Local Gems

A Dive into Jensen

Olivia Belcher 10.7.2019

We met arts writer and activist Jensen Stell last week on Local Gems Season 2, Episode 2. On top of learning how her love for art grew and how she began writing for The Round Up, we learned a rather unique fact about Jensen.

Five years from now she sees herself working in funeral home services and possibly owning her own funeral home in a large metropolitan city. She got her start at a local funeral home, French’s Funerals and Cremations, “It was the summer I was 17 I did an internship at a family-owned funeral home in Albuquerque. There wasn’t a lot I could do because I was 17 and I was the youngest intern they had ever had up to that point, and I wasn’t apprenticing for mortuary school so I ended up spending an entire summer going to funerals,” says Stell.

Stell usually receives reactions of repulsion when she shares this information with others but that is hardly the feeling she got when going to work. “I left work every day feeling so good. I left work every day feeling really fulfilled. I left work knowing that I helped and that feeling is not a feeling you can compare to a lot of other things. This is helping people through what could be the hardest time of their lives,” says Stell.

She also experienced the customer side of funeral work when she helped her grandfather make funeral preparations when her grandmother passed away. “I helped my grandpa through all the planning of my grandmother’s funeral, and it made me want to do it even more. We went through French’s and they were so nice and helpful,” says Stell, and she wants to make other families feel as taken care of as she did.

“There are so many pros in going into the funeral industry. This is a public service you are providing, and you are a key member for the community which makes the job security awesome,” says Stell, on top of many other pros.

Stell is fully aware that funeral work isn’t a job that can just be done on a whim.

“It’s not an easy job by any means. There were days where I was going to funerals for children and no one said it was easy, but during these services I was able to speak wit theses families and make things a little bit easier even if it was by just handing them a prayer card. That is why I want to do this,” says Stell.

Another pro she sees in funeral work, especially in a large city, is the exposure to the vast amount of different rituals and traditions different faiths have surrounding death. “Different faiths practice different rituals and witnessing the different rituals is very interesting. I want to be an active participant in these different cultures and I think it will be more diverse in a big city. You never know what is going to walk through that door, what they are going to want and when,” says Stell,

With her experience in funeral work and observations of how people react to her wanting to enter into the funeral business, Stell has found that there is a negative stigma surrounding the concept of death, especially among Americans. She feels that conversations about what should happen after a loved one dies should be more of a common conversation among families. “Americans should be more open to talking about death, I understand that it is a little weird because of the element of the unknown, but I think it is very important and shouldn’t be so taboo. Death

shouldn’t be a weird thing, people die. We might as well understand it and have a grip on the situation,” says Stell. She specifically mentions Americans because other cultures around the world perceive death in more positive light and more open about it within their communities and families. Americans tend to shut down when having to face the death of a loved one. Stell stresses that it is better to be prepared than having to deal with all of the decisions on top of grieving.

Stell knows that funerals are hard for families and understand that empathy and good communication skills are key when working in this field. She is currently majoring in communications here at NMSU, which she finds very beneficial in acquiring the skills she is going to need as a funeral director.

“Funeral directing is very much an art in itself and I think it is something I would be very happy doing. It would provide me with a stable career and allow me to live comfortably,” says Stell on top of making a positive difference in people’s lives.

Her desire to embark on such a unique professional field is something that I think everyone should strive for. Jensen isn’t afraid of stepping outside of the box and doing something not everyone is comfortable doing and that is extremely admirable.

The Blacksmith

Olivia Belcher 9.23.2019

On a hot day in Hatch, New Mexico, sparks fly as a piece of scalding metal comes out of a burning forge and on to the anvil. A hammer strikes the metal over and over and creates the perfect profile of a horse. The person yielding that hammer is Hopper Shannon. Hopper Shannon has been a blacksmith for the last 30 years. He is originally from El Paso, Texas, where he grew up, and now resides in Hatch, New Mexico, with his wife.

Shannon suffered some serious injuries while working construction and his doctor told him that he wasn’t going to be able to walk very well. Shannon didn’t let the doctor’s words discourage his desire to work hard and told himself “stand up and do it.” Getting up and doing it is exactly what he is doing.

While recovering from his third back break, after falling off a roof, his wife showed him a few articles on Spanish Colonial Blacksmithing which first sparked his interest and he has been pounding away at it ever since. Shannon is completely self-taught. He hasn’t taken any lessons from fellow blacksmiths nor has he taken a professional class. Everything he knows he has learned on his own through trial and error. In addition to teaching himself the trade, he also built his own blacksmith shop. The shop is 30 feet by 40 feet that includes a carpentry shop, a welding shop and a forge. This is where all of his work is created on a daily basis.

