Essay: ‘Home’ and the hands that shaped it

By Sierra Rains-Moad

For a split second all eyes were on me. My teammates gathered behind me as I stepped up to the block and their once boisterous cheering fell to the back of my mind, as though it were coming from a million miles away.

“Take your mark,” the announcer said — the three words that fire anxiety through every swimmer’s body.

In a matter of seconds the ice-cold water flooded all around me, but my body was working too hard to notice its wintry grip. Each time my head breached the water for breath I’d catch a split second of excitement in the screaming encouragement of my teammates.

The tips of my fingers touched the wall, but it was too late. I had made it to the state swim meet, but I had lost my race. It was a brief moment of defeat.

Brief, because in that same moment, a hand reached toward me, helping me out of the water. On land I was rejoined and surrounded by not only my teammates but my friends. The same excitement and joy that existed before the race was unwavering.

I had only known these people for a short time and yet, I felt at home. “Home” was always changing for me. One moment I’d be in Oklahoma and the next I was in Indiana.

I’d walk into a new school at least six times in my life. My first day, I would walk toward the entrance and as I opened the doors, it would always be as if the announcer for the swim meet was saying “take your mark,” with that same anxiety creeping through my veins.

I was unbearably shy and the thought of having to make a whole new set of friends each time I moved was just as insufferable. My heart wrenched at the thought of having to leave them again and again when the time inevitably came.

My mother was young and life always had a way of leading us somewhere new, whether because of my parent’s divorce, my mother going back to college or my mother getting a new job.

My first big move was from Texas to Oklahoma. I was only 5 at the time that my parents split and my mother desired to be closer to my grandparents. As a child, this was hard for me to understand. My world in Arlington consisted of making mud castles and chalking on the road with the neighbor’s kids — nothing more serious than when the rain inevitably washed our creations away.

When the time came, I watched from the back window of the car as my best friends stood in our former driveway and gazed longingly as we drove far away. Their tiny hands waved, with tears at the brim of their eyes. I thought that was the last time I’d ever see them. A pain I hadn’t felt before crept into my chest.

With every move this agony would return and I learned the drill. It became as routine as the drills we’d do at swim practice– back and forth 25 meters at a time. The people I had once laid in sleeping bags with, talking about nothing for hours upon hours would all eventually slip out of my life as we slowly fell out of contact. I’d go back and forth between schools, until it felt like I’d swam thousands of meters, trying to catch a breath.

As I got older, I began to recognize that each time that pain of defeat, of loss, of loneliness would return, so would the hand reaching to help me out of the depths. It came in many different forms over the years, but it was always there.

My grandfather’s hand would stretch towards me as we scaled the Wichita Mountains, pulling me to safety. The hand of a friend lifted me off the ground as I laid gasping for breath after being thrown off the back of a horse. My freshman roommate in college offered me a hand many nights in the library when coffee just wouldn’t cut it for me anymore and I needed the motivation of another person there with me.

Each person I met in my travels touched my life in some way that made me who I am today. I had always felt disadvantaged by how much we moved when in actuality I was privileged to be able to meet so many wonderful people.

Life, which had seemingly taken so many things from me, also had a way of returning what was once lost.

My freshman year of high school began around the time that Facebook had sprung into popularity. One day, a little red notification popped up on my screen. My mouse moved to click on the notification and a message under a familiar name appeared, saying “remember me?”

The little boy I had left standing in my driveway had grown older in the past 10 years, but the details of his face still seemed familiar. His hand which had once waved goodbye now typed “hello” across a keyboard. We were both overjoyed. And even though we still live 196 miles apart, we talk as if those boundaries are not there.

At the end of my senior year of high school, I wrote a short speech to give at my last swim team banquet. I stood on a stage in front of all of my teammates and their families and I told everyone about how I lost my race at state.

I’d lost many things in my life. I’d faced challenges that felt akin to making it to state, but I was never alone. I watched as the faces silhouetted by the low light of the auditorium listened. Love was thick in the room as their hands came together to produce a resounding sound of applause.

I would begin a new journey on my own after that night. Time would mean distance from the family I had built on the swim team, but my new journey lead me into the hands of yet another.

Essay: Trading up

By Chandler Wilson

The grass is so green, so fresh and so flat under the florescent lights of Old Stadium. My jersey white and sharp in contrast to the black, worn-out leather Nike cleats they provided seven months ago. A few hours earlier, I put on the number nine jersey I’d sported since age 5 for the final time. How many different jerseys had I worn over the last 15 years, I wondered.

