge part of yours.

But the reason why recognizing where my trust lies now is so important because I know where my trust has shifted. It's because of the last line I wrote to myself four years ago.

Trust yourself.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2019, remember this: if, one day during your senior year, you begin believing that you don't need Saint Mike's anymore, then Saint Mike's has done you right.

And more importantly, you've done it right.

Yeah, you heard me.

If I'm being honest, my main reason for my vehement disapproval of moving MJD out of Bergeron was due to my fear of change and apprehensions about life after Saint Mike's. Saying goodbye to Bergeron was the beginning in a long string of goodbyes, the symbolic way of showing that my time here is over.

It's no longer mine. It's yours.

Right now, as you graduate high school and head into the Great Unknown, you need Saint Mike's. You need it the same way I did. And you need to TRUST SAINT MIKE'S.

And one day, four years from now, you will be glad you did. You will trust the education you received. Therefore, as you move on into the Greater Unknown, you will have something limitless, something that you'll carry with you.

You'll trust yourself.  

You need this, because like I said at the beginning, many of you--in fact, I bet most of you--will not know what you want to do with your lives. Graduation will come, and when it does, most of you will have changed your plans (I'm talking to you, kids who are certain they're going to grad school after this).

Just as you trusted Saint Mike's, you'll need to graduate trusting that you'll be okay, no matter what life throws at you. You'll know that it's perfectly fine not to have all of the answers. In fact, you might thrive off of not knowing in the end. Because once you decide you know nothing, you'll stop limiting yourself. The world will open up to you.

Saint Mike's is the first step. You've made a great decision, to be here. Take advantage of every opportunity that this amazing place offers you. Follow your instincts, not the path that you have imagined for yourself right now (some people are lucky enough to have their instincts match their imagined path; if so, you're much more figured out than I ever will be, kudos, and disregard this message). Consider the advice you receive from professors, friends, parents and mentors, but at the end of the day, follow your heart. 

I took me two years at Saint Mike's until I truly began trusting my instincts. Most of you know that story--it's what took me to Morocco. For two years, I trusted Saint Mike's whole-heartedly to get me to that point. In the time leading up to and during my semester abroad, I trusted Saint Mike's as the crutch that held me up when I was uncertain. On my graduation day, I trusted that the diploma being handed to me came with experiences that I could've only gotten at Saint Mike's. And now, I trust that that diploma is a considerably small step in everything that I'm going to achieve.

Make the most of these four years. Make them count. TRUST SAINT MIKE'S. Trust yourself.

Congratulations, Class of 2019. Saint Mike's is yours. 

In May 2019, you'll hand it down to the next lucky bunch. But for now, do what us Purple Knights do best: create your own Saint Mike's Story.

Dad and I goofing off on graduation day. I'll always be grateful for the day forever ago when he suggested I look at just one more school on the way home from a long weekend of college tours in Vermont (hint: it was Saint Mike's).

Best wishes of luck and love to you all. As my MJD friends like to say, "Keep calm and Berger-On."

- Lauren Kopchik

(PS: If you want to contact me about anything Saint Mike's related or my post-grad/alumni experience, please send an email to laurenkopchik@gmail.com as I won't be checking my SMCVT one as often. I may be heading off into the Greater Unknown, but I'd still love to talk about SMC with you!) 

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Do's and Don't's of Alliot Hall

I'll admit, my visits to Alliot--our older student center here at Saint Mike's where the main dining hall is located--have been very scarce lately. I tend to only stop in when I don't have time to cook for myself, and even then I'm normally in a rush so I grab something to eat on the go. I did have a sit-down meal for Thanksgiving dinner, an event I would never miss. But otherwise, I've enjoyed having a quiet, late-night dinner at my house, normally with one of my roommates.

Don't get me wrong, the food in Alliot is pretty great and it's always nice to run into friends or say hello to the friendly staff. But after the end of your second or third year, you'll probably appreciate having the option to not eat cafeteria-style every day as much as I do. And if you'd rather not cook for yourself, you can still keep your unlimited meal plan. Plenty of my friends use theirs daily, and they love the convenience Alliot offers as well as the well-balanced meals they can choose from.

Either way, it's good to know that Alliot etiquette is something to take note of. A recent visit reminded me that it's important to remember that this is a shared space, one that students respect and maintain as a way of making meals delightful for everyone.

Here's a few things to keep in mind:

1.) DO pronounce it Alli-OH. Silent T. We're French here, folks.
DON'T say Alli-oT. Everyone will know you're a noob.

2.) DO refer to the dining hall as Alliot.
DON'T call it the "Green Mountain Dining Room." Ever. Yes, that is its formal name. No, nobody actually uses it. If you do...again, noob.

3.) DO have your Knightcard ready for Rosemary to swipe at the front desk.
DON'T wait until you get to the desk to go fishing through your bag, pockets, etc. trying to find it. Nobody likes to wait in line behind someone who's unprepared when they're hungry.
DON'T wear your Knightcard on a lanyard around your neck...trust me, just don't.

