Trend: What is next for education spending in Oklahoma?

By OLAN FIELD

Seven months and a midterm election later, the lasting effects of Oklahoma’s teacher walkout in April remains anything but clear.

According to Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, 70 to 80 former teachers left their positions after the walkout in April to run for the state legislator. Rosecrants is a former teacher who was first elected in a special election in 2017, after his predecessor resigned, inspired to run after a decade of cuts to public education dating to 2007.

“I honestly had heard numbers, and people were telling me, ‘You know, that wasn’t going to be a big blue wave, but it was going to be a big educator wave,’ and we saw that,” Rosecrants said.

Education was a top issue discussed in the run-up to the election, with every candidate being questioned about their plan to its restore funding. Oklahoma cut the education budget by 26.9 percent between 2008 and 2017, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. According to the latest data from the National Center of Education Statistics, Oklahoma spends $8,096 per student.

Former educators ran as both Democrats and Republicans, illustrating that this was not a partisan issue for voters. With many of these educators beating their incumbent opponents who voted against measures that would increase taxes and be allocated toward public education.

This is what newly elected Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, did when she ran against incumbent Bobby Cleveland, an opponent of the teacher walkout who voted against HB 1010 and stated during the workout that “The the teachers should be in the classroom.”

With funding to public education being a significant influence on the election, an educated assumption would be that it will be a focus of the coming legislative session, but some representatives say that the topic may take a second-row seat.

“We will have to wait and see if more revenue will go to education, or if it’s time to move on to something else,” Rosecrants said. “Criminal justice reform and mental health issues are the two big issues, and I think you’re going to see that with this particular session rather than education.”

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, believes that more effort needs to be placed on finding revenue measures that can increase spending for public education.

“We had 10 years of cuts to public education equaling about a billion dollars. There is no way that one year of increased funding is going to make up for that incredible loss,” said Priest.

The Oklahoma Education Association, through a coalition called ‘Save Our State,’ proposed a variety of budget revenue options in what they call a “blueprint for a better budget.” This plan includes raising the gross production tax on oil and gas by another two percent and reforming the corporate income tax.

On March 29, four days before the start of the teacher walkout, Gov. Mary Fallin signed both HB 1010 and HB 1023 under threat of an impending teacher strike.

HB 1010 was the largest tax increase ever to be passed in the state of Oklahoma. The revenue packages totaling $474 million through a variety of revenue measures including an increase in the gross production tax to five percent, a $5 hotel/motel tax, and an increase to the sales tax on gasoline and diesel. HB 1023, allocated revenue from HB 1010 to fund the $5,000 raise to first-year teachers.

Over the weekend, it was unsure if the teacher walkout would continue on Monday as planned. Teachers would still show up, demanding an increase in funding for the classroom. The walkout would end after nine days as some of the state’s largest districts resumed class, without any significant legislation being passed.

Morgan Russell, a teacher at Westmoore High School who attended the teacher walkout, believes the “education crisis is still a crisis.”

“(Teacher raises) are not the sole reason we were at the Capitol,” Russell said. “We didn’t get funding for the classroom. That means our students are still using textbooks that are ancient and that we still have too many students in our classroom that are still falling apart.”

Russell understands that education is not the only issue facing the state, but believes that it is a root cause for many of the other issues.

“We incarcerate more women per capita than any other state, and the data clearly shows that when education goes up, incarcerations go down. Our state, in particular, has a school to prison pipeline, so we need to address the problem from both ends,” Russell said.

It is still unknown if the newly elected legislators who ran on an agenda to increase education spending will have their way in the coming session, or if they will have to negotiate their votes with the leadership in favor of having education funding measures heard on the floor.

“I don’t personally believe education will be pushed aside in the near future,” said Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee. “Win or lose, Republican or Democrat, start looking at the big picture of things that we need to fix. Many different areas across the state, including education and prioritize them. Until then, our state will continue to be at the bottom of all of this.”

Education will certainly be on the minds of many at the Capitol, but whether or not any legislation for more spending on public education remains to be seen.

Human Interest: Firefighters taking on a threat within their own departments

By OLAN FIELD

When local firefighters and paramedics respond to a 9-1-1 call, they normally meet an individual having one of the worst days of their life.

For Mike Nettles, a Guthrie firefighter, this reality would hit close to home on a cold winter’s day, when he found himself responding to a rollover accident where a small girl, the same age as his daughter, would die.