One last hype up in the locker room, dancing and laughing with my teammates, some of which I would never see again come May. One last warm-up. One last starting line-up. One last beginning whistle.

One last time to play the game that had identified me for 75 percent of my life.

As I stood looking across the field from my position at left defender, I suddenly wasn’t with my current teammates, looking out at fans I didn’t recognize from a soccer field I hardly claimed in Manhattan, Kansas, a town that was never mine.

I’m 5 years old in a neon blue jersey, playing in my first rec-league game. Soccer is so simple right now. Each match is no longer than 30 minutes and are only ten young girls aimlessly running and kicking the ball around without a clue for how to play the game. Not me though, I argued. I was better than them, I bragged naively.

I’m 10 years old, trying out for a competitive club team. The neon blue uniform is retired for classic black, white and red. B team, they said. No longer the star of the team, they said. I have never experienced soccer like this, I thought nervously. Eight girls a side, 60 minutes of play and coaches who aren’t afraid to cuss at you and say you will never be good enough.

I would prove them wrong, I hoped as the tears from tryouts subsided.

I love this game, I reminded myself.

I’m 15 years old, and I have grown to be thankful for the coaches who doubted me and pushed me near breaking points. A team, they said. Regional league starter, they said. Starting varsity as a freshman. The game keeps getting bigger, I realized excitedly. Eleven women on each side and 80 minutes of play, but 80 minutes wasn’t long enough.

I want to play all day.

I want to play forever.

I am going to play forever.

I’m 17 years old, and my dreams are cut short. You may never play again, they said. ACL, MCL, PCL, meniscus, patellar and at least a 10-month recovery and two years in a knee brace, they said. It can’t be true, I thought. The scouts were just starting to talk to me. I was expecting big offers from big universities, not surgery and rehab and months without the game that made me, me.

But I couldn’t be stopped; my dreams mattered.

Five months later, and I’m back on the field. But I’ve lost crucial time, I thought anxiously. This setback may be too big, I feared.

I’m 18 years old, and everyone has committed to play somewhere. Scholarships have run dry. There is no money left, but Kansas State is coming to watch on Friday. It’s my last chance.

I’m 19 years old, and I’ve committed and signed to play soccer at Kansas State University. Four year starter and two year captain on my high school team. All-city and all-district awards. All-state starter, captain and MVP. Everything I’ve worked for since my days in the neon blue jersey is coming to fruition.

It was a dream come true, until it wasn’t.

I’m almost 20 years old, and the tears fall as I tell my coaches and teammates I will not be returning to Kansas State in the fall. After 15 years playing the beautiful game, I have decided to hang up the boots and transfer home to the University of Oklahoma.

The grass was so green, so fresh and so flat under the florescent lights of Old Stadium. Oh, how I would miss it. As everything was changing, one thing never would – I loved this game, even if it had stopped being everything.

Growing up, I chose soccer over all things because I could. Coming to college, there was nothing else to choose from. It was all soccer all the time. The game had stopped being something I wanted to do and became something I had to do. I was a prisoner to the sport that had once given me so much life. My heart broke.

I had worked my entire life for something that wasn’t what I wanted or thought it would be. My future suddenly seemed daunting. While I was certain my old dreams still mattered, I was uncertain what my new dreams would be.

What would I do next?

What would I be next?

Who would I be next?

At K-State, I was one thing: athlete, and that was the problem. My identity was so lost in one passion and one sport that there wasn’t room for anything else.

OU could be different, I hoped.

I immediately applied for multiple CAC committees, started attending a church, joined a campus ministry, played intramurals and started volunteering in different organizations, but as I filled my schedule and got more involved, I still had no clue who I was. I felt alone, and the doubt crept in.

Was everyone right?

Had I made a mistake?

Would this university be different than the last?

These thoughts consumed me my first two months at OU, but time brought clarity. Just as soccer wasn’t forever, neither was my lack of identity or feeling of inadequacy.

As time went on, I narrowed down my involvement and settled into the university. I discovered friendships and passions I never knew existed. I declared a new major and learned independence, and somewhere along the way, I found me, a me I had never known before.

In those days when everything started to click, it struck me that I never actually gave up on my dreams. Rather, I traded up for new dreams, new opportunities and new joy.

