Onondaga Community College’s commencement was originally scheduled for today. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the ceremony was postponed until August 9. It has been an unprecedented semester for students who left campus for spring break March 13 and never returned, completing the academic year in a distance-learning format. The challenges all students faced were sudden and significant. One of the many who persevered and completed work toward her degree is Student Trustee Dawn Penson. We asked her for her thoughts on what it meant to finish the semester in this way.
“This semester has been the most difficult and challenging of my two years. The last semester is supposed to be easy, right? NOPE!!! All of my biology and math cells went to my children when I had them many, many, and many years ago. I felt like I had to do some type of ceremonial ritual dance to the biology and math gods to connect to the cells in order to help me think in these classes. I had an ‘A’ in every class except Biology (66) when we went remote halfway through the semester. I was down on myself because my person goal was to walk across the stage with a perfect 4.0 GPA. I believed if I failed at this people would say I did not succeed because of my blindness/disabilities - not because a particular topic was hard of a professor spoke in tongues. I had to learn how to not be so hard on myself. I had difficulty with accessibility when it came to Biology. The class has so much information, is so visual, and has a totally difference concept of taking tests which I wasn’t used to. Nancy Carr and the Office of Accessibility Resources, Naomi in the Testing Center, as well as myself with with by Biology professor to find ways to navigate around this. I was proud of myself that I have never had to use a tutor for my classes, but we got one for this class as well as Math. After seeing my grade of 66 halfway through, I said if I passed this class with a ‘C’ I would dance across the stage at graduation.
Once we went remote I panicked like you would not believe. I do better with face-to-face interactions. I’m a social butterfly and thrive on engaging with my professors and fellow students in the classroom. I love listening to the different perceptions of others about a certain topic because I felt like I earned so much more than just reading a line or two in a textbook. If I panicked over just going remote, I added more anxiety on top of a difficult situation when I had to help my 11-year old son who is ADHD navigate his online classes. Everything was unstructured between myself and my son the first couple of weeks. I had to learn everything I have learned in my Human Services degree and apply it to my own life at home. I had to use self-care, meditate, find some type of balance between being a mother and a college student, create our own structure at home, and started having a love affair with chocolate to get me through the day. At one point I felt like I had to choose between my college education and mo son’s education. He is 11 years old and learning algebra in the 6th grade. I had no idea how to help him because I couldn’t see what he was doing on his computer without my screen reader software assisting me. I am not only trying to learn my own things, but teach him to navigate and learn his things also. Then throw in Zoom sessions. We are both doing them at the same time and we could hear each other’s conversations which distracted us even more. Throw in s barking dog not used to us being home all day and it’s total CHAOS!
When other colleges started implementing the Pass/Fail option, I took this idea to SGA to get a consensus if this was something we could advocate for. I am glad we did because this pandemic led to a way of learning we were unprepared for and it was impacting our grades which we had worked hard for. Thank you Senate, Provost, and Dr. Crabill for adding this option!
I am the first person in my family to earn a college degree. If I look back on what I thought about myself two years ago, all I can say is that Onondaga Community College helped me become a better woman, mother, student and friend. I was able to rise above my own expectations of myself and overcome negative stereotypical misconceptions of a woman in her 40s who is completely blind and hearing impaired. If you tell me ‘no’ I am going to tell you ‘yes’ and find a way to get it done. Everyone at OCC worked together to find solutions.
Now that it is over I can breathe a little easier. I did not end up with a 4.0 but I am excited to walk across the state August 9th. I did it. I did it completely blind. I did my personal best and that is all I can ask for considering balancing college remotely, my son’s education, and everyday activities of home life during a global pandemic. When I shake Dr. Crabill’s hand on that stage I am going to do a ‘shimmy shake’ celebration dance.
I am so very honored to be a part of OCC’s legacy. I am truly going to miss my professors, OAR, SGA, having a voice on the Board of Trustees, and being inspired by beautiful people. I have made lifelong friendships at OCC and for this I thank you.”