4.) DO get to know Rosemary well. Ask her how her day is going or what she recommends on the menu. Believe me, she's a cool lady and being friends with her has its perks (can anyone say, free coffee? Swiper no swiping!)
DON'T make Rosemary angry. Ever.

5.) DO bring in your laptop, books, notebooks, etc. ONLY when it's not busy. Wanna grab a snack while you work on that paper? No problem, as long as it's off peak hours (like 3-4, when it's too late for lunch but too early for dinner) and you sit in a corner space where you're not taking up a ton of table room.
DON'T expect to work on homework during dinnertime. It's too loud, crowded, and distracting. Leave your laptop in your backpack and place it in a cubby or the coat-check area, or drop it off at your dorm between class and dinner.

6.) DO make solid plans for what time to meet your friends for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, and make sure you all show up together.
DON'T expect to be able to find them or get a seat near them if you don't make those plans.

Because on Thanksgiving, you want to be able to chow down in front of people you're not self-conscious with.

7.) DO wait patiently in line at the stir-fry station or the grill.
DON'T cut the line or yell at the servers if they got your order wrong. Come on guys, we're adults here.

8.) DO feel free to mix and match at each station. Wanna grab a burger, but also try the quinoa salad at the vegan station? There's no judging here. Go for it!
DON'T cross-contaminate food. There's a reason why the peanut butter is at a separate station than the jelly. Use the utensils provided for each food, and be conscious of what it touches on your plate.

9.) DO use the bagel tongs. And the cookie tongs. Please, just, if there are tongs, use them.
DON'T pick something up with your hands, look at it, and put it back.

10.) DO participate in a cup-drop IF and ONLY IF you have an empty cup available to you.
DO pick the cup back up after dropping it.
DON'T throw your cup.
DON'T drop your cup if there is liquid inside of it.
DON'T start a cup-drop just because. Cup-drops happen after one person accidentally DROPS a CUP.
DON'T drop (or throw) anything else on purpose, including but not limited to: utensils, food, people.

11.) DO let a worker know if the creemee machine is broken.
DON'T break the creemee machine and then walk away.

12.) DO invite others to sit with you, if you're feeling in the spirit.
DON'T keep asking if they said no once already.
DON'T feel offended if they say no--chances are it's a good reason, like they're waiting for someone, in a rush, working on something, or maybe they just want some alone time. They know the offer stands and they're surely grateful for it, but they also don't owe you their presence--or an explanation.

13.) DO clean up your spot when you're finished eating.
DON'T leave a mess. Come on. Not cool.

14.) DO scrape any unwanted food from your plate into the compost bin, and place your dishes neatly on the conveyor belt.
DON'T throw something that's not biodegradable in the compost. It is not a trash can. One thing that many people don't know can't be composted--the string to your teabag. Detach it from the bag and leave it on your plate. It'll be taken care of when it goes through the conveyor.

15.) DO take as much food as you want. After all, you're paying for it and it's buffet-style for a reason.
DON'T waste food. If you're still hungry for more you can always go back up for seconds (or thirds...we're all guilty of it).

16.) DO talk to our amazing staff at Alliot about your food restrictions or allergies.
DON'T suffer in silence. Please don't do that.

17.) DO be considerate of Alliot's hours of operation. (7:15 am-8:00 pm on weekdays)
DON'T expect to have a huge selection for dinner if you walk in at 7:50.

18.) DO ask the Alliot staff about the bag lunch option if you're in class or on the run all day.
DON'T go all day without eating because you think you're too busy to stop in Alliot.

19.) DO take advantage of our other dining hall, Knights at the Round Table (but please, call it Sloane--it's in Sloane Hall), the restaurant-style option on North Campus. It's included in the meal plan.
DO call and make reservations before you go.
DON'T forget to check the Sloane menu, which changes every two weeks!

20.) DO make requests/give compliments on the comment cards in Alliot and Sloane. They're there for you and your voice counts!
DON'T forget to thank the awesome staff--DON'T let their hard work go unnoticed!

Well friends, bon apetit!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On Senioritis.

Friends, funny story for you! I just found a post that I wrote waaaaay back over winter break, before this semester even began. Interesting...must've been my senioritis kicking in which caused me not to post right away and then forget about it! It's a bit of a long one, but if you enjoy my rants as much as my roommates (I bet on Merrill being the first to read this) then you'll want to make a cup of tea and put your feet up. You're welcome.

Winter break is almost up, and I'm (almost) ready to head into another semester. It also happens to be my last.

It's a bit surreal to be a second-semester senior. Nothing feels quite right at the moment. Part of this could be that I'm typing to you on a laptop borrowed from my sister, as mine kicked the bucket. Too bad, I had gotten used to moving my mouse to the on-screen keyboard that was perpetually open for whenever I needed an L. And this laptop certainly isn't as pretty, without the "I Like Saint Mike's" and "FRIEND" bumper stickers decorating it.

But no worries. I still "Like Saint Mike's" and I am still a FRIEND to whoever wants or needs one (read: everyone). Even though, these days, I may not always show it.

