love letter to a 7th grader

Dear Charissie,

Today I dropped you off for your first day of 7th grade. I won’t lie, I cried a little after I finally got out of the madhouse that is the streets surrounding your school. I didn’t cry because I was so sad to be dropping you off but because I am just in awe of the wonderful person you have become and are in the process of becoming. What a joy! What a gift it has been watching you blossom.

I am so proud to be your big sister. I am just honestly so proud to know you. I’ve known lots and lots of kids your age throughout my life and I have to say that you are the most amazing of them all. I feel like when someone first said the phrase “march to the beat of your own drum,” they had you in mind.

It’s mind-boggling how much that phrase applies to you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are so apologetically authentic in who you are. There’s no real box you fit into at all — you have friends in all kinds of groups, your interests are crazy-varied, and your humor is ridiculous. You are both a tomboy and a little girly at times. And you’re perfect. I wouldn’t wish you to be any other way. I want lots of things for you in the future, but more than anything else I want you to remain undefined by the world.

When I dropped you off, I said all of the things I always say when I get to take you to school, whether it’s the first day or the hundredth: have a great day, learn something, I love you. But because today feels heavier and more significant than usual, I added a few new ones this year: be brave, be kind, be the best Charisse you can be. You rolled your eyes a little at me as you gave me a kiss and a hug, but those are my three wishes for you, three things I am praying for you this school year.

Be brave, my sister. It takes such courage to be brave. I hope you can be brave with your life so others learn from you how to brave with their lives. I hope you are brave in big ways but also in small ways, in ways that only you can fully understand and appreciate. I pray you are brave when others are mean or fearful or hurtful. I pray that you’re brave and you take risks, even if it means you will fail sometimes. Be brave enough to try and fail, because you’ll be brave enough to grow.

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Be kind, my lady man. There is enough cruelty in this world. You can contradict that poison with your gentleness, your compassion, and your love for others — it all comes from your kindness, your healing words. I’ve seen you do this with your friends. Keep doing it, every day. It is who you are and it is and will continue to make a difference.

Be the best Charisse you can be, my Charissie. You weren’t meant to be any other person. You weren’t meant to be like Heidi or Jane or Jader or Emma or anyone else but you and I love you exactly as you are. I tell our broken-hipped, noodle-necked Penny-dog all the time, “I wouldn’t want a Penny-dog any other way because it’s what makes you you” and even though you’re not a dog, the same applies. You are authentic because you embrace yourself fully. Be the best you. Don’t settle for less or for being someone else. Don’t let others convince you that you need to change.

I read a book recently called The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. White describes a scene where the main bird, Louis, is flying for the first time.

Louis was more excited than he had ever been. “I wonder if I can really do it?” he thought. “Suppose I fail! Then the others will fly away, and I will be left here all alone on this deserted pond, with winter approaching, with no father, no mother, no sisters, no brothers, and no food to eat when the pond freezes over. I will die of starvation. I’m scared.”

In a few minutes, the cob glided down out of the sky and skidded to a stop on the pond. They all cheered. “Ko-hoh, ko-hoh, beep beep, beep beep!” All but Louis. He had to express his approval simply by beating his wings and splashing water in his father’s face.

“All right,” said the cob. “You’ve seen how it’s done. Follow me, and we’ll give it a try. Extend yourselves to the utmost, do everything in the proper order, never forget for a minute that you’re all swans and therefore excellent fliers, and I’m sure all will be well.”

They all swam downwind to the end of the pond. They pumped their necks up and down. Louis pumped his harder than any of the others. They tested the wind by turning their heads this way and that. Suddenly the cob signaled for the start. There was a tremendous commotion — wings beating, feet racing, water turned to a froth. And presently, wonder of wonders, there were seven swans in the air — two pure white ones and five dirty gray ones. The takeoff was accomplished, and they started gaining altitude.

Louis was the first of the young cygnets to become airborne, ahead of all his brothers and sisters. The minute his feet lifted clear of the water, he knew he could fly. It was a tremendous relief — as well as a splendid sensation.

“Boy!” he said to himself. “I never knew flying could be such fun. This is great. This is sensational. This is superb. I feel exalted, and I’m not dizzy…

I was thinking about you and then a song called “Born to Run” came on the radio. I heard the lyrics, “Baby, we were born to run” and I thought about you and then Louis as he flies for the first time.

You weren’t born to run, my Goosie.

You might be scared to try that first time, but baby, you were born to fly. I am watching your body take flight, and let me tell you, sister, it is superb.

You are my greatest joy.

Love forever,
Sissy

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dolphins, family, and dreaming big dreams

Dear President Beck,

Welcome to the dolphin family! My name is Krista Wilbur and I’m a CSUCI alum. I graduated in 2008 with a BA in English. I saw that you’re spending your first 100 days going on a listening tour and I would love to have you hear about my experience as a CSUCI alum.

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I began CSUCI in the spring of 2006 with a heavy burden on my shoulders. Life had dealt me some very unfair blows and I had very inadequate means to deal with those things, so when I came to CSUCI I was floundering. I struggled through my first semester, earning failing grades in most of my classes. Except one.