“I would say kids are the worst part of this job,” Nettles said. “They can’t protect themselves. They rely on adults to keep them safe. When that’s not done, you just know that there is a life that has been wasted because of somebody else. If an adult decides not to wear a seatbelt and drive 130 mph on an icy highway and gets in a wreck. That is a decision the driver made. The child can’t make those decisions for themselves.”

The small girl was unbuckled playing in the rear cargo hold in an SUV. During the rollover, this rear portion took the brunt of the roll. Everyone else in the vehicle would survive.

The sights first responders see and the voices they hear can remain with them long after an accident. The men and woman who put on the uniform are human just like the rest of us – a bunch of type-A personalities who volunteer for this line of work to serve to help those in need and protect those most vulnerable. Society labels these people as heroes. Young kids look up to them and often say, “I want to be a firefighter when I grow up.” But what happens when a hero is the one in need?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental illness that has typically been associated with military members returning from war. Firefighters and paramedics are not the first people who come to mind, but increasingly, departments around the nation are seeing signs of the mental illness among their coworkers and are acting to curb the problem.

The threat of PTSD is not believed to be a new problem, according to the Association of Fire Fighters, rather the problem is beginning to gain attention and be taken seriously.

“I do feel like the if there is a stigma that exists within not just firefighters, but in all three (police, paramedics and firefighters) overall that exist,” said Greg Machtolff, a firefighter and police officer in Guthrie, when asked about a stigma that prevents first responders from seeking help.

According to a study from the International Association of Fire Fighters in 2016, almost 20 percent of firefighters experience signs of PTSD, such as disturbed sleep, increased irritability, self-destructive or reckless behavior.

“I don’t know what it would take (to change the stigma). Probably just more talking about it. We usually hash all our problems out at this table you’re sitting at right now,” said Nettles, sitting at a solid oak table in the kitchen of the Guthrie Fire Department.

The table and kitchen are just inside the building from the garage. It is the first room Guthrie firefighters enter after responding to a call.

The most common signs of PTSD in firefighters are replaying the event in their mind, difficulty sleeping, or upsetting thoughts and feelings, according to the Association of Fire Fighters.

Guthrie’s firefighters have resources for help if requested. Machtolff explained resources in Oklahoma City’s and Edmond’s fire departments are accessible.

“It would have to take city and state government actions,” said Machtolff, in response to taking greater action in addressing PTSD. “Without their support that is not going to happen.”

The cultural stigma to suppress any form of emotion in a predominantly male-dominated field, is a real problem. In 2017, more firefighters died from suicide than out during a call. At least 103 firefighter suicides in comparison to 93 firefighters in the line of duty.

In 2017, Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery opened to better address the needs that come with mental health, substance abuse and alcoholism of firefighters and paramedics.

“I mean there’s always the ‘tough guys’ stigma with any kind of emergency services,” said Machtolff.

“(First responders) are definitely A-type personalities and probably a lot of those people, you know, bottle stuff, so that they can maintain the appearance of that A-type personality. It is totally not necessary,” Nettles said.

The cultural stigma that surrounds seeking help for PTSD results in first responders being afraid of being perceived as weak. Along with not having a clear course for recovery, others fear the results of missing work for extended periods.

“Getting back to the job or, you know, losing out on some of their retirement. There is not a set program. I think that we need to have a program to where we know that if you have this problem, you can do something,” Machtolff said. “Verbalize the process of when you tell somebody that I can’t, you know? I’m having a problem. I can’t sleep. I’m stressed out. You know, that incident really bothering me. There’s nothing that says OK, from step A through Z, then we try to get you back to your work.”

With the 2016 study from the International Association of Fire Fighters, some departments have acted, to ensure that firefighters have the access to help that they may need.

“I think we definitely have taken steps in the right direction for mental health,” said Parker Melendez, a first-year firefighter and paramedic in Guthrie. “This department, there are still some changes that could be made, and some stigmas lifted to maybe make that a little bit better.”

The future is not clear on how city and state governments will act in the struggle of understanding and caring for firefighters with PTSD. Until then, first responders will continue to work like heroes.

First responders with continue to conduct one of the hardest jobs society can ask of an individual and at times these people will need to take a break, just as Nettles needed when he arrived at that rollover accident.

“The young lady was the age of my daughter,” Nettles said as he reflected on the memory. “She wore the same white Hanes socks, with the purple toned purple heal as my daughter, Susan.”

Profile: Kyle Brede

By Olan Field

Kyle Brede set out on the beginning of his retirement after 30 years of military service.

Lieutenant Colonel Brede’s last duty station was as the Army ROTC Professor of Military Science at the University of Oklahoma, but his influence continues like that of a teacher for many Cadets.