My closest friends this past semester served as witnesses to a rather strange transformation. The kind, moderately extroverted and actively involved campus citizen they once knew turned dangerously self-centered, dropped more than a few former responsibilities, and refused to leave the house if it wasn't necessary. Though always a homebody, I withdrew into my own little world much more than I had in the past, and my presence almost entirely disappeared from campus. People that I used to see frequently, I'd end up only running into once in a blue moon, like if I decided to leave the comforts of my couch to, say, check my mailbox. "Where have you BEEN this semester?!" they'd say, equally genuine about their happiness to see me as well as concerned for my well-being. I repeatedly told them that if they wanted to see me, they could come visit TH 214. Though I tried to be friendly, the message was clear: I'm not going out of my way for you.

I know. Harsh. At first I quite honestly thought there was something wrong with me. I had become completely disinterested, and disengaged, in my immediate surroundings. I woke up in the mornings and groggily dragged myself to class, then went directly back home. On days that I had my internship, I took the bus downtown immediately after class and at the end of the day would once again recede back into my house, walking quickly in a straight line from the stop to my front door, looking at the ground so I didn't have to engage in unwanted pleasantries with passersby--even familiar faces. I was certainly glad to see acquaintances, but only if they made the effort to walk over to the remote 200s townhouses to pay a visit. Otherwise, I wanted nothing to do with, well...anything.

Then I took a look around at my housemates, neighbors, and other senior class friends. And I realized--it wasn't just me. It was just about all of us. I may be a more extreme case of it, but it seems that all at once, in our final fall semester, the class of 2015 went as off-the-grid as humanly possible. What happened to our community?

That, my friends, is a product of Senioritis.

"The monkey on your back is the latest trend." 

We've all heard of it. And believe it or not, Senioritis exists in a much more intense way in college than the high school version. Think you're really done with your high school homework assignments? Just wait until the late night you're sitting in Bergeron your senior year, working furiously to hand your project in on time, on your fifth cup of coffee, and you have this realization: In about six months, I could be getting paid to do this.

Over. It.

At first, my housemates and I all thought it was an "abroad" thing: come back from seeing the world for a semester and it puts a lot into perspective. Suddenly, the whole "world" that was Saint Mike's seems so insignificant it's almost laughable. This could certainly be a piece of the puzzle. But as the months passed and all four of us still remained generally cranky five days a week, we knew we couldn't only blame it on the experiences we had last spring.

To all college seniors, present and future: you will experience this at some point. You will at least once dread sitting in a classroom, no matter the subject and who's teaching it. You will get extremely tired of making yet ANOTHER resume or portfolio. You will begin feeling like you've spent 21 years trying to prove yourself, and for what? Because people still don't seem to believe you. You will get really annoyed at underclassmen for no reason other than their existence, and then you will judge yourself for being "that senior" who ruins everything for everyone. You will sit in your required 100-level LSC class thinking, "why do I have to be here and why do all of these people seem so young?" You will procrastinate on everything, even the things you really enjoy doing (hence why I'm spending the last few days of winter break stockpiling blog drafts and why you'll be reading this weeks after it's written--so that this semester the blog doesn't go unattended for months on end). You will respond to most questions with "so what?" and become totally disengaged in your community, at some point--even if just for a few days. You will get sick of parties, loud music, and the grill. You will go to bed very early and wake up very late. You will lose touch with people on campus, sometimes even ones that live very close to you.

And I want to tell you something. It's okay.

Sure, it's not ideal to spend a whole semester in this state. But if you're like me, you'll know that you haven't wasted your time. Your circle may have grown a bit smaller--okay, maybe substantially smaller--but there's nothing wrong with being introspective. If you've used this time to do some serious self-evaluation, then you're still on the right track. Especially as seniors, it's important now more than ever to really consider the person you are versus the person you want to be and what's missing to get there.

Am I suggesting becoming a social outcast? Well, no. And you can bet that I'm going to make sure I spend some time this semester reaching out to people I've lost touch with. Despite a lot of couch potato tendencies that I'll have to work hard to break, I've done major work this semester focusing on myself and my priorities. It turns out I knew a lot of those already--family and friends will always be at the top of my list--but I've also embraced an attitude of self-acceptance. And at a time when the future is so unclear, I've relied on a very simple mantra that I know to be true: I'll be okay.

It's strange to at once feel a hefty dose of cynicism for everything around you and to also feel this sense of world wonder at the same time. But think about it: for the first time in our lives, nothing is certain. At the end of this semester, we are not going on summer vacation. We are not going back to school (unless you already have grad school plans, which if you do, kudos and good luck). We will probably try to "find a job," but where will that lead us? The possibilities are endless.

Then the cynicism kicks in: but there are "no jobs," all these applications say I need 5+ years experience, I have to move back in with my parents?, I'll probably be a waitress forever, and OMG STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT. So you can see that on any given day, you may be experiencing either end of the spectrum or even both simultaneously. And your head will want to explode. And that is why you can't be bothered with the local happenings of your small college.

Not possible.