Standing on that field nearly three years ago, I hoped it would all be worth it, and it was.

It still is.

I’m 22 years old, and I am a senior studying journalism pre-law at the greatest university in the world. Entering this final year of undergrad, I can’t help but think back. While my freshman year at K-State was an incredible time of growth, my 15 years as a soccer player grew me in a way I only recently discovered.

As I begin the process of law school applications, I see how those soul-crushing losses, unbearably hard practices, long bus rides, early mornings in the weight room and every place and emotion in between prepared me for this. The game taught me hard work, discipline, integrity, grit, teamwork, leadership, drive and love.

The game taught me everything.

I can confidently say I am going to be successful as an attorney, a dream fueled by everything soccer, including eventually leaving soccer, gave me.

The grass looks so green, so fresh and so flat under the florescent lights of John Crain Field. As I sit on the away side of the stands in a purple t-shirt watching my old teammates compete against OU, I can’t help but smile. One thing has never changed – I love this game.  

Essay: Bigger than basketball

By Amanda Johnson

“Amanda, get back!”

I can recognize my dad’s voice anywhere. Even in the middle of a crowded high school gym, filled with sounds of noisy students, the ref’s blaring whistle and cheering parents. My dad was definitely not one of those cheering parents.

He was the screaming one.

“Dad, stop! Be quiet!”

I screamed right back from the court.

I was in first grade the first time I picked up a basketball. The church my family attended had a youth basketball league and was desperately in need of coaches. My dad, a dentist who had no previous coaching experience, eagerly decided to volunteer to sign up to coach the first and second grade girls team — which I had no interest in joining. I was heavily involved in cheerleading and wanted no part of an activity that didn’t require dancing, makeup or cute uniforms. It took a lot of convincing from my dad to get me to come to a practice. One brand new My Little Pony to be exact. But once my bright pink fingernails touched that ball for the first time, I was hooked. So hooked, the next day I quit cheerleading.

My dad coached my basketball team until fifth grade, but even after that, he was still my coach. Even when I began to play for different coaches, he was the only voice I listened to.

I remember on game days my dad would drag me out of bed and hurry me downstairs so that we could run over plays. He would use different types of vitamin containers to symbolize different players. Vitamin C was always on offense. Calcium was always on defense. Afterward, we would head to the backyard so I could warm up. Our backyard was small, but my dad still managed to make room for a basketball goal — the only present I wanted for Christmas that year. He would stand in the middle of our tall grass, since the compact concrete space only had room for one of us, and pass me the ball. I would step to the pass, catch, square up and shoot.

I was known for my shooting. By high school, I had finally grown, reaching 5’10, allowing me to post up, but I still had outside range from all my years playing as a guard. As a junior at my small, private high school in northwest Oklahoma City, I finished second in the state in scoring in Class 2A. That same year, I took four AP classes. Balancing basketball and rigorous academics was no easy task, but my dad always knew I would be successful.

All the work over the years had paid off. All the times he got on my last nerve by critiquing my performance, every shouting match we engaged in over my defensive effort, the countless arguments we endured over me not working hard in practice had all led to a successful high school career. He instilled in me hard work, staying focused and being confident in my abilities. My dad knew it was always bigger than just basketball.

I can’t remember my dad missing a single game over the course of 12 years. That’s the kind of dad he is. And sometimes, it drove me crazy. Why did he felt the need to come to every game? No one else’s dad went to every game.

My dad always knew where he wanted to go, but he didn’t always know how to get there.

Growing up in Oklahoma City during the 1960s was difficult, filled with economic hardships and high unemployment rates. There was certainly no Devon Tower or Chesapeake Energy Arena lighting up the skyline. My dad lived with his half-brother, mother and father in a tiny two bedroom and one bathroom house in the middle of a dense downtown neighborhood. His mother and father both had previous marriages, and although there was a lot of love, a lot of brokenness encapsulated their home.

My dad scored a 16 on his ACT. A high school football star, academics were hardly a priority for him. He was caught up in the popular crowd, while his parents worked late every night at the small northwest Oklahoma City liquor store they owned to make ends meet, investing little time and attention to what was going on in his life. Soon, senior year came, and reality set in.

My dad’s high school academic counselor asked what his plans were for the future. My dad told her that he wanted to go to college to become a dentist — his dream since first grade. She looked at him warily and said, “Chuck, have you thought about trade school?”