Brede’s 30 years of military service ended by doing what he loved, mentoring those who will soon become commissioned officers and lead the same Army he did. Taking the same oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

His retirement was prompted at an inopportune moment of his career as he had been selected to become a Battalion Commander but declined the position.

“I was not doing what the profession says I should do,” said Brede. “I had to physically write a declination statement of declining command and had to go sit with the first general officer in my chain of command to be counseled, not fun.”

The decision was prompted by choosing to put his family first, because he wanted to spend more time with his wife and three sons, and less time at work or abroad on deployment.

“If you ever get in that situation pick your family; the Army will survive,” Brede insisted.

Stationed at the Pentagon prior to becoming the Professor of Military Science at OU, Kameron Brede, Kyle Brede’s oldest son, told me that their time at the Pentagon was one of the most difficult.

“There were constantly things going on at the Pentagon,” said Kameron. “That was the hardest time.”

…..

Brede’s military career began after graduating from high school enlisting as a UH-1 Utility Helicopter Repairer, in 1988.

“He was more mature than his fellow soldiers. He cared more about his work. He tried harder than the rest of them. He definitely was a was a standout,” said Robin Waycott, Brede’s first squad leader and now a retired Sergeant Major.

Brede would go on to be selected for the Army’s green-to-gold program. A program that transfers quality non-commissioned officers, commonly referred to as an NCOs, to go to college and become a commissioned officer.

The lessons Brede learned as an NCO would remain as he would learn for himself and use that experience teach others.

The leadership in an NCO is at times indistinguishable to that of a commissioned officer. NCOs are normally responsible for making minor decisions within the limits provided by their superior commissioned officer and caring for their lower enlisted troops.

Brede’s experience as an NCO worked as a hindrance when becoming a commissioned officer.

“When I showed up to Tarleton State University, Master Sergeant Leon McMullen was a senior military science instructor, and he brought me in,” said Brede. “He’s like ‘listen you need to take that in that NCO stuff and you need to set it aside.’”

Brede didn’t understand this at the time he said, but he did learn. The separation of NCOs and commissioned officers are at times fuzzy and the relationship is often misunderstood or confusing to new members of the military.

“I shared the same lesson with Ross Young (a current green-to-gold Cadet at OU) because the difference between the two ended up being so true,” said Brede. “I would find myself drifting to what I know when I would get in the NCO’s lane and I would interfere with their duties.”

…..

As a newly commissioned officer, Brede would become a platoon leader in Korea, after working on staff. Later taking company command in Fort Hood during the Invasion of Iraq and eventually serving as a Battalion Executive Officer at Camp Zama, Japan.

Timothy Burke, a now-retired Chief Warrant Officer 5, would first meet Brede in Korea.

“He’s a former NCO before he came to Korea and he had initially started off wanting to do all the work. I said, ‘You are the leader now. Let your guys do the work.’ Then he quickly transitioned to be a leader,” said Burke.

The two of them became friends outside of work, with their wives getting to know each other and also be friends. On a trip to Thailand together, Brede was nearly attacked by a monkey.

“Kyle wanted to take a picture with this monkey we saw. He had a beer in his hand and the monkey stole it from him,” said Burke. “Kyle had no idea how much a monkey could drink and was very worried about the monkey getting drunk and getting hurt.”

Brede would continue to fight and try to retrieve the beer back from the monkey, but nearly got attacked in the process. Finally giving up the efforts after pleas from his wife, Krista, to give up and not lose a finger to the monkey.

Brede is a caring person. He didn’t care too much for his beer, he just wanted to make sure the monkey would be safe. The level of compassion is visible throughout his career, as both a squad leader or as the Professor of Military Science. Possessing an element of humility and compassion not always seen in the military.

“He has a natural ability to construct and to bring everybody together. As one of the strong points of his vast personality,” said Burke. “We all know that we have work to do, but after work, you get together to have a barbecue or watch a football game.”

This natural ability to foster a trustworthy team supported his time at the University of Oklahoma while in command. As his leadership philosophy allowed for those below him to be friends and be human toward one another while getting the job done.

He taught cadets to be big believers in loyalty and personal responsibility. For himself though, he is currently searching for that new, personal responsibility following retirement.

“I know that loyalty may not be replicated in the same manner once I get on the civilian side of things. So, I’m trying to prepare myself for that personal responsibility. Because I learned personal responsibility as a young soldier and I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that it can be very liberating,” said Brede.

