Author: Student Ambassador (Page 2 of 18)

Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

portrait of Christina Waldner for post - Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU
When I started going to CMU in 2006 (yes, it’s been that long), I was so nervous.

I had many reasons to be uneasy, one being that I had a physical disability. You see, I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a chronic degenerative disorder. SMA is a complex condition but can be best summed up in the phrase, “The mind says go, but the muscles say no.”

Since the age of three, I have been in a power wheelchair and need physical assistance in carrying out daily tasks. I struggle a lot with fatigue but have been chipping away at my BA one course at a time.

Instinctively I knew I had an uphill battle in terms of professional opportunities, and thus became laser-focused on my education.
 
To me, attending university wasn’t about my social calendar or dorm life. It was about my GPA, the skills I would learn, and studying as much as I could. I felt the need to work twice as hard to open doors in a competitive job market. (Does it sound like I was fun at parties? Nerd alert!).

Perhaps similar to the experiences of international students, first generation students, or students with financial responsibilities, I felt enormous pressure to succeed.

That being said, the faculty and staff at CMU have been nothing but supportive, from helping me find note-takers, to advocating for accessibility on campus, to always offering a word of encouragement.

Once some of the staff found out I was an artist, they were quick to offer support and someone even suggested I sell my cards in the bookstore. Feeling overwhelmed, I turned the offer down. After all, university is strictly about academics, right?

Cristina Waldner with a friend and classmate at CMU. Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

It wasn’t until midway through my time at CMU that I realized how misinformed I was about my university experience. I came to a crossroads where the pressures of perfection were pulling me under.

Recognizing that I had created an idol of my education, I surrendered my academics to God. In this surrendering, I found a peace that was as liberating as it was transformative.

My perspective shifted as I began to appreciate CMU in a more holistic way. My eyes were opened, and my heart was ready for new friendships and new opportunities.

I approached the manager of CommonWord about selling my artwork and to my amazement, she said yes. My cards and paintings are now sold in the bookstore and I’ve been blown away by the positive response.

samples of Cristina Walder's cards on sale now at CommonWord Bookstore. Perseverance, Perspective, and Lots of Papers: My Experience at CMU

Soon after, Sandra Loeppky asked if I would share about being a student with a disability at forum. Feeling emboldened, I agreed and the morning turned out to be an incredible blessing. Other students shared their experiences as well and I began to realize the power of storytelling.

No longer feeling like I was just “that girl in a wheelchair” on campus, I was now in charge of my narrative. Recently, I started a blog to bring awareness to SMA and build a community-like space where people can relate to my experience in some way.

While health concerns have forced me to take more distance education courses as of late, I’m still a CMU student at heart. I am nearing the end of my studies but have cherished my time on campus.

To every freshman out there, know that there will be stress and probably more exams and papers than you know what to do with. Yet, there will also be experiences that will enrich your life in profound ways beyond the pages of a textbook.

New year. New semester. New opportunities. Let’s get started!

Cristina Waldner is completing a 4-year Bachelor of Arts in Counselling Studies, as well as a 3-year Bachelor of Arts in English.

Corrymeela begins when we leave: Peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland

Emilie Roussis sits on the beach with a circle of friends, near Corrymeela, Northern Ireland.

For almost three months now I have been living at Corrymeela, a peace and reconciliation center in Northern Ireland.

I have felt overwhelmed and privileged to spend my time here encountering countless courageous individuals and groups working around the globe. In the face of violence and despair, many have taken risks to chase their visions of Shalom.

Some of these peacebuilding initiatives have manifested into cross-community storytelling with Protestants and Catholics in hopes of creating mutual understanding and empathy; as well as building environments where refugees can feel safe in a foreign land, and empowering youth for their futures.

When I arrived for the first time in Northern Ireland, I am ashamed to say that I was completely unaware of the history I was walking into. The violence, death, hatred, and sorrow that I soon became very acquainted with, were completely off my radar.

As far as I knew, I was in one country: Ireland.

I was ignorant of the horrors that had taken place, and eventually devolved into the separation of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

All my preconceived thoughts and assumptions continue to unravel as I meet and converse with people from around the world.

As I think about returning to Canada at the end of the summer, it is my hope that the wisdom I have gained from my new friends, will not only be applied to my studies, but also lived out into my everyday.

Sunset at Corrymeela, Northern Ireland.

At Corrymeela, they say that our experience begins after we leave. This assures me that I have no clue what will happen next.

