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I wrote the following personal essay because I believe one of the best ways to teach writing is by writing. I ask my seniors to write This I Believe essays to help us get to know one another and to give them an opportunity to receive some authentic feedback — we share them as a class — on the sort of essay (sometimes the essay) they submit with their college applications. I’ve written several of these over the years; this is the first I’ve posted.

I believe in sunshine.

That big, yellow fusion-driven ball of fire is a darn good thing for our planet, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

My sunshine is my husband of fifteen years, Stanley. We met on an overcast, wintry day in December, but the weather outside did not reflect the immense positive force he would become in my life.

Stanley is one of those people who see the world through rose-colored glasses. If his soccer shoes were on sale for $59.99 then they were a steal, “only fifty bucks!”

His outlook applies to sports too. If he caught a few runs of powder at Buffalo Ski Club then the powder was knee deep and he was getting blasted in the face the whole time. Never mind that I skied the same runs and I can attest to the fact that we were lucky if the four inches of fresh snow made it to the tops of our knees.

Surfing is no different. When we are out on Lake Erie, every wave he catches is super smooth, super long and he makes “at least four turns.” Surfing Lake Erie is an incredible experience, but mostly because it is an anomaly. The Great Lakes don’t have the fetch necessary to build the long, smooth waves surfers live for. Rides are short, choppy and cold.

But my point is this: to Stanley, it just doesn’t matter. In his eyes, the waves never end, the powder is deep and his favorite Adidas kicks are always on deep discount because his world is full of sunshine. And, at some point, I realized that my world should be a sunny place too.

For years I reveled in my realism. I was the teller of truths. I was all facts, no fiction. I wanted the real story, not the Stanley-mark-down version. But then I started to hear the message beneath my quest for the factual accuracy. It was not a pretty picture. Instead of reveling in the moment, I was judging it, measuring it, comparing it to other moments. I was the cynic, the one who rained on the parade.

Now, like my husband, I live in the moment. I don’t worry about other moments, or whether or not this particular moment measures up. It’s the moment I have and I make the most of it. I get to ski four inches of fresh powder before anyone else hits the slopes? That’s the bomb. Surfing Lake Erie in 20mph winds? I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

I believe in sunshine and if the yellow globe in the sky doesn’t cooperate, it doesn’t matter because I’ve got backup.

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This was due for an update!

  • soul surfing
  • being a kook
  • surfing vacations
  • big wave surfing
  • waves
  • traveling
  • the importance of education
  • my philosophy of education
  • the Common Core standards in education
  • New York State’s new education legislation
  • engaging teenage learners
  • YA literature
  • what I’m currently reading
  • the media
  • eating well — fresh, local, mostly vegetarian
  • films & movie reviews
  • concerts
  • music reviews
  • outdoor emergency medicine
  • winter in New York — please snow this year!
  • finding balance in life — work, play, learn, sleep
  • goals and aspirations

It is closing on 11 PM as I sit and write this and I feel comfortable trusting the predictions being made by the news stations, then quickly snatched up and put into greater circulation by the bloggers (ain’t technology grand?), that Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States. This is a no small moment for our country. And regardless of how you voted, you were part of an election that will be recorded in history for a long time to come.

I’ve been on the phone with my mother, and we’ve been following the election coverage together. Well, I’ve been following it and reporting what I see to her. She still lives without a TV. As I grew up in that same house without a television, neither of us are TV watchers, so I followed the votes as they came in on The New York Times’ home page. She grew up in Virginia and therefore we watched with particular interest the tight numbers as they slowly crept up in favor of Barack Obama. We also kept an eye on Ohio, and cheered as it swung over to blue.

