My first day of Composition class as
a college freshman was unforgettable. I walked into the classroom, saw the
desks arranged in a circle, sat down, and realized I could see everyone and
everyone could see me. My preference for sitting behind another person and
remaining invisible was challenged. "This class is not for the weak or the
half-steppers! You must develop people skills, learn to participate, share your
thoughts, edit each other's work and take charge of our discussions. If it's
not for you, drop this class and add a different section. That way, you won't
hold up the rest of us," Kirpal Gordon said. I was so taken aback that I
questioned if college was for me.
After deciding to not let fear choose my destiny, I stayed in the class. However, I wondered if I had made the right decision after receiving the grade for my first essay. The assignment was to interview my designated partner and write about their value to our class. It seemed self-explanatory and not too demanding. I interviewed my partner outside of class, got all of the intricate details on their life, and wrote what I thought was an A-worthy paper. I got back a C. How could I do this badly? What did I do wrong? Why didn't I bolt out the door like some of the others? The grade drove me mad, and I had to address KP.
I made an appointment to meet with him to review my paper. I was nervous but stood my ground that my paper deserved a better grade. I read it aloud, and we discussed my content and strategy. I started to see his perspective and what my writing lacked. Instead of reciting facts about my classmate, I should have recorded what made them unique and an asset to me. I had not included my own experience of my interviewee, which was a missed opportunity. I needed to break free from my high-school way of writing as reportage and get in tune with writing as a persuasive discourse. Per KP's suggestion, I decided to utilize the writing center.
I worked with tutors for other essays and walked away with something new from each session. By the end of the semester, I had gained in-depth skills in outlining and drafting, editing, formulating thoughts and ideas, and using proper grammar and punctuation. In addition, the multiple revisions of my work that I brought to the writing center started paying off. In all of my classes, my essay grades improved, and to this day, I have not received a C back in any of my college papers.
KP noticed an improvement in my writing. When the semester ended, he invited me to bring my essay, "Equal Opportunity: This Campus Was Made for You and Me," to the writing center. After many discussions and iterations of the work, I was finally happy with it. Once it was published at the Taking Giant Steps Press blog, the essay opened numerous doors for me. I became a proud member of the Commuter Student Association and have continued to be a commuter peer mentor for the last two years. Moreover, I had found my writing voice.
In my sophomore year, I interviewed a Guyanese family in my community for my research project in Anthropology class. After leaving Guyana for different reasons, the family has been living with undocumented status in the United States for over 15 years. As I spoke with them, I was amazed at how much the stories they were telling me were similar to the lessons I learned in the American history books like self-reliance, independence, ingenuity, and fortitude. To make matters more interesting, one of the couples had an American-born child. We discussed the identity struggles that she battles with, being the family member furthest from her ancestors in India and Africa and her parent's homeland of Guyana. I was so heavily impacted by this family that I asked to share their story. With their permission to write a book on their experiences, I met with KP in the hallway of the writing center and gave him a quick rundown of what occurred with this family. Then, I asked him if he thought I could use my research to develop a non-fiction book. Without hesitation, KP suggested Giant Steps Press and offered to assist me in writing the book.
I was nervous and second-guessed myself. However, my doubts subsided after KP slowly introduced me to the world of book writing. First, he showed me how to shape a rough outline into a three-act narrative. Then he shared with me how writers pitch their projects in a one-sentence summary, one-paragraph summary, and one-page summary. Like with my essays in the writing center, KP and I discussed my pitches until I was satisfied. Then we moved on to filling in the outline, creating character profiles, and fine-tuning the plot. Meanwhile, I read manuscripts that were in development at Giant Steps Press. I saw how they improved from one version to another.
KP invited me to extend my research and to contact scholars whose work could help inform my story. My confidence grew. Our conversations now included post-colonialism in the Caribbean, the works of V.S. Naipaul, the emergence of Little Guyana in South Queens, and the challenges my generation faced with dual identities. I began to see my book project as a way to build community and my future career. He mentioned the value of incorporating social media and introduced me to Emily Rivera, a Hofstra graduate building her career through her internship with GSP. She is currently the public relations consultant to the press and helped me create and curate Backtrack Journeys, my blog that celebrates my writing adventure on the undocumented Guyanese in Little Guyana. A skilled photographer and copywriter, Emily showed me how to use text and images to create a post that intrigues and informs. She had also been apprenticing with Steve Hirsch, a technical wizard at GSP, and had just learned how to format an index and an appendix. I will need to use these two elements in my book, and Emily offered to train me in these skills.
Since my internship is something that I am creating, I choose the things that I want to do. This freedom has allowed me to continue thriving in other parts of my life. As a full-time student at Hofstra University majoring in Criminology and Sociology with an Anthropology minor, I get to adjust the workload based on my schedule. I am grateful for this because I don't have to make sacrifices to my work that will impact my education.
Looking back on the day I met KP, I am glad to not have left his class in favor of an "easy-A" class because I experienced the benefits of persistence and hard work, which led me to develop my writing voice. And once I used my writing voice to publish my first essay, opportunities welcomed me. All those moments led up to today, where I find myself as a senior in a spot I didn't know was possible. I am authoring a book that celebrates my own heritage.