But here's a way to twist that. Friends, consider yourselves liberated. Hooray, you've stopped caring! As it turns out, your indifference to absolutely everything can indeed help you. Because for the first time, you can totally and completely speak your mind. I don't mean in a way that offends or hurts other people (I may be honest, but not to a fault...), I mean in a way that makes your voice heard on things you're passionate about. For me that's social issues. It turns out that while sitting in that 100-level LSC, while contemplating the youth of those around me, I couldn't be passive anymore. We were discussing the matter of institutionalized racism in America, and I very suddenly one day exploded in a full-on rant about the problem with media coverage related to Ferguson. My classmates stared, as I had been mute for most of the course.

I took creative liberties with assignments that I would have never taken had I cared more about hitting all the points to get the best grade possible. While filming for my documentary class, I went where the story took me rather than taking an easy way out. I got the story first and fit it into the criteria later. While creating my advertisements, I bent the rules of selling something "used" to fabricate my own makeup-recycling company, activating an imagination that had eluded me for most of the past four years. In my creative writing assignments, I held nothing back. I stopped caring about what my classmates or professors would think of me if I wrote what I honestly felt, and just wrote it. It felt good to unleash thoughts without self-censorship, something that has haunted me despite my desire to write my best work, simply out of shyness.

Once I motivated myself to stop procrastinating and get ish done, I ended up taking more risks. Most of them (MOST) worked out for the better. Some of them didn't. But hey, guess what? I learned a lot from those! And I'm alive, and my GPA is intact, and I think maybe I have a little more self-esteem. Gaining confidence from your mistakes, folks. A lovely byproduct of not caring so much. An unexpected gain from Senioritis.

Just don't let it eat you alive. If you use Senioritis as an excuse to repeatedly not study or not hand in assignments, you get what you get (more on this one another time). And, quite frankly, what you deserve. But if you use it as a catalyst to explore, whether it's inner, outward, academic, whatever, then you can come up with some real good stuff.

Just think of it this way: no matter what, you'll be okay.


A looking-back, end-of-the-year update on my thoughts here:

Well, I think I was pretty angry/confused when I wrote this, and tried to seem like I wasn't...? But at the same time, I was kind of right. I remember being more of a shut-in last semester and repeatedly thinking that I was "doing senior year wrong," but also being too comfortable to have the motivation to do anything about it. And this semester? Well, I did spend more time than I would've liked in front of a computer, but that's pretty expected when you're making a documentary. I was also very over winter, and pretty much spent the entire month of February indoors.

But I do think I made a lot of progress in several ways. First of all, the whole self-assessment thing is basically a daily activity, but I don't think I mind. Hopefully it helps me be a better person, and I think I've learned to present myself in the best way possible for certain situations while still being genuine (great skill for job interviews). As long as I don't become too self-absorbed and lose sight of the needs of others around me, it's a good thing.

And, with the increase in warm weather and sunlight and a decrease in workload (my documentary was well-received by a small audience this weekend and I'm tying things up there; I really only have a paper and one small assignment left for my other classes) I've been able to get myself outside more, spend more time with friends again, and simply enjoy the moment. Our last class day is tomorrow and I hand in my final assignments on Friday. After that, I can let the freedom of being a college senior with literally nothing to do take over for ten blissful days.

Then I graduate, and, you know. Maybe that should be another post topic.

For now, I'm going to try to get to that paper--despite the senioritis--so that I can enjoy the sunshine for the rest of this beautiful week.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Wow, April 21st. Time is flying, swimming, dancing, and doing a lot of other funky things.

Here's what you need to know:

1.) I made it through senior sem with my sanity intact. Woohoo!

2.) Sheila and I presented our project to the students and professors in our department, who received it well with laughter, tears, and plenty of mind-stimulating questions. Our peers presented their projects, too, with much of the same.

3.) Coming up is the PREMIERE of our film, and YOU are invited! If you're interested in seeing the thing I've been pulling my hair out over all year, then join me at Saint Mike's in Cheray 101 on Sunday, April 26th at 3 p.m. for the first-ever screening of "I'm Still Here: Growing old in ageist America."

4.) While I'm shamelessly promoting myself, you might want to check out the product of something cool I did while studying abroad in Morocco. That's all I'll say here. Don't want to ruin the the surprise. :) Click here.

5.) I've been thinking a lot about different things that I want to say before I graduate. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to continue blogging after I move on from Saint Mike's, but regardless, it wouldn't be the same. I have several post ideas, so hopefully you'll be reading more from me in the next couple of weeks. 

But first things first, I want to make sure that I make my in-person thank yous and last remarks while I'm still on campus. This is terrifying for me, as I don't love getting overly sentimental in person (it creeps me out). But I think it's an important thing to do here. 

In both of these cases, it seems like it's the most crucial time for me to have the right words. So of course, it's one of the few times where I can't quite think of any (some of you may remember this same speech from my last days in Morocco). But that's life, I suppose. Chock full of wisdom (or so you think) until it's put to the test.

Anyway--hopefully I'll work on that and get back to you. Until then, check out our film's website (if you want).



Monday, March 30, 2015

The Instant Gram.

Has anyone ever thought about picking apart the word "Instagram"? Like, how did they come up with that? Just a thought. Anyway...