Mr. Obama has some extraordinary challenges ahead of him, but I’m very excited to begin the process of rebuilding the infrastructure of the government, foreign policy, domestic policy, environmental policy, pretty much everything that has been ravaged by the past adminstration. As I told my mom, I think Obama’s days as a community organizer (read about them in his first book) will serve him well as he starts to contemplate and execute the extraordinary task of running the country. His ordinary beginnings and multicultural family give him insight both into the live of average Americans as well as those whose lives have been historically marginalized, to say nothing of his insight into world culture.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve been around students for several presidental elections now and this is the first time I’ve witnessed the majority of my students fully engaged in the election process. I teach seniors, so many are just a year away from voting, but historically (in my experience) that hasn’t mattered. Barack Obama is the first candidate I’ve seen galvanize and keep the attention of today’s teens. This is truly something; he’s competing with a lot for it. Their attention to this election is essential. Our youth is what we will all come to depend upon to carry us into the future. If Barack Obama is the man to light the way for them, I salute that. I also salute the citizens of this country in their choice of the first African American to be elected President of the United States. It’s been a long time coming.

PS. It’s now 11:24 PM and it’s official. Barack Obama has captured 273 electoral college votes. The Times’ headline reads, “Obama: Racial Barrier Falls In Heavy Turnout.” Oh, happy, happy day!

Wow. I’m having trouble putting into words my reactions to watching the dominance of the United States swimming team at the Beijing Olympics. The U.S. has always been competitive in swimming, but we are hardly alone in the world. The Europeans, Great Britain, South Africa, and particularly Australia have always been very tough competitors. The results from the first three days of competition hardly reflect that however. Standout performances include Michael Phelps’s 200 free, where he blew away his own world record by two seconds, Aaron Piersol and Natalie Coughlin’s wins in the 100 back, and the men’s 4×100 free relay, featuring Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, and the incomparable Jason Lezak. (Not sure what relay I’m talking about? Refresh your memory with this slideshow.)

One of the most remarkable aspects about all this is the fact that the United States has no state-sponsored swimming program, occasionally cited as a weakness. Our Olympians hearken from swimming programs sprinkled across the country. Michael Phelps is still coached by his age-group coach, Bob Bowman and Jason Lezak coaches himself, a feat any swimmer will recognize as just plain remarkable–the bottom of the pool is hardly dishing out inspiration.

What we do have, however, is one of the best collegiate swimming programs in the world. This is largely do to the dominance of our post-secondary schools in general. Our universities and colleges attract the best students in the world so it’s only logical athletes are part of that equation. These institutions have the funds necessary to run first-class athletic programs and offer scholarships to elite athletes from around world. In this respect, the United States is indirectly responsible for Olympians from smaller European and African countries who are recruited as college athletes to swim for the best coaches in the world. Many end up staying in this country to train for the Olympics literally in the same lane as American athletes. A state-sponsored program would never support such an open-door policy.

Let me cite an example: As I was listening to Rowdy Gaines cover the semi-finals of the women’s 100 backstroke, I was struck by a name he mentioned. Gaines was talking about the Zimbabwean swimmer, Kirsty Coventry, seeded first in final heat (where she was out-touched by Coughlin) thanks to the world record she set in the semi-finals. Coventry was coached by Kim Brackin at Auburn University, one of the powerhouses of United States collegiate swimming. Kim (McDonald) Brackin was co-captain of my very own high school swim team in Ithaca, New York during my sophomore year. Kimmy went on to swim four years at the University of Albany and I’m sure I would have lost track of her forever had I not stumbled across an article in a reception-room magazine featuring an interview and picture of Auburn swim coach, Kim Brackin, instantly recognizable to me as Kim McDonald.

Apparently, the name lodged itself in some corner of my mind because when Gaines mentioned Kim Brackin at Texas, it jogged my memory. Anyways, I couldn’t be prouder to know her. She is not yet 40, the head coach of one of the best swimming programs in the country, and coach of several Olympic athletes. Pretty damn impressive, lady. SHABA.

In an indirect way, Kim Brackin and Kirsty Coventry illustrate my point about the virtues of a laissez-faire sports program. Athletes in the United States have a lot more say in who coaches them than they would if we adhered to a state-sponsored model of athletic development. Swimmers choose the coach and program that best fits their needs, such as Kirsty’s decision to swim for Kim. These programs are enriched by the presence of foreign athletes, who better their chances by training in world class programs while spurring on homegrown athletes to higher achievement as well.

So, while the rest of the world debates why so many swimming world records are broken at the Olympics, I’m casting my vote for our hands-off model of athletic development. More of the fastest swimmers can be found in the U.S. than any part of the world, propelling the sport forward at an exponential rate. Let’s learn from this model.