Monday, October 21, 2013

Meeting a Pulitzer Prize Winner

So here is the story, and it's kind of long. 

First off, I work for the Center for Academic Program Support (CAPS) here on campus and on Wednesday October 16th I was manning their table at the Celebration of Student Writers (CSW) in the SUB ballrooms. It was a pretty cool event, with talks and booths and presentations from classes. I was only working from 10-12, so I knew I would miss a lot of it because most of the events were after 12, but I didn't mind. 

Anyways, towards the end of my shift around 11:30, one of the guys who I was pretty sure set up the event comes over with another gentleman. The gentleman asks me questions about CAPS and I was surprised to find myself in a deep conversation about the effect of CAPS on campus and how CAPS has one of the top writing centers in the nation and how we are on the cutting edge with our technology and that I personally was currently involved in building some of our online tutoring pedagogy.

It was the most I had talked the entire time I was sitting at that table. Everyone else (mostly students required to go) would have a 10 second conversation with me so they could have one of the cool pens we were giving out. Anyways, the gentleman asked for my name, I gave it; he thanked me, shook my hand and walked away.  I realized that I hadn't asked his name and I felt like I might have been rude, but I figured eh, it was no big deal. 

My shift ended at 12 and I decide to walk around and visit all the cool booths. I also knew there was an author talk happening at 12:15 that I thought I could get credit for with this class. Around 12:10 someone announces they will begin the talk shortly and I take a seat in the front row. I notice a few people talking off stage, the coordinators I presumed. Then I see the man who I had that conversation with and I assumed he was also one of the people “running the show” which confused me a bit because the questions he asked me seemed to imply he was not from UNM or even Albuquerque. Again, I brush it off.

A few minutes later a man takes the mic on stage and introduces David Shipler, the author of The Working Poor, which was the Freshman Learning experience book (a book all the freshman in entry level English or university studies classes had to read). They, of course, mention that he is a Pulitzer Prize winner, which I was impressed by, and that he has numerous other books. Then the author comes on to stage…and it was the man who I had the CAPS conversation with.

I could feel my checks immediately turn red from embarrassment. Did I seriously just meet a famous Author/Pulitzer Prize winner and not even ask his name at the end of our conversation. I was mortified. At the same time, I was proud that I knew enough about caps to give it a good word in front of this man.

Despite wanting to run out of there, I stayed for the whole hour long talk. There weren’t many people actually actively listening to the talk, there was a lot going on at the booths etc. so it was hard to hear, even from the front row, which made it even harder for me to sit there because he looked me in the eyes multiple times during his talk. I learned a lot and found out this man was really interesting.

His main premise was that we do not have a poverty problem; that poverty is a result of underlying, more significant problems in America. He talked about the ways of measuring poverty, and how wrong we are to use income, since it is just a snapshot, whereas debt is a moving photo. He also said poverty is psychological and relative.

He also went into the fact that poverty leads to malnutrition, which leads to poor brain development in children, which can lead to high cases of misbehavior and high dropout rates, which then leads to poverty. It is a vicious circle.

One of the last things he talked about was the internal problems that can cause and be caused by poverty. Self-loathing and low self-esteem leads to people not trying to get jobs or not holding them because they don’t feel important. He told a story of a friend who owned a business and had to hire people and his frustrations at people who didn’t show up. He told his friend that, often times, people don’t show up because they feel like they are not important and no one will even notice that they are gone.

This struck a chord in me. I have had a job at the same place for 5+ years now (not CAPS, somewhere else I won’t mention). Despite my hard work, I earn minimum wage have not received a raise (other than mandatory minimum wage increases) the entire time I have worked there. I have worked their longer than most of my managers. I have been told many times how great I am doing and I am certain I could do the job of any of my managers, but because I can’t work full time, I can’t take the position. This past year I got a job at CAPS (higher paid and WAY more fulfilling) and I cut my hours at this other job. I was going to just quit, but my boss asked me not to, so I didn’t. So I worked there about 10 hours a week. They started cutting my responsibilities and training others on things that only I could do. I used to be valuable and special, but I felt worthless all of the sudden. So I started calling in all the time. I almost never worked there if I could find an excuse, I wouldn’t go in. finally my boss sat me down and threated to let me go if I didn’t change. This was about a month ago. I have stopped calling in, but I informed him I would be leaving at the end of the semester.

It wasn’t until I heard this author talk about this problem with feeling useless, that I realized that was why I had begun to call in. I realized that my boss was really the problem and not me. I ended up talking to my boss Friday and he was finally able to see where I was coming from. He said he would try to tell everyone they were more important more often. Although it was not enough to make me stay another semester, I was glad to hear that maybe future employees won’t go through what I did.

Anyways, this guy really got in my head and I ended up buying his book, The Working Poor, right after his talk and having him sign it and I talked to him some more. He was a cool dude! I can’t wait to read the book.

(Sorry this was so long, it was just a cool story and I was really touched by his ideas and philosophy about poverty and education in America)

1 comment:

  1. You're an awesome story teller, Melissa! This was an interesting read. I read your entire story and was interested the whole time. It was great! I'm glad you got something out of this guy's talk. :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.