Shannon makes anything from letter openers to fireplace screens, but his favorite items are special orders that people ask him to make. “Anything anybody needs, if I’m able to make it I’ll get out there and do it,” Shannon said.

The special order that he is most proud of is a 15 feet by 17 feet cross that he made out of tubing steel which he manipulated to look like wood. The cross sits outside the First Baptist Church in Hatch, New Mexico. “It has the bands and the footrest that he stood on, it just came out real nice,” Shannon explained.

Blacksmithing isn’t just something he is interested in, but he has made it his full-time job and source of income. “Many people tell me ‘that is a really nice hobby you have’, and I tell them this isn’t a hobby. If it was a hobby I wouldn’t be able to make a living off it,” Shannon said.

Working outside with the elements isn’t a new thing for Shannon. In addition to working in construction, Shannon also fought in Vietnam and says that blacksmithing is “the closest thing to an inside job I have ever had.”

Shannon sells to private buyers, but his most common place of business is the Las Cruces Farmer’s Market. He attends the market every Saturday to sell his work and spread the interest of blacksmithing.

Although the trade is not very popular this day in age, Shannon feels that if society declines any more we are going to need one again maybe not in our lifetime but our children’s lifetime.

Shannon is a modern example of how important historical trades such as blacksmithing and welding are to modern society in teaching us how to work hard and with our hands. Today many jobs revolve around computers and technology, but old fashion hard work is still essential in developing well-rounded citizens.

“It keeps my mind right,” Shannon said, and he likes the fact that he is still standing on dirt and working hard. He says that blacksmithing has taught him “self-motivation and you can’t just sit down and quit, that you got to do something. Quitting is the worst thing you can do.”

He sets his hammer down on the anvil and puts the scalding metal in cold water to cool, and yet another Hopper Shannon piece is created. It is just a matter of minutes before he chooses another piece of metal and picks that hammer up again. Sparks fly with every strike and Shannon keeps on doing what he loves to do.

I had the privilege of meeting Hopper and his wife last semester. They taught me so much about the history of blacksmithing and welcomed me into their home to get a close look at where Hopper does his magic. Be sure to stop by the Las Cruces Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning, their booth is always on the right-hand side about a block into the market, and show this unique artist some love.

Art. Art. And more art.

Olivia Belcher 9.16.2019

We met Donovan Swann back in April on the podcast side of Local Gems. It has been five months and there has been a lot of growth and change in her world. To start things off, one of the biggest changes that occurred was her moving from the old art building, Williams Hall, to the brand spanking new art building, Devasthali Hall.

With successfully moving her entire art studio to the new building she is looking forward to the clean slate that a new studio will provide. “I’m really excited for my new studio I just have to get it rearranged and decorated,” Swann says.

Along with excitement for the art department’s new home comes some sadness associated with leaving the old one especially since it is going to be torn down. “I think I am probably going to cry because I have spent so long there, my friends made fun of me because I kept saying how sad it was going to be to leave the old building. There are a lot of memories attached to the old building, a lot of experiences, friend that I have met and kept hopefully for my whole life,” Swann says.

In addition to moving her entire art world, Swann collaborated with fellow grad students to create new pieces. One of the collaboration pieces Swan created is a collage of zines specifically of video games which was featured in the Art PopUp Show in Bank of the West.

Their goal with this piece was to bring up the conversation of how video games and video game design is not seen as art in the contemporary art world, and why that is the case. She especially enjoyed creating this piece because it merged her art/professional world and a hobby that she greatly enjoys together, which is something that doesn’t come easy.

Another show Swann contributed to is Nasty Women Part 2 that was recently displayed at Art Obscura.

This is Swann’s third semester of grad school and her second semester teaching. The first semester that she taught was her very first semester of grad school.

After getting passed her initial doubt about teaching she found that it is something she truly enjoys. “Honestly, I really love it and I thought I was going to hate teaching. It scared me in a lot of different ways. I was forced to and I’m really glad that I was forced because I ended up really loving it,” Swann says.

She hopes to continue her teaching into the professional world once she graduates with her Masters in Fine Arts, preferably in a much cooler in temperature city than Las Cruces

She has also done a lot of personal growth over the summer. “I’ve learned that it is ok to make more personal work. There was a long period of time before when I didn’t make work about myself. I would make it about my interests but less so about my personal experiences. Putting myself in a place of vulnerability and maybe a place where I’m afraid is good and will allow me to connect more to other people,” Swann says.