In just the first weeks of his retirement, Brede looked to become a commercial pilot. He has since canceled all interviews scheduled and he wants to find a future that allows him to continue to teach and remain close to his wife and three kids.

Q&A with Drew Hutchinson: Recreating Different Characters

By Olan Field

Drew Hutchinson is a junior in the Gaylord College of Journalism. She changed her major during her freshman year from drama after having received a scholarship from the college. Never planning to become a journalist prior, she changed major on a gut decision based on her fascination to recreate people and to tell stories.

Drew’s fascination grew from the tensions that grew from the 2016 election cycle. Her interests in political science nearly pushed her into a path of law. She is pursuing a journalism career where she covers Washington DC.

…..

Olan Field: What did you want to be when you were younger, did it change often?

Drew Hutchinson: Like me as a child?

OF: Yeah.

DH: Yeah. Well, I always loved acting and musicals. I did everything like that in school. I thought I wanted to be on Broadway and stuff, but no one told me that I was not the best singer out there. So yeah, most of my dreams are for what I wanted to do as a kid mostly revolved around the stage and art and writing. But I did go through like a through a big lawyer phase at one point too. So yeah, you can say for the most part I was definitely like an art motivated child.

OF: In junior high or was it high schools the first time you got involved in your school’s theater program?

DH: Elementary School. I did a bunch of stuff with the little productions and then when I was probably 10 or 11, maybe 12 by then I went to New Mexico and got cast in this traveling children’s theatre company and did a show with them where I played wizard number 3. That was my breakout role!

OF: Did you ever do any plays or musicals outside of your school?

DH: I did not act a lot in my local theater. I was always usually too busy doing stuff at school. We will say I kept it mostly within my school. I definitely did workshops and stuff over the summer. But as far as acting goes, I kept it usually in my high school.

OF: When beginning to looking at colleges and future careers coming out of high school. What was your originally thought process and plan?

DH: I always I knew how much I liked acting and I thought I was, you know getting good at it, but I did not think it was really a sustainable career. So, I never really entertain the idea of actually pursuing it. And so I just told my family I wanted to be a lawyer because that is just kind of because my whole family had always told me growing up that would make a good lawyer. I just kind of ran with that and said well, I will be a lawyer then and my dream was to go to the University of Tulsa and study international business and then go straight to law school and be a lawyer.

OF: Did you have anybody in your life who was a lawyer, close family member or mentor?

DH: No, that is the thing. My papa went to law school for like a week and then he did not like it and he dropped out. So no one in my family was a lawyer, but it seemed like a lot of people in my family had wanted to be lawyers and just never went for it. Maybe those regrets are were projected onto me a little.

OF: Your plan was to apply to Tulsa, did you end up going to Tulsa and pursue that goal?

DH: I applied to Tulsa and I got in and I got the scholarship and I was thrilled. It is still a private school. So, it was very expensive even after the scholarship. I would have had to take out loans had I gone there for sure. Shortly after applying, one of my really good friends from high school who was in the OU drama program visited back from his first semester and just was raving about this program there and saying how amazing it was and how the professors were state-of-the-art and my friend Kate and I were like, well, we have to audition and so we did. It was a very last-minute decision for me.

I gave a solid performance and I wrote Director Orr a letter after performing and thanked him for the opportunity. A week later, I got an acceptance letter and I was one of the 24 people who auditioned and made it. They told us that they only had three spots for women left and my friend Kate got wait-listed and that was a contentious time.

OF: How did you deal with that?

DH: Yeah, I felt very guilty for that. I knew deep down she wanted it far more than I did and it always seems to work out that way. I think in life is there is one person who wants something so bad and then it seems like another person gets it who does not really want it. Told her I was like, “I am so sorry. I did not mean to infringe on this.” I myself was not super sure about it, but I felt like I had to at least try and give (OU Drama) a shot. Two weeks before classes started I got a phone call from Kate and she is screaming and I say, “what’s up,” and she goes “I got in. I emailed every single day asking if a spot opened up yet and the director emailed me back and said ‘you have done everything right.’”

OF: Are you two still friends today?

DH: Yeah, we are we are very close.

OF: When did you begin to question your choice to pursue drama?

DH: Um, well just not being sure about it to begin with and having hesitations about it. That was that was a big thing. When we when my freshman class got in there, it just seems like professors kept echoing the same the same piece of advice and that was, “if you are not 100% sure you want to do this switch your major because it is such a hard thing to undertake.”

