What College is Like for Me: an Interview with Kirsta Graff
Two more days of October, the glorious month that holds not only all the fall festivities but the celebration and recognition of how people with Down syndrome are positively impacting those around them, and I saved the best for last. As we progress toward a culture of more acceptance and opportunity, for many families of individuals with Down syndrome, the greatest challenge is still finding opportunities for meaningful employment. Like everyone else, people with Down syndrome want to contribute their voice, talents and time to a job where their work can make a difference, and everything we do to advocate for Nella and support her now keeps that in mind. Hearing about the ways more colleges are developing programs for people with intellectual disabilities and how those programs are expanding opportunities is incredibly hopeful, but of course, we need more. I applaud companies that look for ways they can employ people with special needs and realized I can be one of those people right now. I’ve been blogging for over ten years now and am thankful for the ways our work world has stretched to include so many new creative opportunities for people to support their families and make a living doing things they love. From blog writing and sharing on social media to writing a book and working on partnerships with brands I love, I’ve learned so much and continue to look forward to new experiences. So, new experience–I’ve hired my first intern, Kirsta Graff, and she happens to have Down syndrome. Late in the summer, I shared a little bit about the privilege of joining Ruby’s Rainbow and Kirsta’s family as they dropped her off to college at Bethel University (she’s a Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship recipient) and realized what an incredible perspective she has right now–something I know readers would love to hear. So, I’ll be assigning Kirsta some writing assignments with accompanying photography and will be working with her internship director and student mentor at Bethel to help her learn more about writing, photography, social media and sharing her story in an engaging way. We FaceTime once a week to go over assignments and progress and talk about what she’s working on. And I’m paying her for her valuable contribution to the blog. As I told Kirsta, “My job requires me to find interesting, meaningful content, and your experience there and ability to share that experience is exactly what makes blog content good.” I’m so thrilled to have her as an intern and excited to learn from her. Want more of this? More paid opportunities for people with special needs to offer their voice? Support Kirsta in the comments and let us know this is something of value to you. And what more do you want to hear from her? Topics you’d love to learn about through her? Tell us! Correspondent reporting for duty from St. Paul, Minnesota!
Kirsta’s first assignment answers some of my own questions about her first weeks in college and what that looks like.
1. You started college in the beginning of September. What has been the most challenging thing so far for you and how are you overcoming that challenge?
A challenging thing is I miss my family. When I wake up in the morning, I think to myself “Take it one day at a time”. This week I know that Thursday night is just around the corner which is fall break. Bethel said no sleeping at home until fall break, so I am really excited to get to sleep in my own bed. I need a nap! At home I would go to bed early, but at school I am staying up until later because there are lots of new experiences. Before I came to school I cried sometimes because I was worried, but I didn’t know why. I’m not normally a cryer. Now that I am here at school, it’s more familiar. If I start to feel jittery or teary, I like to hang out with my friends who make me feel happy. Today I ate lunch with two of my friends from church, and they made me laugh a lot. People are very important to me. I also know that it’s normal to feel homesick at the beginning of new things.
2. What has been your favorite moment since you started college?
Homecoming has been my favorite moment for sure. My housing mentor Christina got me and my friends ready in her room. Christina did my hair, and you can even still tell my hair is straightened because she straightened my hair. I did not wear makeup. Makeup is not my thing, it kind of makes me gag.
This is me with my neighbor Nate at homecoming. We had so much fun taking pictures.
3. Can you take us through a typical day at school and give us a day-in-the-life of Kirsta?
7:00am I wake up and get ready for breakfast. I eat breakfast in the dining center with my friend Olivia. This is not easy to wake up so early.
8:00am I have my first class of the day. This class is Independent Living Skills. In Independent Living Skills, we do projects that help us learn about the people around us. One of my projects was listening and writing down positive things people said, and negative things people said. This is my favorite class because it’s about living on my own, but I still love my parents!
10:00am I got to Chapel in Benson Great Hall. I like Chapel because we get to worship God and listen to Pastor Laurel preach. She is really funny and energetic.
11:10am I have Health and Fitness Class. This is at the Wellness Center, and it is where we learn to stay hydrated and fit. My trainer’s name is Tyler, and he is a Packers fan just like me! But I’m not a fan of fitness.
12:00pm I go to the dining center and eat lunch. This is where I see a lot of friends. Sometimes I take pictures of my lunch if it is salad and send to my mom and say “See, I’m eating healthy.” If it is pizza, I don’t take a picture.
12:50pm I have Math and Finances Class. My teacher’s name is Jenn and she teaches us how to add, subtract, and divide money. I do not like math.
2:00-4:30pm I have my on campus internship. My job mentor Kelly helps me give tours to visitors at Bethel. We also work on my writing for Kelle together!
5:00pm I go to dinner in the dining center with my friends.
7:00pm- I go to Shack in my dorm Nelson. Shack is a place we can go and hang out. It is also where we meet to go bowling for the Special Olympics on Tuesdays! We have stuff to do every night.
4. What do you hope this college experience at Bethel will do for you? How do you see it helping you with the next steps to your future?
Bethel is helping me to get experiences working. One job I get to do is being the basketball manager. Another job I get to do is writing this blog for Kelle! This is exciting because one day I could write my own blog and keep sharing my sparkle with others! I love Bethel! It helps me make connections and live on my own.
5. Every college student finds great resources to help them succeed at school. This can be anything from an agenda to help keep due dates organized to tutoring services. What are some of the resources there that are helping you succeed?
I am always wondering “Is it 7 o’clock yet?” because that’s when I have to check in with my housing mentor. I do that with my iPad or phone. I got an iPpad when I came to school and I knew it’d be a part of my life, and it is! If we want to go off campus, we have to go with an approved person and fill out the form I finally got that down. We have to FaceTime our housing mentor when we go and come back.
We also use Group Me app for communicating. Our iPad also has my Google calendar on it. All of my classes and activities are put into my Google calendar so I look at it too many times a day to count! I also have many mentors at Bethel who help me to be independent. I have a housing mentor to help me keep my room clean and to be more social. I have a job mentor too. So all these things are tips to help.
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