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  • Shannon Brault

13th Grade: Part 2

Going into the transfer, I knew it was going to be hard. You're at an all-new place, with all new people trying to get acclimated to the new norms of your life. No one seemed to talk about how hard it is to transfer, which meant I didn't know just how hard it was going to be. I was nervous because I didn't want a repeat of the previous semester as I was barely acclimated to the place I was at before switching everything up again. I was once again outside of everything I had previously known and that was terrifying for me. My parents and I decided that living at home would make the most sense and that it was the best option for me, but I also was scared about that. How was that going to impact my ability to make friends? Would I be granted a parking pass in the lottery system? How would that complicate things? Would it take me longer to figure out how to navigate a big 10 campus on my own?

(Of course in the Shannon Brault manner, just like how I graduated, had my grad party and went to Eau Claire orientation in a matter of three days, I went to UMN orientation the day before leaving for a 10-day trip in which I would start classes the day after I got back, because, ya know, why not??)

On the first day of the semester at UMN I got to campus about an hour before my first class with enough time to walk from my parking spot to West Bank where my first class was. I was too scared to try the busses and I was nervous I would get on the wrong one, so I walked in -18 degree windchill to my first class. It took me 45 minutes to complete the walk and I quite literally thought I got frostbite. I was quite shy like I am in completely new situations. I barely talked to anyone in my classes unless I was forced to and even then I was so scared I was being awkward. Commuting to campus every day served to be a bit tougher than I originally thought and for the 8 weeks I was on campus until COVID hit, I was too shy to talk to people. In my 8 weeks physically on campus, I was trying so hard to get involved, find my people, and find my path. I sent a dozen emails to different clubs receiving few responses. I applied for 3 on-campus jobs but never heard back from any of them. I was working my way up to talking to people in my classes and trying a few different things when everything went online, which quite honestly left me fully heartbroken and more lost than I’ve felt in a long time.


While there were so many things I wanted to do and didn’t get the chance to, within those 8 weeks I did ski my first American Birkebeiner, I skied in the USCSA Conference Championships, met Joanne Bland again at the Youth Activism event through the Reverend Dr.MLK Jr. office, started coaching for Trail Kids through the Loppet Foundation, and I got to further my voice in the world of recovery through being a part of the WithAll Gala video and a volunteer at the event. This year may not have looked anything like how I’ve planned it for years, but there is a list of things that made me feel alive and happy in ways I haven’t felt before, or in a long time. The ones I listed in both this post and the last, the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, graduating, a road-trip to Glacier National Park less than a week after a road trip to Toronto, and meeting some of my favorite people ever at the most unexpected times. I may be having an incredibly hard time right now, but I’m hoping to live and love again soon and have the happiest year yet, and the best start to the rest of my life.


Picture with Grace, Haleigh, Chloe, and Mos in Little Rock, Arkansas on the CRP. This was after we had some free time to get lunch in the global market. We had some free time to explore and we walked on the trail over by this bridge. It was super windy and I remember some of us not being about it AT ALL and super excited to get off the bridge and back onto stable ground.

Picture at the Birkie Expo with Alex, Erin, Dani, and Olympic Gold Medalist Kikkan Randall. It was super cool to meet Kikkan again about a year later and the night before racing 50 kilometers (31 miles) (and let me tell you... it was toasty and hard, but rewarding and wonderful).


Picture with the team members from the UMN ski club who raced at the USCSA Conference Championships in Rhinelander, Wisconsin at the end of February. Overall the women's team got 2nd in the Conference as an accumulative result of the 3 races we participated in. Not even close to everyone who raced in those 3 races are in this picture, but we received our team plaque there. One comment from this weekend is that a week after racing 50k, and a night after some intense broomball and tubing does not lead to great results in a 10 and 15k race for me, but the lesson has been learned.

