I attended my final class at the University of Southern California (USC) last Wednesday, and I thought this would be a good time to look back at the ups and downs of navigating college with a disability. The support of those around me and staying true to my calling have sustained me over the past four years. The key to my success was finding a balance. My experience at USC has changed me for the better, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ll admit I was afraid to spend my first night away from home in my dorm room. My parents lagged for as long as they could, but I eventually forced them out. Then it was just me in my room, with a bed, stretching table, desk, dresser, and scooter. I was lonely until I realized I was free to do whatever I wanted.
The first week I was more socially active than my parents and I thought I would be. I boldly made new friends and sought out on-campus activities, including the Navigators, Club H20, and the Daily Trojan, the university’s student newspaper. Let’s just say there was a lot of free pizza.
My second weekend away from home, I attended a free Taco Bell concert headlined by Walk the Moon. Between writing and copy editing for the Daily Trojan, attending club meetings and classes, doing homework, and managing my condition, my life quickly became hectic.
I was faced with a tough decision in the spring semester of my freshman year with an offer to be promoted to news editor at the Daily Trojan. The role required me to stay in the office until midnight. The problem was that I had class early in the morning. I remember calling my dad in tears because I wanted to be an editor, but my first week showed me that it wasn’t sustainable, especially with Duchenne.
I reached a compromise with student leadership at the newspaper and became deputy news editor so that I could leave early on the days I had morning classes. I also switched out of an 8 a.m. class.
College life slapped me in the face. I realized two things: I could not do everything I wanted to do at USC, and my health was paramount to school. The common thread was balance.
Without balance we would succumb to the forces of gravity every day. In the same way, I would have burned out, and my health would be prevented me from continuing at USC. I was forced to make a hard choice, the first of many throughout my college career. That realization made it easier to refuse people who asked me to do something that I couldn’t.
In college, I am accountable for my schedule, which is more responsibility than I had four years ago. With Duchenne, that meant I had to make all of my medical appointments and find time for someone to help me with my daily stretching exercises. I had classes, interviews for the newspaper, and club meetings.
I am currently reading a book called “Spiritual Leadership,” in which author J. Oswald Sanders writes about the amount of time we have in a week.
“As in the parable of the pounds where each servant was given the same amount of money, we each have been given the same amount of time,” Sanders writes. “Certainly those hours determine whether life is commonplace or extraordinary.”
Sanders puts this concept of balancing time in a simple and powerful way. I’ve slowly gotten better at balancing the 168 hours that I have each week. I must account for each second, minute, and hour. As I’ve practiced this idea, I’ve gotten adequate sleep and learned to put my health first while succeeding in class and life.
There have been days in my college career when I felt like I had too much to do and not enough time to do it. When those scenarios arise, I say a little prayer, take a deep breath, and open up my schedule.
Things may not turn out exactly the way you want them to, but you can at least get your priorities straight. In my case, those are faith, health, and plenty of rest. And you can achieve them if you balance yourself appropriately.
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