If I had to try and sum up my time here, this poem would express it best. It is read every morning at worship as we think back to the people who established this place, the volunteers and staff who sustain it, and how we as individuals can embody it.

Courage comes from the heart.
And we are always welcomed by God,
The Croi of all being

We bear witness to our faith,
Knowing that we are called
To live lives of courage, love and reconciliation
In the ordinary and extraordinary moments of each day

We bear witness, too, to our failures
And our complicity in the fractures of our world.

May we be courageous today.
May we learn today.
May we love today. Amen

– Pádraig Ó Tuama

Emilie Roussis is entering her fourth year of a Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies major this fall at CMU.

Three weeks: a graduation poem

three weeks: a graduation poem by #CMUwpg student Emily Hamm

Three Weeks

I came to CMU four years ago
I said, “mom I’m moving to Winnipeg on Monday, we’ll have to pack the car.”
I said “I’ll stay for three weeks, and if I hate it I’ll come home.”
Three days after I got here I sobbed for two hours and I told her how I couldn’t do any of it.
          School hadn’t even started and I couldn’t do any of it.
I told her even my dorm room didn’t feel safe and that everything was terrifying
          while all the functional people ate smokies on the lawn and listened to Pocket Change.
She told me I could come home if I wanted.
I didn’t want to want to.

I went to class the next day. I was at least intrigued.
I realized there were people who wanted to think as much as I thought all the time.
I realized I could focus my thoughts on something other than fear.
So I studied what I wanted.
I didn’t study for a degree,
When Adelia sent me the forms to declare my major I put them in my trash folder and picked courses
based on what I wanted to take.
When Connor sent me the forms to declare my major I put them in my trash folder and picked courses
that I wanted to take.
When Vern sent me the forms to declare my major I put them in my trash folder and picked courses
that I wanted to take.
I filled out degree audit forms at the kitchen table with my friend and I cobbled together a degree out of
the things that I wanted to take.
(and a couple of unfortunate hail-mary communications fulfillments, thrown together to create a degree out of first year biologys and chemistrys, some comm. courses I took mostly because I like stories and an intense fascination with the old testament that sometimes accidentally involves the new testament
too)
And eventually I handed in my forms to declare my major and to graduate on the same day. (sorry)

Emily Hamm, (centre), with her family on graduation day at Canadian Mennonite University in June, 2017.

I took a degree that made me a person. I put myself together after time and again after breaking myself
apart. I picked up my dismembered arm and taped my kidneys back in
After
Relationships I got wrong
Privilege I had and couldn’t give away
Mental illness – you know PTSD-GAD-PDD-OCD all the letters I got that never went on my
transcript.

I loved some people and some people loved me and when it overlapped it was beautiful –
Like a venn diagram that’s just a circle – it was so clear.
And I learned things I didn’t want to, like when I fly overseas, someone’s home gets closer to flooding.
Like when I use a logical fallacy, I’m not really winning an argument.
Like how to write a marketing plan.

I learned a lot of things I did want to learn. Things that made me a person.
That communication theory explains how I talk to people, and how I should talk to people.
That honestly the best part of the Pentateuch is Shiphrah and Puah.

After academics shattered my faith I learned how to believe in Jesus again – also from academics.
I learned about the world wider than my degree.
I learned about bio and English,
chemistry and business,
geography and psychology,
environmental studies and sociology.
I saw the people around me become a countryside of roads, without separate end, beginning, only
connection,
rather than seeing them as islands, like the north half of Canada that no one wants to colour.

I learned the paths in the Assiniboine Forest and which ones are wide enough to walk with someone
side by side.
I learned what pedagogy means, and parsimonious. I learned what on earth a metaphysical dualism is
and that Illich’s work is uncomfortably prescriptive.
I learned reformational isn’t a word but it definitely should be,
And that “I’m going to bed” is sometimes a better choice than “Yes, let’s play another game of
foosball.”

But also that the answer to a 1am “Want to go for a forest walk?” is always yes.
And the answer to a 7am knock at the door is “come in.”

I didn’t come to CMU for a career path, which is good because I definitely didn’t find one.
I came to CMU for three weeks,
and I think I might have become a person here.
Sewn together, pieces in the hands of others, loose ends and all, God’s paint still dripping where it
hasn’t dried yet,
I might be a person here.

Emily Hamm graduated from CMU in April 2017.

Faith and science: embracing the big questions

As a student and student leader here at CMU, there is so much I could say about this place.