That one class was a lower division American Lit class required for my major. My professor had no idea about the things I was struggling with, but when I asked her to make up some work I’d missed, she gave me the green light. And that forever changed me, being allowed to make things right when for so long I had made things so wrong.

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I caught up in that one class and finished it with an A. My other classes didn’t follow. I ended the semester with a terrible GPA, and I had to appeal my financial aid, and I had to attend a special class for anyone on academic probation, but I kept on going. In the fall of 2006, I took three classes with that professor and she made me feel like I was going to be okay. She listened to me as I wanted to grow academically. She challenged on the papers I wrote, pushing me to find my voice as a writer and encouraging me to go further, dig deeper, and to rise above whatever it was I thought I could do.

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She also gave me space to breath in the midst of those heavy burdens I mentioned above. When she wrote one-act play as part of a festival of one-act plays, I found myself relating to the lead protagonist in so many ways. I sobbed as I wrote her an email after the plays that night, telling her all of these things that had been bearing down on me for so long. She wrote back, words that soothed me — words that I carry in my wallet on a piece of paper folded into eights, its edges frayed and thinning and taped together. In the months after, that professor met with me every other week and helped me write a book, one chapter at a time. I hope you lead CI in a way that encourages professors to pour into students — not just the book knowledge but the personal stuff, too.

That is CSUCI.

In the spring of 2007 I attended an info session about being an orientation leader. I signed up to assist, not lead, and a few months later I ended up signing up to do the whole thing. I spent that summer, and the one that followed, helping plan new student orientation, leading students around a campus I loved, encouraging them to get involved and to let college go through them, as Doc would say, instead of simply going through college. I made friends and was encouraged to go to grad school, to pick a program that was entirely different than anything I thought I’d ever do. Those two summers taught me so much about having a strong work ethic, how to fight fair, and above all else what it means to love what you do. I laughed until I was sick to my stomach, the tears rolling down my face. I would go back in time and do it all over again if I could. I can’t look at those pictures from those two summers without a swell of pride coming over me.

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Being an OL taught me that whatever college you pick, you can find yourself at home there. I didn’t need a brand-name college. As Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book David and Goliath, I had the chance to be a big fish in a small pond and it was life-changing. I hope you will lead CSUCI in a way that allows students, no matter how large the campus may grow, to be Big Fish.

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That is CSUCI.

In the spring of 2008, as May broke open its first few days on the campus, I watched as people began to set up thousands of white chairs in the South Quad, then a stage parallel to Anacapa Village. I took graduation pictures on the upper floor of the Bell Tower, the Bell Tower Courtyard in the background. I sat in that very courtyard between classes, listening to the silence and watching the squirrels climb trees. I bought a graduation robe and cried at everyone of these milestones. It seemed liked I’d never walk across that stage with my history, but there I was. Some of the tears I cried were in disbelief, but most were in sorrow. I was ready to graduate, but I wasn’t ready to leave CSUCI. It had been the first of the four colleges I attended that felt like home. I hope you lead CI in a way that makes it difficult to leave because it meant so much.

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That is CSUCI.

I came to campus in the spring of 2006 with every expectation of being a parking lot student. After all, I was older than most of the people in my classes, except my professors. I worked full-time off campus. I was simply trying to find a place to finish out a degree that was going to take me forever to get. I didn’t want to make friends. I just wanted to get done.

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None of that happened. I fell in love with the history of the college, with the care of the professors, with the concrete walls of the classrooms and the beauty of being outdoors. I made friendships that have still lasted. I was pushed and stretched and I cried but I was taught never to quit. I found a place where finally, after so much searching, I belonged. I hope you lead CSUCI in a way that makes everyone who steps foot on campus feel that they belong.

That is CSUCI.

CSUCI is a culture of family, of inclusion. It is a place where it’s safe to learn and question, to make mistakes and figure out how to comprehend the consequences of your choices in a healthy, supported way. It’s a place where friendships are encouraged, formed, and nurtured. It is a place of learning, of growing, and pf becoming well-rounded. CSUCI has and always will feel to me like that moment when you get home from a long day at work, with tired and achy bones, and you put on your pajamas and sit down on the sofa and your muscles just stop having to work so hard and you feel free in who you are. All of the little moments add to that. I hope you lead CSUCI in a way that makes it feel like a refreshing breath, a place to relax.

That is CSUCI.

I visit CSUCI a couple of times a year, and although it’s changed since I graduated eight years ago, I always feel at home. The first place I like to go is the student center, to the wall where donors have their names etched in brick. I gave money as part of the Class of 2008 senior gift and my name is on that wall. See it there always thrills me because I feel so proud to have played a part, however small, in a school that changes people in ways so very big.

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I have never once regretted my decision to attend CSUCI. It was small and still so new when I began. It was a risk. And that risk has been the one of the greatest I’ve ever taken.

Sincerely, and with much dolphin pride,
Krista Wilbur, ’08