I had a lot of personal stuff going on in my life freshman year. I was dating somebody, and we were doing a long-distance relationship. That was very stressful, and I think the relationship definitely turned toxic and it weighed very heavily on me and took up a lot of space in my brain and drained a lot of my energy. Then the classes just kicked my butt. They were hard as it was. You know it, three days a week. You got a classic 8:00 a.m.  You know, compared to others that experience now does not seem that bad.

But for freshman year that was a lot. There was a voice and movement class and it was pretty draining to be honest. Part of the class just involved doing stuff like meditation, yoga and then focusing exercises. Like looking people in the eye for 20 minutes straight and weird stuff like that. And then we went straight to her acting classes which were also draining. You know, the course load surprisingly was very heavy and I think that is something people do not know about.

Being in drama school, it is not just you going in there and reading lines off a paper and people tell you how pretty you look. You go in there and you better have read your scripts and you better have marked it up and analyzed it and you better know the Stanislavski technique.

But the turning point for me was probably when my friend outside of the school, who had mutual friends inside of the school, came to me and said you are getting a bad reputation in the school drama. I asked, “why?”. Then she said, “They just say your head is not in the game. You are focused on this boyfriend.” The discussion was over dinner and I said, “well, I am going to leave then.”

OF: Was there anything you liked about drama?

DH: Yeah, there were a lot of things I liked about it. I do not regret my time there. Although, I wish I would have known myself and trusted my instincts a little more but there is a lot of stuff I liked about it. I liked to act I mean obviously I went in there because I like to act. I like being able to do nothing but just focus on acting. I liked my makeup class, even though the professor of that class made remarks about my appearance that were mean. But, I still liked it and I still liked learning how to make my face look like different characters and stuff like that. I liked how closely knit it was and how you know, there are only 20 other people in my class.

OF: What was your first reaction of what else could you do? I have changed my major before and it is like looking off into a canyon, it is scary to face.

DH: It was very scary. The scary part to me was not exactly ‘what will I do,’ it was how am I going to tell my professors that I am quitting because drama is not like other Majors. You cannot just switch, and no one asked questions you. You know? You are in it, you have molded yourself into this school. If you want to leave, you need to let your professors know and I had a scholarship.

I went into her office Judith Pender and I said, “I am leaving.”

She said okay, “what do you want to do now?”

I said, “I have no idea.”

She said, “well think about what drew you to acting in the first place and see if you can find something that satisfies those needs. Why do you love acting?”

My first instinct was, “well I just love the adrenaline of rushing the stage,” but the more I thought about it. That was not really the truth of it, and I figured out why I liked acting. I love to tell stories and I loved to make people understand something that they did not understand before watching me portray something. I like to study characters and I like to I like to try to portray them truthfully.

I told her that and she said, “okay. Well, there is psychology, there is journalism.” Not of these really bonded with me at the moment. But obviously, I am a journalism student now and I completely switched my major on a whim as I was scrolling through OU’s website and just came across the Gaylord College of Journalism and I clicked on it.

I had just gone through a breakup. I had broken up with that with that boyfriend maybe a week before this. I am seeing the college and seeing the page of Gaylord College of Journalism, and for some reason it made me feel really happy. So I was like, “well this has got to be some kind of sign and I am exhausted but I do not want to drop out of school because I am afraid I will never go back.” I yelled into my mom in the kitchen and I said, “Mom I am switching my major to journalism.” She said, “sounds good.”

OF: You mentioned when you were in high school, before even applying to OU, that you thought about becoming a lawyer. Why did you not pursue something like political science?

DH: I did not know anything about degrees that were good for law school. I did not know that political science was usually the fast track to law school or I might have declared that instead because at this point I was still pre-law. That is the first answer.

Second, was something good about acting school. It made me less inhibited and less stuffy because I used to be very, I do not want to stay prudish, but I used to be like very much a control freak. In some ways I still am, but acting school loosened me up and taught me how to like laugh at more things and not take things so seriously. I definitely opened my mind. I no longer had the desire to do something ‘stuffy’. So, I wanted to do something exciting and something different and fun that involved that involves expression and storytelling and adventure.

Essay: A mentor for life

By Olan Field

My family all sat in a private room extending from the ER. My mother on my left and an empty chair to my right. Somehow within an hour of the first 911 call, my entire family, near and extended, were there together. We sat in torture waiting for the doctor to bring us the news that no one wished to hear. I was only four years and eleven months old, I don’t remember much after the doctor’s appearance beyond the tears and the shrieks for mercy, but the moment lives with me every day.