It wasn’t until the end of his sophomore year of college that my dad finally questioned if he would ever get there. As a lifelong Sooner, fan my dad loved the University of Oklahoma, but his grades were poor, and he was distracted. So the next two years, he moved home, transferred to the University of Central Oklahoma and locked himself in his room — only leaving to attend his classes on campus. He raised his grades significantly, but his first two years had hurt him, and his chances of getting into dental school were slim to none.

He got rejected from every dental school he applied to but one. But one was all he needed.

Charles Johnson graduated from dental school from the University of Louisville in the top 10 percent of his class. But the adversity he faced along the way was real, it was challenging, but it never stopped him from believing in himself and his dream. Even when no one else thought it was attainable, my dad always knew it was.

He always knew he would get there.

Just like he knew I would grab the rebound. Get that steal. Hit that shot.

I am a junior at the University of Oklahoma and no longer play basketball. But to me, the impact my dad has on me is bigger than basketball — although it took me a while to see it.

I will never forget the day I moved into my cramped dorm on the sixth floor in Adams Tower. The reality of being away from home had not yet set in, as I casually hugged my parents goodbye and was confident that I would be so enthralled with all college had to offer that I wouldn’t miss them all that much.

I was wrong.

A week later, I called my parents crying to come home, but it was my dad who persuaded me to stay. I will never forget what he told me that day. Between all my tears, I managed to pause and listen to his words, “Don’t give up just because it seems hard. Your dreams are worth pursuing no matter what stands in your way. If I can become a dentist, you can become anything. I believe in you.”

My time at the University of Oklahoma has shaped and changed me more than I could ever have imagined. College was an enormous culture shock and a challenging adjustment for me coming from a sheltered high school. But I learned from many of my dad’s mistakes while forging my own path.

I don’t always know where to go, but I know how to get there — working hard, remaining focused and being confident in my abilities. Although I am still working on that last one.

The University of Oklahoma has allowed me to meet incredible people, many from different backgrounds than my own. These people have taught me so much, and many of their stories have made me grateful. In a country today where more than one in four children lives without a dad, college has made me feel ashamed. Ashamed of what I took for granted growing up, ashamed of what I still have today. While I was so worried about my dad screaming from the stands, I now often wonder what many kids would give to have their dad be as invested in their lives as my dad is in mine.

Many uncertainties fill my life right now. I don’t know what I envision myself doing in the future, and my mind is often flooded with fear and self-doubt. I often find it hard to believe in myself. But in the back of my mind, I remember how lucky I am that I have someone who does. I always hear his voice.

“I believe in you.”

I know Dad, I know.

Essay: We are each other’s rock

BY PAXSON HAWS, JMC 3023

Part 1

My grandpa has a large, wood, oval dining room table covered in acrylic paint in a rainbow of colors. The table was always in his house. It followed him across northern Missouri, from Sheridan, to Hopkins and finally Maryville. We never ate at this table when I was little. Instead, this table was dedicated to the various art projects my grandpa would make with me.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was little. My mom needed the extra help since my dad was in my life for only the first six months. She worked the night shift at the prison and then worked as a bartender when she went back to school. My grandparents watched me while my mom worked.

I spent just as much, maybe even more, time with my grandparents as I did my mom.

Our bond was incredibly strong – it still is – except it’s just my grandpa now. We lost my grandmother when I was 4. I was at dance practice when she passed. When my grandpa arrived at the hospital, he asked the nurse for a pair of scissors. The nurse thought he was going to hurt himself, but he just wanted to cut a lock of her hair.

Losing grandma crushed my grandpa. She was everything he ever wanted – despite praying for God to send him the exact opposite. He prayed for an unmarried, childless woman. But in 1966, Gary Constant married Betty Schupp, a divorced, single mother, in the living room of his sister’s house in St. Joseph.

They had one daughter together, my mother. He worked a variety of carpentry jobs while taking care of livestock. Grandma worked at a nursing home until she was too sick to work. When she got sick, he worked less and took care of her.

He loved her with his whole heart. He still does at 80 years old, 15 years after her death.

After she passed, I stayed with my grandpa for two weeks because I was afraid I would lose him too. The only reason I went home was because my mom demanded to see her daughter and have her home again.

If I hadn’t stayed with him, he told me later I would have lost him.

He calls me his rock.