Going on to talk about the last few months (10 weeks, but who’s counting) would take another whole blog post, but I’ve been beating up on myself as I have wanted to type this up and post it for weeks. I use this blog to both help myself process the things in my life and to also help everyone who reads it to do the same and be their own voice and force to be reckoned with in their own lives. I have been racking my brain trying to think of what to say. It was confusing to me as I think about my growth and experiences every day. These are my lived experiences so it baffled me how I couldn’t find the words to describe what has happened and what is continuing to happen. I lived this and am continuing to live it, but I knew that I didn’t have the right words to say just yet and I needed to give it time. I watched the collective celebration of the class of 2020 "Graduate Together 2020" as I too feel lost at this time. Less than a year ago I graduated high school, but it feels like my life has been on pause since then. I feel a disconnect with my memories and myself over the last year. I look back on pictures and I know those moments happened, but they don’t feel like they happened to me. They don’t feel like they're my memories. It’s this bizarre feeling and I wanted this post to be like my others. I wanted to sit down and easily write out a post that incorporated what I learned and how I have grown in the last year, but as it was said in Graduate Together, in this crazy time, we don’t have the privilege of hindsight yet. I’m having a hard time looking back at these experiences and crystallizing what I’ve learned because I’m still living this story. This chapter of my life is not over at the end of the academic year. It is heartbreaking to me because I’ve been looking forward to college for as long as I can remember. High school wasn’t a good time for me and I was always told college would be better, that I would thrive in college and whatever lay ahead of me would be better than whatever I was leaving behind. I have been getting so into my head lately, especially with all this time to think and reflect, and I started to think that every person that told me these optimistic things was just giving me false hope. That what I was doing and continue to do to create the world and life I want isn’t doing anything and that I am destined to feel like an outsider without a clear place where I belong. I feel stuck again, right when I got the chance to be my own person outside of everything I’ve known and create my life. After graduating high school it felt like my life was ending, when it was really just beginning (bizarre). But once I was able to grasp that concept, life threw me another curveball and said “now you have to wait some more”. I can't help but think of all the "should, coulda, woulda"s at this moment and it's been quite detrimental. Maybe this was the worst time to transfer. Maybe I'm doing it all wrong. Maybe I messed this up along the way. Maybe I'll never find a place that feels like my own, and maybe this and maybe that. I can't get a grasp on what is happening right now and it terrifies me, frustrates me, and makes me feel like I'm completely out of control. I'm trying to stay hopeful, but sometimes that's hard. This is a time that is testing a lot of us. And maybe I'm saying this more for myself, but hope is important, but you don't need to be strong all the time. This is tough for me at the moment, but I try to remember that "we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope" (Dr.MLK Jr.).


Picture with Joanne Bland at the Youth Activism event at the beginning of March. Ms.Bland was a teenage participant of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama and I received the opportunity to meet her on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage back in January through UWEC, and again when she came to campus on that March night. She is a true inspiration and a lovely, tough soul. She has spent her life fighting for Civil Rights and it was a true honor to get to hear her speak two times in the matter of a few months.

Again, this is not to say I’m special, quirky, or someone struggling more than others, but it is to say that our stories are important. They are what make us who we are and help bring us to where we are going to be. I share my stories here to empower those around me. We all have voices and I believe it is our responsibility to use those voices to reach out and relate to others, to create change, to share our visions for the world, and then after that, to implement the things we talk about. Recently I know everyone has been having a hard time, but I have heard so many people dismissing others and being dismissed with the reminder that everyone is having a tough time and that other people have it harder. I have always hated that mindset and I think I always will. Just because other people are also having a hard time or seem to be having it worse than you do does not mean your problems don't matter. If anything, it means they should matter more, and people should be listening to everyone around them. If we are really in this together, then we need to be there for each other and not try to rank who is having the worst time like it is a prize to be won.


I'm feeling lost without a clue of where I need to go from here or how to make anything better. I’ve read this a few times in the last few months through both Becoming by Michelle Obama and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; the idea that you can't go looking for your purpose because your purpose finds you. I’ve never known how to feel about this idea. I’m not one to want to wait around since I have spent nearly my entire life until this point for things in my life to magically get better and get to where I need them and want them to be. I wait for life to show me signs and I continue to wait until I am suddenly compelled to act. I was in the position to want to take matters into my own hands and now life is on hold and I don’t know how to deal with it. My anxiety makes me think this situation will last forever and I will never be truly happy or make friends or have fun in these years that are somehow supposed to be the best years of my life according to the media and a boatload of people you'll ask on the street. I'm very much a "life is more than just a waiting game" kind of person and an "if you want it truly then you have to go get it", so it is a matter of figuring out what we can do in this moment to not wait but to be proactive in this time.


