Ending the year on a note of Hope

Hope Johnson, Free Minds ’11, spoke on behalf of her class at graduation on May 23. We published excerpts in our May newsletter. Below is the full text of Hope’s speech.

Hello faculty, supporters, family and friends of this year’s graduating class of Free Minds. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for accompanying us on what was a tearful, joyous and life-altering journey.

Vivé Griffith is the Free Minds Director whose dedication to the students (past and present), faculty, and overall Free Minds program is boundless. Vivé provided comfort, continuity and an atmosphere of open expression. Even during her own personal loss, Vivé was present and available to us students and we want to say thank you for being there. To our professors we were fortunate to learn with, thank you for your steadfast dedication and true investment in our growth and the expansion of our minds. And to Free Minds’s contributors and supporters, thank you for your continued belief and support in the Free Minds’s core principals. I’d like to also use this time to say a special thank you to Hana for supporting Vivé and all of us beyond expectations, and to Amanda, who fed us, and by feeding us helped us foster a collegiate community like no other. Lastly can we all give Amanda a round of applause for the wonderful job she did with putting together this year’s graduation.

It was not easy encapsulating all of our experiences over two semesters but what stands out as one of many of our memorable events was during our first semester when we acted out Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was for some of us our first experience with Shakespeare. Yes we encountered Shakespeare during high school, but how many of us completed the class saying to ourselves, “I like Shakespeare, I totally understood that dude’s play”? It took our writing professor to ask us to write about this play from the viewpoint of defining nature. I’m not sure if any of us had expectations of writing a paper and the theme of the paper or creating thesis statements. Imagine being asked to view a piece of work from a viewpoint foreign to your understanding. That request was our first taste of critical thinking. We all bled on this assignment but in the end I believe it made each one of us better students.

When Clayton Stromberger came to class and helped us decode A Midsummer Night’s Dream through drama, well, Shakespeare was brought to life in a way we weren’t quite expecting. We witnessed Lucia’s fun side, Jermaine’s comedic take on the text, and if someone would’ve told me that I would be lying on the floor up close and personal displaying my superior acting abilities, I would’ve told them no way, my acting is reserved for my mind only! But, that is what’s great about Shakespeare, you can read the play, you can see the play, but we learned this play intimately through acting out one of the scenes and it was a nice break from our regular routine. Reading and performing a portion of Shakespeare’s play, we learned the breath of his words and we experienced a glimpse inside the mind of Shakespeare and not think his way of writing or speaking is weird (like some of us did when we were in high school).

The second benefit of Free Minds is critical analysis, which I will confess I believed I had when I started Free Minds, subsequently I [no] we learned what we perceived critical analysis to mean was just the tip of what we’ve come to learn about critical analysis. Critical thinking and critical analysis are my two best friends as they have helped all of us learn on a deeper level the information being disseminated in any form. I encourage my fellow classmates to take these tools and teach them to just one person and ask in return that they teach another; if we teach one, we will reach many!

We had a creative class on loss. We had a free write session where we were asked to write about something or someone we lost. Think you know what happened next? Well, you don’t, because in true Vivé fashion she flipped the script on us and requested that we pick one line out of what we poured out on the paper and expand on that sentence. Ready, set, go! I believe that is the first time we started to learn about each other’s past and who we were as individuals; that’s when we began to tell our stories. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote in class that day:

What did I know? What did I know about being a parent? I thought it was providing food, a roof and a body if and when you were to get into trouble. What did I know when I spoke the words “if you plan to die, do it quickly” how fast that would come to pass. What did I know, I thought I knew a lot but I knew nothing of a mother’s love.

That’s a small piece of my writing and I wish I could tell all of my classmates’ stories but instead, I will let their words express how FM has enriched their lives:

Rachel states her time with Free Minds as the most useful and valuable time of her life. Emily is a more confident student and she is no longer afraid to ask questions (she has also been accepted officially as a student of St. Edward’s. Go Emily!), Liz is no longer bounded by words she could never find, she has now found the words. Andrea has gained confidence, Lorena has found a new mantra that a lot of us could live by: “it’s never too late!” Fern expressed how Free Minds has strengthen her abilities as a writer, Lucia’s passion has been unlocked, Ileana has been given tools she will use well into her life as she continues her educational journey, and Free Minds has helped Shermin become a better reader, writer and thinker.

To Professor Jean Lauer, thank you for being direct and forward when dissecting tales of The Arabian Nights and teaching us about Humanities. I appreciate the abstract picture of Humanities you painted. Professor John González, thank you for defining literature and its significance in our world. This was ever so evident when we read the story of “The Open Boat.” And a special thank you to John’s lovely wife Patricia García who also participated during the Midsummer Night’s Dream portion of our literature unit. Congrats on the new addition to your household. Literature was brought to life by this husband and wife duo. Professor Tiffany Gill introduced history in a way our former educational experience did not. Thank you for sharing with us the different voices on slavery like those that travel from afar and landed on Ellis Island and the impact of the Americas had on their lives as slavery and immigrants came together or not during this time. Professor Noah Mass, thank you for your supportive critique, your patience and expertise which was demonstrated during our first major writing assignment.

Thank you, professors, for being who you are and knowing what you know and sharing that information. We will be eternally grateful to your contribution to the expansion of our minds.

In conclusion, I would be remiss if I did not thank family members who helped us, read with us, and cried with us through all of our assignments. Family members, who left us alone so we could study and those who helped typed a paper or two, okay maybe all of them…but you get the point. Lastly to extended family (our friends) who outside of Free Minds helped us connect the dots, were our sounding boards and any other way you all supported us during our re-introduction to college.

To that end, I would like to say in closing, I’m so glad I was part of Free Minds and the experience it has given us all and thank you to my classmates who believed enough in me to vote me class speaker.

We did it!

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