Part 2

As I grew older, my bond with my grandpa strengthened. When we moved to Hopkins, he did, too. He never lived more than 20 minutes away. I spent Friday nights at his house and it wasn’t uncommon for those Friday nights at grandpa’s to turn into a weekend at grandpa’s. We converted our garage into an apartment when I was in fifth grade for him so our talks were more frequent.

Our weekends were spent sitting around that paint covered table talking about a variety of subjects. We talked about the family stories my great-great-grandpa Jeff told my grandpa. That conversation always ended the same way. Yes, Jesse James is our cousin even though we can’t prove it. Great-great-grandpa Jeff would never make those stories up.

We talked Bible verses, how we interpreted them and how they applied to life situations. I told him about what happened at school and with my friends. When someone did something dumb, he would always say, “Well hun, not everyone can be as perfect as we are.”

Music was a subject discussed often because we both love it. He doesn’t like today’s music because he claims the artists can’t sing as fluidly as his generation. If a singer makes a funny face when hitting a note, grandpa says its because they just aren’t that good.

He has introduced me to some of my favorite country singers. I don’t know all the words to a single rap song, but I can sing almost every word to every song on the Patsy Cline Greatest Hits Collection CD. It was common to find us singing “Tennessee Waltz” while cooking fried chicken or building furniture for my room. We sang only the Patti Page version though – hers is the only good version. Patsy Cline’s our favorite but not even her version can compete with Page’s.

It was more than just a fun weekend with my grandpa though. He continued to help out in every aspect of my life.

If my mom couldn’t be somewhere, he was. If my mom couldn’t take me somewhere, he did.

But it wasn’t until seventh grade that I realized he was the closest thing to a father figure I have ever had.

In middle school, I spent a week each summer at Grand Oak church camp with my youth group. I had the same cabin every year – the same cabin leader and same roommates.

During evening service, our youth pastor was preaching about how God can fill voids in people’s lives. He specifically mentioned voids left by absent parents. These few sentences brought a wave of emotion over the eight girls in my cabin. Glances were shared, hands were held and tears starting streaming down the faces of everyone.

The service was cut short for us to have alone time to talk out our emotions and what in our lives caused them.

Absent fathers.

That’s what caused all the tears.

We spent the rest of the night sharing our individual stories of our fathers. Our cabin leader told us that these men weren’t in our lives for a reason and God was there to fill that spot.

She was right, but she was also wrong. God fills that void in a spiritual way. My grandpa fills it in every other way.

He’s my rock.

Part 3

 

I never lived more than 25 minutes from my grandpa until two years ago. Now, I live seven hours away.

It’s changed the entire dynamic of our relationship.

I can’t run down to his house every night, sit at the paint covered table and have hours-long conversations.

I can’t watch the “Titanic” or “Second-Hand Lion” with him whenever I want.

I can’t throw a record on and sing Patsy’s “Walking After Midnight” with him whenever I want.

Instead, we settle for daily text conversation and weekly phone calls.

The paint on that oval table started to fade away as I grew older and painted less. The paint faded away much like my grandpa’s health.

Last September, my grandpa had two heart attacks in a week. He tried to hide it from us because I was coming come that weekend. My mom only found out about them when he backed into a car at the doctor’s office. He refused to go to the hospital because he just wanted to see me one last time. I drove seven hours home with tears streaming down my face that weekend.

That is when we decided I had to come home once a month.

The day after Thanksgiving, he had another heart attack. I watched this one happen. I saw him collapse as he walked into the living room. I remember him squeezing my hand to let me know he was still there. The ambulance came and we spent the next eight hours in the emergency room.

The week before Christmas, he spent three days in the hospital and we found out only 20 percent of his heart functioned properly. Surgery isn’t an option, but the correct combination of medication is keeping him from having another attack, keeping him alive.

The distance and his health scares have made me value our time together more. We both know we don’t have all the time in the world together anymore.

Although our relationship has changed, our bond hasn’t.

Before I leave for college every semester, he says, “These next few months are going to suck. But you need to do what’s right for you. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it sucks.”

Oklahoma is right for me but it does suck. We make it work, though.

Because we’re each other’s rocks.

Essay: Speak it into existence

By Katelyn Howard

“Next up, Katelyn Howard.”

As I walked to the front of the room, I repeated the beginning of my speech in my head. The sound of my heels hitting the floor echoed. I tried to control my shaking legs to not give my competitors the upper hand. This feeling wouldn’t leave even though I had already performed about a dozen times that day.