Picture with Lisa Radzak at the WithAll Gala. I had a quick phone call with Lisa at the end of April to serve as a check-in and we talked about everything that was going on at the time. Lisa and I talked about how college is advertised to be the best 4 years of your life and you expect it to be amazing at all times when in reality it often is hard no matter how you spin it. Again, I cannot speak to the experience of everyone, but in her experience and my experience thus far, it's been difficult.


It is going on 11 weeks of social distancing for me and it hasn't gotten any easier. I'm waiting for it to be over like everyone else and praying for that day to come soon. I have consumed way too much media via the internet and otherwise. I have consumed conflicting ideas and ideas that saying you're having a hard time is selfish and other people acting like there is absolutely nothing happening that is of any danger to anyone. I'm also waiting for my rationale to kick in. I'm waiting for the reminder and to truly believe this is part of the journey, that something positive can and will come out of this, and that this is only temporary. The truth is that I need control over my situations to a certain extent or else I spiral. It is hard for me to believe that this is temporary and that things will once again be happy when there is no end date in sight. I enjoy working seasonal jobs because they have a clear start and end date, I enjoy events that start and end at certain times and I enjoy having a jam-packed schedule without too much time to think and spiral. Once again we do not have the privilege of hindsight yet, but in the meantime I need to learn how to be at peace with where I'm at and I think this is an important lesson for all of us.



To wrap this up, I want to connect this to our own journeys. First semester when I moved dorm rooms in early November, I was so pleasantly surprised to find that the wing was decorated in a way that was so near and dear to my heart and my journey. My RA had super cute, motivational, and supportive things scattered on the walls of the hallway like the giving tree, the goals wall, the birthday campfire, and my two personal favorites: a sign in the bathroom next to the mirror reading “WARNING: Reflections in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty” And her motivations mountain. The mountain stemmed from the idea that you could take a slip when you needed it depending on where you were at along your journey comparing it to climbing to the peak of the mountain. These slips were close to what I needed and the journey at the time.



Last week I taped them to my wall during an especially tough few days. This year has been tougher than I could have ever imagined throwing more at me than I thought I could ever handle. Transferring was uprooting my normal for the 4th time in a year and I just kept thinking about the last slip on the mountain when I was moving out and moving on: “Sometimes the most difficult part of our joinery is looking up at another challenge when we’re only understood our growth from the previous mountain. Life is a constant journey of just that: growth”. That helped me immensely and after the last few days which have been the toughest I’ve had in a really long time, I need to remind myself of that now more than ever.

If I’ve learned anything in life it’s that life will continue and the best thing to do is to move with it. It can and will be terrible and lonely at times, but you will dance again and you will love again. You will most importantly be happy again even if it takes way longer than you want or need it to. I’m hoping it’ll be soon, but for now we just have to continue as much as sometimes we don’t want to. But as David Bowie once said:


“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”

And oh boy, when we are able to truly live again in the way I so crave, I can promise you I won't make wherever I go boring and I hope the same for you.


With much Love,

Shannon


As further motivation and reminders, especially in these big transitional moments, here is the motivation mountain my RA put in our hallway and helped me get through that transition of time.


1. Before you is a big challenge, perhaps one of the biggest challenges you have yet to face, but remember, you wouldn’t be standing in front of this challenge if you weren’t ready for the journey.


2. By now, you’ve begun your climb and you’ve had to put more energy into your environment to get on top of some rocks. Remind yourself often of these moments of success, even if they may seem small.


3. Take a moment to breathe. This is a resting point in your journey. Reflect on the challenges you’ve grown to overcome and look up the peak that you have yet to conquer.


4. As you descend this small peak, you may slip and lose your sense of direction. This is okay. Sometimes, we have to lose our way to find the right path.


5. You’ve climbed through the foothills and you are ready to face an even bigger challenge. Looking up at this peak may be overwhelming and scary, but sometimes when we feel scared, it means we’re about to do something really brave.


6. You’ve made it. Look out at the boulders that you navigated and the smaller peak that you once stood on top of. You are so strong. Now, look out at the peaks you have yet to climb. You’ve grown through this challenge and you will grow through the peaks to come.


7. Life is unpredictable and there are downfalls that follow even your greater achievements. Remember the inner strength you possess while facing these challenges ahead. Personal growth is on the horizon.


8. Sometimes the most difficult part of our journey is looking up at another challenge when we’ve only just understood our growth from the previous mountain. Life is a constant journey of just that: growth.

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