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Who am I?

I am often told I am a student.  I am told that classes come first and I need to focus on my grades.  And I do.  I have made Dean’s List every semester.  I am in the Schreyer Honors College.  I try.

But I also try to focus during class.  I try to focus on what my professor  is saying.  But I can’t sometimes.  I try to focus the night before a final on a study guide.  But I don’t.

Instead, at 9 p.m., the night before a final, I walk a mile to a dimly lit section of campus.  I meet with a student who I have never met before and I get them food.

They have been starving and can’t go another day without eating.  When I am in class, I think about who I can get to volunteer at the pantry later in the week.  I think about how many emails or texts I am going to send, and if it would be worth shutting the pantry down for a day.  Then I think about all the students who will be hungry.  I think about the kids like Braden who made us thank you cards.

I have been told I am a student and that’s my first priority.  However, when I have people relying on me to stay in college, I don’t feel like a student anymore.  When I look around my campus and I see homeless students, I do not feel like a student.  When there is a wound festering at Penn State, and very few of us can see it, I am not a student anymore.

We have students who cannot afford textbooks.  We have students who are hungry.  We have students who are homeless.

Being a student is the same as saying I have blue eyes or brown hair.  It is a descriptor for me, but it no longer defines who I am.  If someone asked me what I do, I would not identify as a student first.  I would say that I am an advocate for students in poverty.

I define myself this way because not enough people are.  Students who are struggling to get by have amazing stories.  They have the biggest challenges to overcome and are the definition of “resilience in the face of adversity” fiction novelists wish they could create.  These students have earned my respect more than anyone else in my life.  These students hold down two full-time jobs while being a full-time student.  Any time I used to think I had too much classwork now pales in comparison to what they handle in a week.

Who am I?  I am a person who has been amazed and inspired by students living in poverty, and now I advocate for them. I am an advocate for the strongest students on campus who are often the least heard.