In case you don't know about it yet, Saint Mike's started this cool new Instagram account this semester called @knightlifevt. It started with my housemate Alex, and has been circulating around to students with a new person taking over it every week. It's a great way to see what daily life is like for our students at #smcvt!

This week is my turn. I hope you'll join me as I work to finish up my senior seminar project (due on WEDNESDAY...yikes!) and partake in all the Saint Mike's-y goodness before I head home for Easter break on Thursday.

Follow me @knightlifevt and in any other normal week @laurenkopchik , and remember to like/comment or email me (lkopchik@mail.smcvt.edu) if you have questions about Saint Mike's!

Monday, March 9, 2015


I haven't been here in such a long time that it's hard to even know where to begin. A lot has happened lately, not only academically but as well as in my social life and trying to make the most out of my final semester here at Saint Mike's.

However, as I sit here in Bergeron at 9:03 on a Sunday evening waiting for my Premiere file to export, I am more in the academic mindset and would like to use this post as an opportunity to organize my thoughts.

Senior Sem is EVERYTHING right now, and I hate to say it but a lot of other things have taken a back seat. Including dinner...I AM SO HUNGRY. As soon as I'm done uploading things I'm headed home to eat.

Anyway, our project is due April 1st, and that's much sooner than I'm comfortable with at this point, but it's also relieving to know that the end is near. On Wednesday we have the introduction (a.k.a the "Hook") and a chapter of our film due, as well as a written outline that guides us through the story structure.

Here is a short teaser Sheila made for the film, set to Brandi Carlile's "The Story":

Despite Sheila and I constantly scheduling interviews and going out to film, I'll be honest--right now I'm not feeling entirely prepared for this assignment. This has to do with a few things, mainly being that we're not done filming yet--we have a few things we still want to schedule, including some stuff we've planned over spring break, and it's hard to imagine how everything will come together when we don't know how our next few filming sessions are going to go.

And, since we've been filming so much, we have a lot of material to work with--both a blessing and a curse. We've been cutting and editing interviews as we go, getting rid of bits and pieces we know we certainly won't need. But even after cutting, we still have about 3 hours worth of great interview footage. For a 30-45 minute film.

A constant daily reminder that I sometimes need to force myself to believe.

So, that's what we're dealing with right now. We have a few ideas floating around about what we want to hand in for this assignment, so I'm not overly concerned about making the deadline. If there's one thing I've learned about myself, it's that when things need to be done, they get done. We might probably DEFINITELY will be making changes before we hand in our final cut, because that's just how it goes. Making a film is like writing a paper. You get the best results once you've gone through a few drafts first.

Unfortunately for us, that means a whole lot--too much--of our time this month will be spent in front of computer screens. But it will be worth it in the end.

Because in the end, as with everything we do, it's not just a project. It's what we've learned, the mistakes we've made, the laughs, the tears (more of those to come I'm sure), and most importantly, the people we've connected with over the past 6 months or so. We have become so invested in this film, and we want people to see it. Not just because we've been working so hard on it, but because it's important. And because of that, we want to make sure it's our best work that we put out there. Not only to represent ourselves in the best way possible, but to shed light on a social issue that's too often swept under the rug in a way that makes people question why they believe what they believe (or fear what they fear) about aging--and of course in a way that makes them want to continue the conversation.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Going Places with Senior Sem

Last week, Sheila and I went back to our hometown in New York. It wasn't just a normal visit home, though--we actually crashed there after a long 5-hour drive so we could recharge the batteries and then wake up early the next morning and get on a train to New York City, where we did some filming for our senior seminar project.

As I've mentioned before, Sheila and I have partnered up to film a documentary about aging and ageism for our capstone. This is one of many things I love about MJD. The senior seminar allows us to investigate any topic of our choosing--literally anything--and produce our findings in either a book, website, or documentary format. Pretty much the only criteria is that we do something that hasn't been done before (or explore a past topic from a new angle), work with a partner if it's a documentary, and check in with regular homework assignments and presentations. Otherwise, anything goes.

Which is a huge undertaking, of course, and tons on tons of work. There's a lot at stake too--the project isn't just a grade, but something that can be put in our portfolio and on our resumes, and maybe even something that's published for people all around the world to see (as has happened with some in the past). I like the way we do our senior seminar in my major because honestly, I don't think I could deal with writing a 50-page paper all semester. Sheila and I did write 52 pages for our proposal, but we took just a few weeks to do it and used it as a way to organize our ideas and research. While it was an important part of the project, it wasn't the only part, so there wasn't as much riding on it as there is for people who do something like that for their entire capstone. Besides, our capstone takes us places other than the library!

So last Friday we went to NYC and interviewed Ashton Applewhite, a prominent anti-ageism activist and author, and I swear if I hadn't been on a schedule I might still be there because she was so interesting to talk to. She had so many important things to say and her passion really came through on film. I think her voice is going to add a much-needed angle to our film, as she really helped tie together loose ends on a lot of different themes. Sheila is an angel and already made some rough cuts of the interview, which can be found here.