Fourteen years later, my grandma’s memory is etched into everything that I set out to do. I live as if she is watching me from above, observing my life. Cheering for me, while also expecting that I strive for nothing short of the highest. I live a life founded on key values she taught me, guiding me every day after her passing.

Despite the fading memories, I fight to hold on to those memories like the petals struggling to hold onto a wilting sunflower.

My grandma, Nancy Field, or to us, Grammy was the wife of a former Baptist pastor. She would read the Bible daily as routine, but she wasn’t the type to force such teachings on an unwanting subject. My grandmother emulated love in the most physical way imaginable. A real Fred Rogers type.

She is accepting of all people, regardless of their color, religion, political affiliation, the list goes on. I have been told that she didn’t have a single enemy when she died. The passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4 is the best literary example of who she was and has in her afterlife pushed me to become. She was patient; she was kind. She did not envy, nor would she boast.

Every Friday night, at a Boomerang Grille in northwest Oklahoma City that has long since closed, my family would gather. My mother, father, sister, two aunts, uncle, three cousins, grandpa, and grandma, eleven total at the same four brown tables always collapsed together to accommodate everyone in the family. I personally loved the novelty of ordering the same meal every week through a red phone mounted on the wall at the table.

This was everyone’s favorite time. It was the time where we all connected with one another and caught up on the week’s latest news. A time where we able to see everyone in the family together in one place, noting that this love is the most essential thing in life. Like the rest of us, this was Grammy’s favorite time of the week.

That lasting bond is held together by my grandma and the memory of her. The weekly ritual shared at a dinner table on Friday nights would be a ritual that died with her. The dinner was not the same. After her passing, we only met two more times at that Boomerang Grille. It has since closed, much like that chapter of my family’s life.

.    .    .

We all have a moral responsibility to uphold to those around us in life. Those who lack the honor or fail to sustain moral principles that reaffirm our trust, waver in the wind like a wilting sunflower waiting to droop at any given moment.

One afternoon, as my grandma was babysitting me, I tried to use the crayons on the off-white carpet floors in her apartment. I made two circular patterns, orange and blue, each stretching about three inches in diameter.

I knew what I was doing was wrong, but like most children of that age, I tried to lie about it. This was without a doubt the first time I got into trouble explicitly for lying. She was disappointed in me, placed in the corner and I still remember that afternoon when my parents came to pick me up, it was like the exchange of a convict.

This moment when I failed to live up to the integrity she instilled in me, would become a subtle memory as I continued to make mistakes through life. The time I played with fire. The time in the third grade when I cheated on a spelling test. The time I got into my first fight. The time in middle school when I tried to become someone I was not. The time I broke a girl’s heart. The time I got my first speeding ticket.

Even though I was a child when I colored on the carpet, I still bear that mistake with me today. I failed to affirm the trust with the person I would come to appreciate more than anyone else. We all have a responsibility to place our best foot first, but at that moment I became the wilting sunflower.

.    .    .

I wish to believe that the things I have accomplished since her death would have made her proud. I know she would have liked to see me grow and continue to develop into the person I am today and will continue to become.

My first day of school, my first date, my first music recital, my first car, joining the Army, graduating from high school, being accepted into OU, finishing my first marathon, and then my second and the many strides in between to live a life worth being proud of. A life that left the world better than I encountered it, like hers.

My grandma impacted everyone she came across. She showed them love and compassion. She allowed us to be who we wanted and guided those people she knew down the best avenues of success.

I think of her as I continue choosing avenues for myself each day. When the going gets tough, I keep on, knowing she wouldn’t allow me to quit. She would push me, knowing better than myself that I am not at my ends length.

Life continues to get harder the older I get. The things that remind me of her are minuscule. An isolated gentle sunflower along my path or the random field of sunflowers, each are a reminder that she is watching, telling me to push on and never doubt my ability.

At Fort Knox, KY, during my final evaluations at ROTC’s summer advance camp, I found success through her memory. Just days after entering the field in the middle of my land navigation course I stumbled across a field of giant sunflowers. The field stretched for miles. With time pressing on the clock to complete the course, I took a moment for myself. I stopped off the road, sat down, and smiled back.

The most challenging venture I have ever taken in life is without question, the military. Nothing in the latest chapter of my life has been provided to me. I have had to earn everything. Physical fitness tests, weapons qualification, leadership abilities, endless ruck marches, land navigation, first aid, I am examined on all of these and more. I am responsible for my own success or failure.

The field of sunflowers is a physical reminder that she is watching, smiling, telling me to drive on and never give up.