College: Time to Get Involved

As the school year comes to a close, we’re continuing our series on youth leadership from high school to college. Today’s blog comes from Brad Efune, National Youth Activation Committee member and sophomore at the University of Arizona.

Graduating high school and embarking on the journey called college is probably one of the most terrifying and exciting times in any young persons life. The experiences that lay ahead of you are those that will form you into the person that you will one day become.

So what is the key to making sure your transition from high school to college goes smoothly and successfully? I think the answer to that question is: you have to do what you know how to do, and what makes you feel comfortable.

Students who are actively involved in Project UNIFY or the Special Olympics movement in general need to STAY ACTIVE in youth involvement. Surrounding yourself with people that have common interests with you is the best and easiest way to make friends and acquaintances.

When I left high school and jumped into college life at the University of Arizona, I quickly made it my mission to find the nearest Special Olympics program director and get as involved as possible. I reached out to other students on campus who were involved and quickly made friendships. Eventually I found a group of students who had been previously involved in Special Olympics Youth Leadership Committees and we began working on getting Project UNIFY spread throughout high schools in the Tucson area.

The jump from high school to college can be easier than most say, you just need to remember to surround yourself with those that have your best interests at hand and enjoy the same activities as you. Involvement with Special Olympics should not end when you graduate high school, instead it should begin when you enter college.

Contact your area director and continue to be INVOLVED!

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Engaging Others

Post submitted by Anderson Williams, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Tennessee College Access and Success Network. In addition to regional, national, and international training and consulting work, Williams co-authored “The Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change” and “Youth Organizing for Educational Change” with the Forum for Youth Investment.

Part of the confusion and pressure of being a middle and high school student is not just that relatively new feeling of “otherness” (i.e. being different) but that this feeling charges our emotional and cognitive development in ways that can last a lifetime. These are truly formative years. Starting in our teens and carrying through the rest of our lives, we develop habits in response to our “otherness” in which we:

  1. conform and adapt so that we are included (eliminate otherness),
  2. isolate and look for proxies for positive social relationships (neutralize otherness), or
  3. develop the confidence to be who we are regardless of what others think (celebrate otherness)

The reality is that during the teenage years we move in and out of all of these responses quite frequently and without notice. This is kind of what defines the teenage years. It’s why adults think teens are weird! It is also what makes the teenage years such a critical time for inclusion and genuine engagement.

But, for many students with physical and intellectual disabilities, the option of “conforming” feels impossible in a traditional sense. They are so strongly considered “other” by peers and adults that the opportunity to just become one of the group is out of their hands. Similarly, they are often structurally isolated – both socially and physically – living parallel lives to their same-aged peers in their own wing of the school, with their own teachers, classrooms, and school and community activities.  And, as long as this is the case, as long as they are the “others”, inclusion and full engagement are impossibilities for everyone.

The fact is that every teen, every one of us actually, is “other”.

We are all different and we all need to have a say in our own development and the paths we choose. When otherness is allowed the space to be celebrated, inclusion, rather than isolation, becomes the norm. When everyone is understood as other then otherness as we know it no longer exists. And, when we engage others, we all engage our best selves.