Her advice to other students and artists at the same point in life as her is “don’t be afraid to try and don’t be afraid to fail. You make better work when you’re not afraid to fail. Be willing to ask for help, sleep and eat healthy.”

She is looking forward to what the rest of Grad School has to offer and will continue to create. Explore and keep up with her work on her Instagram @donovanswannart.


Financial aid just out of reach.

Olivia Belcher 4.29.2019

When thinking of attending college one of the first things that needs to be thought about is whether or not financial aid is an option. As we all know, since it has been drilled into our minds from childhood, that college is extremely expensive and even more so at the university level.

In an ideal world, a student’s parents started a college fund when they were young so they have money ready to spend on school, but that is just not the norm in today’s society. There was a study done in 2015 by Ohio State University that found that 3% of students pay for college from prior savings and 19% rely on family contributions. It also found that students rely mostly on scholarships (35%) and loans (36%). The percentage of how many students rely on savings and family has dropped since then.

When applying for FASFA, there are a few requirements that you have to consider like GPA, being a US citizen, and being enrolled or accepted into college, which all seems pretty easy. What most students don’t realize is that when FASFA is looking at your application they take the Cost of Attendance and subtract it from your Expected Family Contribution based on your family’s income and that is how they calculate whether or not you receive financial aid or not and how much. The Expected Family Contribution is found through a calculation that is unique the FASFA, but what if a student is living on their own and the realistic EFC is $0, regardless of what that student’s parents make? What happens then?

Sadly, until you reach the age of 24 or you fall into a special category, you are considered a dependent and you have to include your parent’s income. There are many students under the age of 24 who don’t receive any help from their parents who have well-paying jobs. This hinders them from receiving financial aid because ‘living on your own’ isn’t one of the special categories to not be considered a dependent.

As a result, these students have to resort to paying for college on their own by working at the same time and taking out loans that they are going to have to pay massive interest on by the time they graduate. I know an old friend of mine, that wished to remain anonymous, actually had to resort to dropping out of college because she couldn’t make enough at work to cover living expenses on top of tuition and supplies. The sad part is her dad is a doctor and makes very good money, but none of it goes to her or her schooling. She doesn’t qualify for financial aid and it is difficult to win scholarships because working gets in the way of applying and meeting all the requirements. It is unfortunate that she had to just settle for the job she has now and not go to school just because she is living on her own under the age of 24.

I have another friend who attends NMSU with me and she has been struggling with staying on her feet finically as well. She lives here for the purpose to go to college and received a scholarship, but it is not enough. She also did not qualify for financial aid even though she comes from a single parent home and her mom makes as much as a teacher “it is such an unjust system,” she said. I know these two students are not the only ones dealing with this problem.

If a student can prove that they are supporting themselves with no help from their parents and that desire to go to school to better their own lives they should be able to receive financial aid. I don’t think it would be that difficult to implement requirements for students supporting themselves so that aid can be available. It seems unethical to leave these students in a sticky situation that they can’t get out of even if they try because there is no system in place made to help them.

Changing the financial aid system would result in more educated and successful citizens that will, in turn, further benefit the future of our society.

You’re What You Own?

Olivia Belcher 4.15.2019

Moving out of your parents’ home and finally out on your own is one of those milestones in someone’s life that is life-changing. The level of impact that moving out on your own has increased especially when you’re a college student between the ages of 18 and 25. I know for me personally, it has been a huge wake-up call. I moved out and on my own in order to go to college at NMSU which is only 45 minutes away from my home town El Paso but it still was a huge change regardless.

After about two or three weeks of living on my own, along with my boyfriend, I discovered many of my own flaws and odd habits. I came to realize that I am the worst at putting my clothes in the hamper, rinsing out my dishes before I put them in the sink and that I have a horrible habit of leaving the lights on. Every time I come home and realize that I left a light on I hear my mom in the back of my head saying “turn off your lights child!”

One of the biggest things that I realize my mom did for me, was my laundry. I definitely took for granted how time-consuming and tedious laundry is until I had to start doing it myself. Now I find myself re-wearing things way more often then I used to. I don’t know how she kept up with all of it. It seems like I constantly have a huge mountain that never gets smaller. I feel like I took a lot of what my parents did for me for granted, we all do.

We don’t notice what other people do for us until it stops, which is a very sad reality. Now, I thank my parents for everything they do for me every time I see them.

A friend of mine, Nichole Walls, also dealt with this struggle of what it is like when you’re on your own and no longer have your parents support.

She told me, “I took for granted everything I got while living at home because my dad provided everything for me. My Phone bill, utilities, and even groceries and when he passed away, out of nowhere I instantly was hit will all these responsibilities.”