“Ready?,” I asked the judges.

After they nodded, I switched to my public speaking voice and began.

As a member of my high school’s speech and debate team, this was a normal weekend at a tournament for me and thousands of other students across the country who competed in debate, public speaking and acting events.

The coach suggested I join my junior year after I gave a presentation in one of the classes she taught. My response was “Wait, our school has a speech and debate team?” At my small Church of Christ high school in Midland, Texas, a town defined by oil, high school football and George W. Bush, fine arts programs had always been a low priority.

Until this point in my life, I had never stuck with a hobby. Ballet, quit. Tennis, quit. Cello lessons, quit. Since writing was one of my few consistent activities, I decided to give a hobby related to communication like speech and debate a try.

The theater and speech and debate classrooms sat across from each other in a corner of the building many students never visited. This room became more than just a place my four teammates and I would practice for one class period; instead, we would often find ourselves here during lunch and after school. We entered ready to recite our speeches or run lines, but we often became distracted from telling jokes, ranting about our homework and sometimes shedding tears we had been holding back in other classes. Most nights at home, I would reassure my parents, “If you hear me in my room, I swear I’m not talking to myself. I’m just practicing.”

When we weren’t preparing for our next tournament, our time together would extend beyond the classroom since we would have game nights, hang out at coffee shops, plan sleepovers and more.

Even though this classroom was my happy place, it couldn’t beat the stuffy, fluorescent-lit high schools we traveled hundreds of miles to for tournaments. I was in awe since I was used to just my teammates being the few people my age I could relate to. Here I found students with similar interests as me, which was hard to come by at my school. We discussed politics, where we bought our suits, who our biggest competitors were and what we wanted to do after high school.

For the first time, I felt accepted.

As we competed against students from other schools each weekend, some of these people became my friends while others became my enemies, or as much of an enemy as you can have in high school.

We all came from different parts of the state, but it was hard to tell us apart in our uniforms. If you’re a girl, it was a suit jacket, pencil skirt, pointed toe heels, pearl earrings, red lipstick and pantyhose, aka the skin of Satan.

Speech and debate is about the furthest you can get from a sport, but at the end of a tournament, I felt similar to what I imagine running a marathon must be like. After performing a dozen times or more from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., my feet were blistered from climbing staircases in heels and my throat was sore. This routine was exhausting, but the moment the first words of one of my speeches escaped my mouth, the adrenaline would rush back.

At the end of each tournament, our team would go to Whataburger at 11 p.m. in our suits and heels, gorge on fried food and rehash everything that happened that day.

Before we could leave the restaurant, our coach required us to reflect on what we were proudest of that day and what we needed to improve on for the next tournament. As we went around the table, everyone’s personality was reflected in their answers.  

Viki would always incorporate either a British accent or an impression of the YouTuber Miranda Sings into her response. Michaela would deliver yet another speech with an introduction, three paragraphs and conclusion. Kamryn would detail a plan of revenge against her competitors. And Brailyn would undoubtedly end up shedding tears of joy or exhaustion.

Even though we got on one another’s nerves, I considered them all my second family.

When we arrived back to our hotel, we all needed rest; instead, giggling and sharing secrets at 2 a.m. would result in even more sleep deprivation.

The next morning, we would pile into the van and watch tumbleweeds blow by on the unscenic drive home. Many students liked sitting in the back row of the van, but I was the opposite since I enjoyed talking to our coach who was in the front seat.

Out of all the people I would miss once I graduated, she topped the list. She identified strengths I hadn’t recognized in myself and challenged me to explore them. She pushed me to face situations that scared me. And most importantly, she was the reason I joined the speech and debate team.

As my senior year rolled around, our team more than tripled in size due to the school beginning to acknowledge our success and our coach’s recruiting efforts. Students’ curiosity rose as the fine arts department received more funding and recognition. It made me happy to know the team would carry on in good hands, but it made me even happier that more people would experience the lessons and lifelong friendships that come from this activity.

Even though I haven’t returned to Midland since I graduated, I still keep in touch with my team. One of my biggest speech and debate rivals even became a good friend after high school and visited me at college. I credit speech and debate for teaching me skills I use in journalism and everyday life such as not being afraid to talk to anyone, analyzing an issue from all angles, being assertive and knowing how to dress.