We also visited the offices of DoSomething.org, a non-profit that seeks to get young people actively volunteering in their communities. Whey them for a film on aging and old people, then? One of their campaigns, called Grandparents Gone Wired (GGW), pairs up a teenage mentor with an older mentee who wants to use a new technology, whether it's Skype to keep in touch with faraway family and friends or an iPad so they can download cool apps or anything in between. We spoke with some of the campaign organizers, and they said it's really helped improve daily life for the older people participating as well as created come great multi-generational friendships--something that Ashton, as well as Sheila and I, really advocate for and something that we're hoping to show others with our documentary, so they're inspired to do it too.

We had a great day in the city, and we took the train back home to Poughkeepsie to rest up. Then, the next morning, we left for Woodstock for one last NY-based interview.

I came into contact with Alix Dobkin through a really interesting chain of events, and I'm so glad I found her and she was willing to do an interview with us. An esteemed folk singer, Dobkin was an integral part of the women's liberation movement of the 60s and 70s. An activist for most of her life, I found her by looking through names on a roster at the Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) website. They're a group that works to combat "all the -isms," as Alix put it, and they've done a lot to raise consciousness about homophobia and particularly how it affects aging lesbian women. I'm lucky I've been taught to always do a Google search of the person I'm interviewing before I meet them. As I read about Alix's life and listened to her music that morning before heading out, I realized I had scored the interview of the century. It was incredible to hear some of her stories and she even performed a few songs for us! She also gave us each a copy of her memoir. I can't wait to read it!

So New York was a great success, and when Sheila and I returned to Vermont we presented our recent work to our classmates. They loved watching some of the footage and we got great feedback about where to go from here. On Friday we went to the Champlain Senior Center, which I've spent a lot of time at already both this and last semester, to film part of a Valentine's Day celebration. It was great to see so many familiar faces and a ton of new ones as well.

Coming up is another batch of interview subjects, and we have quite the array of people who have shown interest already. Right now we're working on confirming plans with a few women from the Burlington branch of OLOC, a local group similar to DoSomething's GGW campaign, and the Alzheimer's Association. We have a few exciting events coming up, too. Since we're taking a very holistic approach toward looking at every facet of aging and ageism, we have a lot of ground to cover. The more interviews to help with that, the better!

As you can see, we definitely have a lot going on to keep us busy. Our film is tentatively titled The Art of Aging, and if you want to keep up with our progress you can follow us on social media:


We also have a (VERY rough) website, where we'll be posting more soon, here.

Who knows where the rest of the semester will take us? Stay tuned!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Snow Days at Saint Mike's

The view from my front door on this snowy day.

As I often tell my tours, the "snow day" is a rare occurrence at Saint Michael's College. Since we are a fully residential college, classes are never formally cancelled for the school. Most students have a less-than 5-minute walk from their domiciles to their classrooms, so it's pretty understandable.

("Come on, this is VERMONT. We don't stop for a few snowflakes!" says every native Vermonter, as they stand in 3 feet of snow bundled in their L.L. Bean coats wearing lumberjack hats and shoveling out their Subarus. Put on your big girl boots and toughen up, kid. We're in for a long winter--groundhog said so.)

However, just because it's still easy for the students to show up doesn't mean it's always this way for professors, so sometimes classes are cancelled on an individual or class-by-class basis. Every morning in the winter, students all over campus wake up in the morning and rush to their windows. If there's so much as a single flake in the air, they rush to their laptops with excitement equivalent to a small child's as they check their emails.

Now, I've heard plenty of stories. Profs SKIING to class in the morning to stay on top of their syllabus, doing everything they can to bring knowledge to their students (they're dedicated, and they are Vermonters, after all). In fact, many of them also live very close to campus and don't have long walks themselves. But, every now and then, a snowstorm can be too much for even the most well-weathered SMC professor.

So it is with great pleasure that I opened my laptop this morning, still wrapped in my cozy blanket and wearing my fuzzy sleep socks, to find that my prof for my only class today didn't want to risk it. He advised that we use the spare time to work on our projects and wished us a happy day.

Rather than venturing out in the cold, I decided to take him up on that opportunity and work from home on some things that needed to be done as well as more planning for my senior seminar project. I write to you from the warm comforts of my couch, wearing those same fuzzy sleep socks, sipping on some delicious French Vanilla hot chocolate.

Happy Snow Day to all! Stay warm everyone!

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Who is Not Here?"

This post is quite late in the making, but as my friend Merrill said--it's not exactly late when every day is a good day to talk about it, not just the national holiday to commemorate it.

And what's the "it"? Well, if I'm being honest, not just one thing. We learn at Saint Mike's that everything is connected--after all, that's the essence of a liberal arts education--and I can't think of a better example than this year's celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I began last week with a roommate outing to see Selma, the new film starring David Oyelowo as MLK. It's a heart-wrenching and incredibly beautiful tribute to not only Dr. King but the hundreds of thousands of people who supported the movement that we study in our textbooks today. I highly recommend seeing it, for anyone who hasn't yet.

One thing that really moved me about this film is the soundtrack, and my roommates and I have been listening to the song "Glory" on repeat. John Legend and Common together is a beautiful thing, and even better are the thought-provoking lyrics, which draw parallels between the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and today's modern movement for racial equality. This song is important because it drives us into the present, and over this past MLK celebration week, I've been impressed at seeing what can happen when we interpret our past in a way that can help us reflect on now.