The community of learning fostered by profs who care about my success, small class sizes, and my time living in residence (which I cannot recommend highly enough), have given me more than I could have imagined. My education and faith are actively nurtured here.

But as a Christian, and a pre-veterinary student, the relationship between science and faith is always foremost in my mind.

Katy Neuman, sciences student at CMU, in BioChem class at CMU in May.

At CMU, I have had the opportunity to study both of these subjects at the same time. From the mysteries of the world explored through physics, to studying the lives of microorganisms in microbiology, I have seen how far scientific research has come, and how much we have yet to discover.

That infinite potential for discovery, and the astounding intricacies found in even the simplest organisms reveals to me how great our Creator must be!

My desire to work with animals, and care for Creation comes from my faith. As I study the complexities of the natural world, whether biochemistry or physics, this reality becomes clearer.

At CMU, I’ve been able to study with profs to reconcile the tensions that lie between these two realms. Separating the two now, would be impossible.
Katy Neuman, science student at CMU, with two white puppies.I have lived on a farm my whole life, and have observed the lives of many creatures. Having worked with sheep, the illustrations in Scripture highlighting the relationship between sheep and their shepherd, have come to life.

Jesus calls us to follow Him. He calls us to know His voice, and to allow Him to guide our lives.

There is something about the nature of sheep—the way they listen, follow, and trust their shepherd —that exemplifies how I want to live my life.

There is a deep connection between faith and sciences; a connection that sheds light on big questions. Being able to learn from such a variety of different angles is a privilege. I know it’s preparing me for the future.

CMU is not the only place to try to unravel some of these mysteries, but I know that my life has been forever changed by this place.

Katy Neuman is entering her fourth year of pre-veterinary studies at CMU this fall.

A semester on Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

In December 2016, I was tired. I felt dissatisfied—like I had failed to actively engage in my education. So when the opportunity arose for me to participate in the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights (PfIR), I seized it.

A semester on Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

Mennonite Church Canada and Christian Peacemaker Teams together organized the PfIR. The Pilgrimage involved a 600 kilometre walk from Kitchener, Ontario, to Ottawa, in response to Call to Action #48 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It calls for churches to engage in public dialogue and action surrounding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). So that’s what we did.

As we walked, we talked with churches about the UNDRIP, and what it means for our lives, our communities of faith, and this country. It was also an opportunity to push the government to adopt the UNDRIP through Bill C-262.

The Pilgrimage meant something different for each walker. Some were walking for specific people, some carried stories. For each of us, it was an opportunity to do our own inner and outer decolonization work.

For me, the Pilgrimage was an opportunity to learn in a new way, a way to reimagine the “classroom.”

I was given the opportunity to participate as an independent study course for the Winter 2017 semester. 

Instead of a traditional university course, this independent study took me on a whirlwind of learning. From countless hours spent on the phone with churches arranging accommodations and food for walkers, to participating in many planning meetings with dedicated and experienced activists. From leading a group of people on a very long walk, to taking my own intentional steps as we journeyed to Ottawa.

Erin Froese (centre) with a group of fellow smiling walkers in from the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, having successfully reached their destination.

There is a different sort of knowing that comes from active learning. I learned many practical community-organizing skills, but the learning went beyond that—it seemed to seep into my whole being.

When I sat in a circle with a Cree woman who wept because she couldn’t believe that there was a group of settlers who cared about Indigenous rights, I knew the brokenness of this land in a new way.

When we arrived exhausted at the doors of a church, to receive an enthusiastic welcome, copious amounts of food, and even a foot massage, I knew hospitality in a new way.

When I walked through the landscape, hearing the songs of the birds and the cars, seeing the beautiful Canadian Shield, and piles of garbage along the roadside, I knew the land in a new way.

When I arrived home to find that my home community had done a solidarity walk to show their support of the Pilgrimage and Indigenous rights, I knew the spreading of grassroots actions in a new way.

A semester on Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

My teachers included my 87 year old friend Henry Neufeld, and my 10 month old friend, Junia, who both joined us for the whole walk. My faculty advisor, my co-planners, numerous authors, the many indigenous elders and activists that we met along the way—every person that I had the honour of walking with and meeting on this journey, and the land herself—they were all my teachers.

The learning was diverse and plentiful, and it continues. I am grateful to CMU for its courage to step outside conventional ideas of what university looks like. I will carry these learnings with me as I journey into my final year of studies and beyond.

Erin Froese is entering her fourth year in Environmental Studies at CMU this fall.

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