In fact, two years later I sat in the lobby of a newspaper’s office waiting for my internship interview in the same suite and heels I had worn at every tournament. As I gripped my resume, I repeated responses in my head to questions the editor might ask. I tried not to focus on the other internship candidate being interviewed behind the glass wall.

I pictured walking into the conference room with my head held high and giving the editor a firm handshake.

“Next up, Katelyn Howard,” the receptionist said.

 

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.

Essay: She is your mother

By Haley Harvey

From the moment you become a fresh new life in the world, she sings “Love you Forever” as you sleep, changes you when you are wet, holds you while you cry. You are her daughter, her world.

She is your mother.

To the moment you break your wrist at daycare, she holds you as you cry your pain-inflicted tears your second grade self just can’t hold back. You bury your face in her shoulder and feel her warm embrace and know the comfort she brings.

She is your protector.

To the moments you spend arguing about your curfew, who she doesn’t want you to hang out with, when she grounds you. You storm upstairs, door slamming behind you. She knocks, asks to come in and promises it’s all because she loves you. She holds you even though you’re not ready to play nice yet.

She is so unfair.

To the moment you go on a date with a boy you like, and he later decides he doesn’t feel the same anymore. She holds you as you cry, and tells you he’s the one who’s missing out on something special.

She is your assurance.  

To the moment you open that acceptance letter to the University of Oklahoma, your dream school. Her alma mater, she finds comfort in the familiarity of that. She holds you, as you can hardly contain your excitement of starting the next chapter in life and being on your own. The slowly-creeping dread of eventually having to let you go is suppressed for now, she is so proud of you.

She is your biggest fan.

To the moment she drops you off in your tiny, stale and unfamiliar dorm. The time she has dreaded for years, months, minutes has come. It’s time to say goodbye, to let go. You hold her as she cries.

She is a basket case.

To the moment you go through rush, pledging the same sorority she did, sharing a new kind of bond and feeling closer despite the distance apart. You get settled into your new classes, friends, life. You love it here.

She is happy.

To the unexpected moment you find that loneliness arrives at your old, metal door with more frequency than anticipated. An unwelcome and persistent guest, inviting itself in without knocking at all first. You call her. To talk about anything and everything, the breakfast you ate, the paper you aced, the test you failed, the bed that you miss, the time with her you long for again.

She is your best friend.

To the moment you learn she wasn’t always the composed and unfailing woman you’ve always known. Once she was a wild girl, a rebel that you’d never truly know but would only hear about. Yet you’d share a lot of the same experiences, in the same places, learning and growing from them.

To the moment you’re living in the sorority house, following the rules as if your life depends on it — strict rule-follower. She skipped chapter meetings and smoked cigarettes in the back stairway — blatant rule-breaker. When you get your first judiciary board hearing after being intoxicated at a date party, you’re filled with embarrassment and shame. You feel like a disgrace for your mistake. But you see her picture every time you walk past the 1993 composite photos on the third floor, and you smile. She reminds you that it’s OK to make mistakes because college is where they’re acceptable, laughable even.

To the moment you move out of the sorority house, and you’re living on campus with three of your best friends. Like when she lived in a little house on the corner of Chautauqua and Lindsey with three of her closest friends. You imagine the friendships you hold so close are comparable to those she had and still has from her college years. The ones that become family, seeing you at your best, your worst and still loving you. The ones you share irreplaceable memories with, the late nights, the mess-ups, the break-ups, the hysterical laughs. All on your own individual journey of figuring out life, figuring out yourself.

To the moment when it’s your first summer in Norman. You meet a boy the summer before junior year at a house across the street from your mom’s little house on the corner. It’s the same year in college that she met your dad. It was the summer of ‘94 they shared their first kiss on the big rock under the tree in front of that same little house. The same summer they said “I love you,” and never looked back.

To the moment you wonder what moments will come next. You pave your own path the rest of your time in college, hoping for what’s to come and trusting in God’s plan for you. Just as she did during her time at OU and beyond. She celebrated victories, learned from mistakes. She was successful. With her career, her marriage, her family. She made a life for herself, a happy one. You spend your college life in ways so similar, most purely by chance, and it shows you can do the same for yourself. You will.

Through all these moments you realize she is everything. Everything and more you hope you can be for others. For your children, one day. For her.

She is your protector, assurance, basket case, biggest fan. Your best friend.

Your mother.

She is my mother.