The week started off with the MLK convocation, which is an annual event held in the chapel where different speakers are asked to come give a keynote address to kick off the week. This year, the headliner was Kevin Powell, an incredibly successful activist, writer, and public speaker. I think what I liked most about his speech was the inclusiveness of it. While the main takeaway was of course to continue working toward racial equality, he made note that we're not done with this conversation until people of all races, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability and age are treated with the same amount of acceptance and respect, all around the world. His words inspired and ignited. The night continued with speeches from students, beautiful music, and incredible poetry.

However, I think the most important thing about this event was the theme. The name for this week's discussion was, "Who is Not Here?" and I think that's the best question we, as a student body, should be asking ourselves. This is what I mean by bringing Dr. King's words into the present, into this time and place.

It's no secret that a private, Catholic, liberal arts college in Vermont would draw in a specific crowd. We are a school of predominantly white, middle-class skiers and snowboarders from the New England area. Despite Saint Michaels' best efforts to increase diversity on campus, the majority of our students have the same background and have lived very similar lives. So we must ask, who is not here? And by their absence, what are we missing?

I remember as a first-year student taking my Race, Gender and Ethnicity in the Media class. I was excited for it, and then on the first day looking around the room and thinking, how are we going to have a conversation about race when the student body in this classroom only represents one of them? When the most racially diverse class I had here came my senior year, and that was because a whopping 4 out of 18 students were a race other than white, I had to take a step back and think, how have I isolated myself so much from being able to learn in a diverse community--and what am I not learning because of it?

That's not to say that it's not an inclusive community here. Looking around at my peers, I know that I am surrounded by intelligent, socially engaged people who are quick to strike up a conversation with anyone around them, no matter their race, class, age, etc. They're interested in everyone and everything, they aren't quick to make judgments, they're good listeners, and they care about the world and the people in it. They're like me. They were attracted to Saint Mike's for the friendly community as well as the rigorous academics, the challenges they knew they'd get here. They came here for those things.

And yet...and yet. They came here too, though, because they were able.

They were able to come here because they went through a school system that prepared them for college. A school system with enough resources to truly challenge them and to empower them into believing they would accomplish everything they set their minds to. Most of them had supportive families and friends encouraging them. Many of them had guidance counselors and other helping hands. Many of them had money. They took tests that favored literature they grew up knowing, written by men who looked like them, cultures that were familiar to theirs. They grew up comfortable, and that led them here.

Moise St. Louis, Dean of Students and also our Director of Multicultural Affairs, said something at the beginning of the evening that really stuck with me. He told us that sometimes, we do our best learning when we are uncomfortable. He told us not to bat off our discomfort, but to sit with it. If it feels like something's wrong, then something's wrong.

On an individual level, it's nobody's fault. But collectively, we don't have to accept this separate world we live in the way it is. And to begin that conversation, well, that does start with individuals. So, this is me acknowledging my privilege. It is my privilege to be here at this prestigious institution, because I was able to be here. I chose it because it was the best education I could possibly get, and that is my privilege--one of many. I support the diversity initiative here at Saint Mike's, but I'm arguing (and I think everyone would agree) that we need more. More needs to be done, and it needs to happen now.

That's all very good and idealistic, isn't it? So where are the real, concrete answers here? I'm going to be honest--I don't know. Even after sitting in the chapel and being so impassioned by Kevin Powell's words, by this beautiful collective moment of catharsis we shared...I walked out of there and immediately felt flattened back out. What do I do? What do we do?

The answers aren't easy to come by. That's why I needed this education in the first place. Sometimes I think that the only thing I learned here is that I know nothing. But, ironically, I had a professor who once told me that that was all I ever needed to know. Because if I know that I know nothing, then I'll keep searching.

Hopefully, enough of us will keep searching. If we do, we will find each other, and someday we will all end up here.

PS: On a related note, I want to take a moment to congratulate my long-distance friend Fatima, who has been awarded for her outstanding journalism on her city's response to the Ferguson verdict. You can read her work here, on her school's newspaper website. Keep reporting the truth, Fats, even when it's something other people might not want to hear.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Second Semester, Senior Year.

Well, here we are, folks!

Y'all know how much I love it here at Saint Mike's, so it's a little bittersweet to know that my time is so extremely limited now. I feel like I have to accomplish so many things in a very small number of days in order to have had the true Saint Michael's and Vermont experience. I'm suddenly rushing to write a bucket list with my housemates, hoping I'll have time for everything in this race against the clock.

But at the same time, I realize that feeling does a total injustice to everything I have done here over the past three and a half years. And I've done a LOT.

And, despite the mixed feelings about having to leave so soon, I can't help but feel that the time is right. Even though I have some really interesting classes this semester with some fantastic professors (we'll get to those details in a moment), it's been taking me some extra motivation to care about attending them as much as I did when I was a first-year. I'm still learning so much, but I'm starting to feel a bit beyond the classroom vibe. I'm ready to show up (to whatever I end up doing in a few months) in the morning with the same vigor that I went to an 8am class with three years ago (thinking that's what it means to "sleep in"...silly young Lauren).

