Off to Oregon

The junior college experience was great. My first time moving away from home. Up the road to the north about ninety miles. Living on the campus of a university. Having the opportunity to experience life inside a dormitory. Getting the chance to enjoy meals inside a cafeteria. Surrounded by people of similar age for most of my time. While learning how to navigate it all with my disability. Cerebral palsy added unique challenges to the step of moving away from my hometown. The place where everything was familiar to my life. The physical modifications of performing daily tasks were strongly engrained. Making life around home as easy to navigate as it could possibly have been. With the venture, away from that environment. The physical environment would be different. Forcing new adjustment to become successful in daily activities. Causing me to become more independent. Along with learning the ability to advocate for myself. Asking for and gaining the accommodations to make life more enjoyable to live. The experience helped my growth as an individual in many aspects. Unexpected improvements felt both on a physical and emotional level. When my junior college career was finally completed. It became time for making decisions about my next steps. The natural step seemed to be attending the university where I had once lived. The institution my social life had been revolving around for a couple years. Only to find, it wasn’t the best option for finishing my college career.

It seemed the natural progression. The next step along my college career. Achieving the transfer degree was rewarding. Especially following the struggles in starting my educational pursuit. Now, it was time for moving onto the pursuing my bachelor’s degree. That next step would involve transferring to the school just down the highway. The place where I had lived for parts of two academic years. At the time my career began at the four-year school. My place of residence was off campus. No longer parking in the gravel lot of my first year. To begin at Western Washington, my parking option was closer to the destinations on campus. There would be no steep hill to climb. A paved walking path would transport me from the gravel lot, onto campus. Just a few steps would require climbing to arrive on the college campus. The school has a wonderful campus. Sloping slightly downhill from the location of my entrance each day. The walkways surrounded on each side with tall buildings. It never struck me as a terribly large college campus. Larger than the junior college. But, overly challenging to find the way around. The interesting aspect of Western was my challenge in moving through the campus. It was a place I was never able to get comfortable. It took time after departing for me to understand aspects of why attending the school was challenging.

Finding academic success at Western never came to fruition. There was struggle found in qualifying for my chosen major. Along with overall feelings of never gaining my footing. The grades weren’t terrible. But, something wasn’t working well enough to continue. In looking back on that one year. The trouble might have been more complex than the struggling grades. My inability to find comfort could have also been a factor. Having mild cerebral palsy places, me in an interesting category. When looking at one of the ways cerebral palsy can be classified. The Gross Motor Function Classification System has me at a level one, to the best of my knowledge. Having the ability to climb curbs and stairs without physical assistance or a railing during youth. While also having the ability of running and jumping but speed, balance, and coordination are limited. This GMFCS system only came to my attention within the last couple of years. When going to school it felt like the terrain traveled should not have been a factor. After all, the ability to perform major movements seemed to only be limited by a small degree. However, while thinking back on the time of life. The junior college attended just up the road was incredibly flat. The campus was also small. Most building bordered the small central quad with building height maxing out at two floors. The only slight elevation change occurred when walking in from the rear section of the parking lot. A school where much academic success was found.

The campus at Western Washington painted a different story. The school was built into the side of a hill. Which caused it to have a unique quality. Running from north to south along a gently rolling slope. Much of the footsteps were made on brick walkways. The campus has a beautiful look to it. But, the brick could be slightly unsteady for me to walk across. Concerns about my footing when strolling down one of the mild slopes. There was often added worry when the bricks were damp from the rain. Caution with each step as slipping on the wet brick could take place. The circumstances found me preoccupied with walking through campus. Once the building housing my classroom was reached. Another concern would take place. There were buildings on campus rising multiple floors into the sky. Some of my classrooms were up multiple floors. Involving the climb up stairways to reach the classroom. The task of moving around campus became exhausting. Moving from the parking lot. Up the slight hill ending with a flight of stairs. Arriving of points of unsteady brick under my feet, while moving slightly downward. Which could often be followed by climbing stairs inside buildings to reach my destination. Getting to and from school had become overwhelming, though it wasn’t realized at the time. With the challenge of moving around campus and my struggling grades. The decision was made to transfer schools.

My decision around another option for college wasn’t challenging. Always having wanted to attend Oregon State. Attending the school had often felt unrealistic for many reasons. One of the most prominent of those reasons was location. The distance from my hometown to the college felt substantial. OSU was about five hours from home. Maybe, a touch shorter depending on travel factors. With my discomfort of being just ninety minutes from home. Five hours of distance always felt like quite the leap. Thinking about the challenge of living that far away with my disability. Unlike my move up to Western, where there had been familiar faces from high school. Transferring to Oregon State would not have the layer of extra comfort. There were some positives about the idea to be considered. The campus sits in the small town of Corvallis. Resting in the Willamette Valley about ninety miles southwest of Portland. There would also be family in the Portland area. In the unlikely event of something going sideways. Family would only be about an hour and a half up the road. With Corvallis sitting in the valley. The city was relatively flat. Without many elevation changes. Even when elevations did change, they changed extremely slightly. The area would be void of steep climbs or banks of steps to reach campus. Having achieved my two-year degree, there seemed a likelihood of being admitted. Something feeling far from possible during and after high school.