That feeling has nothing to do with my schedule and everything to do with senioritis (a post on that is in progress). So, without further ado, here's what I've got going on as well as my predictions for the semester:

1.) The Great (Fire)Wall: Monday & Wednesday, 1:30-3:05 P.M.

I am of course very excited to be taking this course, as I'll be learning about a culture I know nothing about--just like before I went to Morocco. I'm especially curious about the media environment in China, as we're all aware that the internet is heavily monitored (I wonder if you can access my blog in China...?). One thing I am NOT thrilled with: hearing the other students discuss their excitement to go on the trip, as I unfortunately won't be able to make it. The group leaves a couple days after graduation, and between my financial situation after having traveled so much in the spring and summer (read: I'm broke) and my current state of "what the heck are my plans for a few months from now" I wasn't comfortable with taking off for another adventure just yet. Everything is a bit too up in the air for that.

So yeah, I'm a little jealous, but I'm not the only one in my class who isn't going. Despite my travel bug, I do think the class will be worthwhile. This is also my first experience with Professor Rob Williams, or "Dr. W" as he refers to himself, and he's super charismatic and definitely passionate about this subject. He opens every class with a loud and proud "Ni Hao!"

2.) Environmental Hazards: Tuesday & Thursday, 9:45-11:20 A.M.

This is my final class to complete my Environmental Studies minor. I had the option to take any ES course offered this semester, as I already completed the required courses. At first I really wanted to take Buddhism and the Environment, but for scheduling purposes I thought this might work better for me. It turns out that what started out as my second option is quickly becoming a major topic of interest for me. I'm more interested in the social side of natural disasters, including anything from prevention to human impact to legislation. We're covering all of that, plus learning about how natural disasters occur and some of the science-y things behind them (yes, I'm truly a liberal arts kid through and through...).

We're also looking at this from a global perspective, so I'm pretty pumped for our research paper (yes, you heard me right. Pumped. For a research paper.) where we get to choose a country and look at what types of environmental hazards they've had within the past generation or so, and how they've dealt with them. At first I was totally ready to start looking at Morocco, but now with my China class I'm thinking maybe I'll do some searching there, too. Actually, this week in my China class someone mentioned the smog over Beijing due to factory processes, and the types of human health and environmental impacts this has had. Maybe I'll do some more digging around, but it's nice to know I already have a few options in mind.

The major con: as with a lot of topics in ES, this can get incredibly depressing. You can't talk about environmental hazards without talking about degradation and death. But I think that's what makes it so important, too, and why it needs discussion. The other con is that my textbook still hasn't arrived in the mail, but thankfully Professor Stroup is super nice and allowed me to make copies from hers for the time being so I don't fall behind. I'm glad I asked for help!

3.) Senior Sem: Wednesdays, 3:15-6:20 P.M.

This course description is accurate, and yet it tells you NOTHING. What do you need to know about this course?

This course will empower you and routinely crush your dreams at the same time, and it is fantastic.

What do I mean by that? Okay, so maybe it was a little melodramatic, but basically this course is a whole lot of work with a whole lot of reward. It's just like the ISJ I did in Morocco, but on a bigger scale. And honestly, after doing my ISJ, I absolutely can't wait to jump into this project.

So as you know, I'm working with my best friend Sheila on a documentary film about ageism and forming relationships in senior citizen communities. We've been doing research and establishing contacts, and now it's time to get filming. I'm meeting up with her and Professor Hyde later this afternoon to discuss our next steps and how we're going to accomplish the huge task we have in front of us.

It's obviously a ton of outside work, so why the three-hour class? It's a great time to collaborate with other groups, learn about their topics, and bounce ideas off of each other. Each week a different person brings snacks, and it's basically having a homework party with your best friends. I can tell, this class is going to be like hitting a refresh button for me. Whenever I get stressed out, it helps me to walk into class and talk to my professors and classmates. Not only do they validate my concerns, but they also help me work through them when I'm stuck. Looking around the room at our first meeting the other day, I was so content. And once we got talking and pitching our ideas, it was like someone lit a fire. We feed off of each other's passion and drive, and that is by far what I love most about our little Bergeron community.

What a perfect way to end four years, right?

So, in case you haven't noticed, that's three classes, four days a week. That leaves me with one less class than normal and a whole gosh-darn day!

I only needed 8 credits to graduate, as some of my high school AP courses carried over and counted for college credit. So I chose to take 12 (that way I'm still a full-time student with health insurance) and allow myself a day off in the process. Since I'm really committed to this senior seminar documentary, I honestly don't think I'll have as much free time as one might expect. And I'm glad to have a 3-day weekend--Sheila and I are already planning a trip to New York City to interview some people there for our documentary, and this gives me more travel time without missing class.

But for now, I'm happy to use my Fridays as blog days and to get a head start on work for the next week. I'm feeling really good about getting back into the groove after a long and mostly uneventful winter break--not having any projects gets a bit boring!

To all my readers, good luck embarking on this new semester!