There was the fear of rejection. After applying to a desired school in my final year of high school. Feeling the rejection in the moment of realizing going to Washington State following high school wouldn’t be possible. After the many struggles happening at Western Washington. It was challenging to understand my next steps if OSU didn’t work. It might have been easier to not even make an attempt. To explore other options without taking on the risk of rejection. This would have been my path of choice in the past. Opting for more of the sure thing, saving myself from the possibility of rejection. Even when the path lacking risk of being turned away, would not lead to happiness. The key would become dealing with the possibility of that rejection letter. Another factor to consider was my opportunities coming to a close. College was a hopeful goal to be completed in some form. The promise to myself had been made to attempt earning my four-year degree. Based around the success achieved in junior college. The confluence of events was giving me the now or never feeling. The risk of attending the college I had always wanted had to be taken in that moment. So, with anxiety on most every level regarding the situation. The application was filled out and sent off to Corvallis. The weeks came and went with unsteady emotion. Wondering about the outcome of my application. Even when trying to put it out of my mind. The process was incredibly complicated to execute. At one point, the anticipation became too much for my patience. Calling the office of admissions, hoping to gain clarity. The decision hadn’t been made at that point.

The letter arrived from Oregon State with nervous anticipation. Looking at the envelope before the seal was torn. Remembering the heart break of the letter from my past. The folded white piece of paper was pulled from the now jagged housing. Unfolding and reading the contents couldn’t help but bring a smile. An emotion waited upon for most of my life. Remembering walking on the wood basketball surface of Gill Coliseum at age ten. I had been admitted to Oregon State. To begin the journey, as the following calendar year would start. In the same manner moving me away from home for junior college. The weight had been lifted from my shoulders. With the determination of failing to give up on my college dream resulting in excitement. The emotion around a rejection letter in high school became erased. Replaced by an almost directly opposite exhilaration from the letter resting on the counter. It was the excitement probably felt by many students in their final year of high school. I felt blessed to have gained that emotion during my life. The elevated emotion was also met with tinges of anxiety. Thinking about the enormous step of moving further away from home. Imagining the pressure of the coming calendar year. The desire of turning the experience in Oregon into the positive experience dreamed about. Excitement and challenges awaited me in the coming months.

Having comfort and excitement in my near future felt positive. The change in college would remove some pressure. The challenge of moving through my physical life would ease. Being in a place feeling more comfortable could improve my academic ability. Unlike the campus of Western Washington, which rolled with the hills. The campus of Oregon State would be primarily flat. In anticipating my arriving on campus. My thinking became moving about the campus would be easier. It would also be more relaxing when walking the solid footing pathways. There would be no brick walkways to battle when walking through campus. Another change would be walking to and from campus each day. Even before moving down to Corvallis. It seemed living within walking distance was appealing. When finally looking for my place to live. An apartment was found, allowing me to walk to class each morning. Without the hills to traverse. The walking would continue helping cerebral palsy improvement. My journey to class would be void of the pressure involving elevation changes. Another positivity with the campus of Oregon State would be building size. There wouldn’t be as many building reaching high into the sky. With most of my classes happening on ground level. While only a few, took place up a floor or two. Oregon State was found to set up better for my education. Finding success early after arriving on campus. I truly feel the geographical setup of the campus and city hugely attributed to success. It would have been helpful to think about my cerebral palsy relating to my surroundings earlier.

There seem many items to consider when having a disability. Different elements to contemplate when thinking of a college to attend. During my thought process of where to gain an education. The added way of thinking about where to go, didn’t enter into my mind. The first college applied to shows my lack of thought. Washington State has a campus built into a hill. Having more undulation throughout the campus than Western Washington did. Attending school there would have been a huge challenge on many levels. Including the five hours of distance from home. Sometimes things work out the way they are intended. Even when the sting of rejection can make things difficult to understand. The way in which each campus and city surrounding the college was arranged. Would have been good item to think through. Even with my gross motor movements being mildly impacted. The ability to walk and get around was still impacted. Taking on the approach would have added to an already complex process. Though it would have seemed a good addition to promote more successful outcomes. The journey of finding the right schools to meet my needs was complicated. Sending me on winding roads, which felt unending at times. It can be challenging to think through complication others may not be required to consider. However, it could make an experience more enjoyable.

My college career was an incredible adventure. Ending in the ideal place for me to succeed. The only wish would have been considering Oregon State earlier. Working through the fear of being further away from home. Having more confidence in my ability to live an independent life. Realizing some concession would be required to achieve that independence. Without facing the discouragement that haunted some of my years. Moving around the campus at Oregon State happened without much difficulty. Every pathway and walking area was flat. Each stairway requiring engagement was built widely enough to move freely. The old buildings provided comfort in their roomy spaces. My apartment sat on the ground floor of a safe feeling building. With life in the small town moving at an easy pace. I still drove home with relative consistency. Finding my way back about once per month. Helping provide a break from the challenges of life alone. The challenges of cerebral palsy were pushed even further while in Corvallis. Being challenges in some different ways from life in Bellingham. Living on my own for the first time could become lonely. Attempting to keep myself company, while taking on any physical challenge of life. The time in Bellingham helped me learn the skill of slowing things. Developing the skill of holding myself short of becoming overwhelmed. Working through physical tasks that challenged. Learning to take them on one step at a time to achieve success. There were many things learned through my years in college. Discovering cerebral palsy didn’t have to hold me back. Though taking my disability into more consideration would have been helpful. Removing much of the stress from my education journey. Though, in the end, each challenge was met, and success was achieved.


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