Another aspect of living on your own many of us do not consider is that we now have to make our own decisions without guidance right at our fingertips. Most of the time these decisions are financial decisions. I no longer could spend the money I made from my part-time job on just myself.

Nicky also realized this quickly. “The luxury of spending money on yourself comes to a limit because now you have to put your money towards bills instead of buying clothes and shoes.”

The temptation of getting accredit card is very real when you’re living on your own as well. Managing money is not everyone’s strong suit so if you don’t fully understand credit cards, you can easily be persuaded because it sounds like free money.

“When I got my brand new place I noticed that I started constantly getting credit card offers from different companies and I feel like they take advantage of us because we don’t know any better and easily fall into debt,” said Nicky.

I don’t think society realizes how hard it is for college students to actually get the hang of living on their own. It is not just an instinct that we are all born with, it is something we have to learn on our own.

Now that I have lived on my own for almost a whole semester, I see myself growing and becoming more responsibly. Now I am much more comfortable being responsible for myself and my own space. I look forward to getting even better at laundry and making decisions on my own.



Olivia Belcher 4.1.2019

It is sad to say, but we live in a time where mass shootings occur regularly across the world. In the United States alone, there have been 162 public mass shootings since 1966 and many of the deadliest shootings have occurred within the past few years according to the Washington Post. The deadliest shooting to occur in the United States was the 2017 Las Vegas Shooting at a country music festival which claimed 58 victims and is currently the 6th deadliest shooting to occur globally. In addition to this, the number one most deadly shooting to occur globally was the 2015 Garissa University College attack in Garissa, Kenya that claimed 148 lives according to worldatlas.com. The most recent shooting to occur was the New Zealand Mosque Shootings that claimed 50 lives and is now the 8th deadliest shooting to occur globally.

Once these tragedies occur the one thing that is plastered all over social media, newspapers, and broadcast news are the crazy coward’s names that committed the horrible acts. Within days of the shooting, these people are instant celebrities. Everyone wants to know what provoked them to commit such horrible acts so they start researching their backgrounds, how they were brought up if they had any health issues, their religion, their political views, and everything in between. People also go as far as to write books and create movies based on these murderers. The saddest part about all of this is that not once are the victim’s names mentioned nor are their lives vigorously researched. The media pays absolutely no attention to the people who were killed; they merely become a number in the statistics of the incident. It is devastating to think that we could easily recall the name of a mass shooter if we are prompted to but unless we are somehow connected to a mass shooting victim it would be impossible to list their names when prompted to.

Many people argue that extensively mentioning who did it and why brings awareness to the situation and can help reduce mass shootings, but I have to disagree with that. I believe that basically making this person’s name well-known through constantly mentioning it in the media makes them a celebrity and people copy celebrities all the time. Copycats are inevitable and they can find the information regardless of whether it is on the news or not, but having the information easily and frequently accessible through the news is just upping the chances of copycats.

There is a filmmaker that spends a lot of his time in El Paso by the name of Charlie Minn. He does documentary films on mass shootings. Some of his films are 77 Minutes, which features survivors of the 1984 McDonald’s shooting that occurred in San Diego, California, A Nightmare in Las Cruces, which talks about the 1990 Las Cruces Bowl massacre, 49 Pulses, which examines the Orlando Night Club shooting by using survivor interviews, re-enactments, and police body cameras, and Mexico’s Bravest Man, which tells the story of Julian Leyzaola Perez, police chief, who declared war on the drug cartels and survived 8 assassination attempts. Minn is a strong advocator for keeping mass shooter’s names out of the limelight and bring more attention to the victims. He never once mentions the shooter’s names in his films and refers to them as cowards. He mentions as many of the victims names as possible and gives viewers an inside into their lives that were lost. In an El Paso Times article, Minn said, “MY films represent the innocent people who have been murdered. It’s become my image as a filmmaker to tackle hard subjects and the effects on the victims. I’m trying to give voice to the voiceless. The victim’s stories are heroic and inspiring.” Minn’s message is a strong one that the media should pay attention to. Mass Shooters should not go down in history for their horrible actions, they deserve to be forgotten and the victims deserve to be remembered.

Minn isn’t the only one acting on this idea either. In the wake of the most recent New Zealand mosque shooting, the country’s Prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is refusing to mention the mass shooter’s name as respect to the victims. In a USA Today article, Ardern said, “One thing I can assure you-you won’t hear me speak his name.” She is doing so to support the idea that elevating the identity of the perpetrator in mass shootings leads to copycats. Instead of repeating the shooter’s name Ardern urged the people of New Zealand to frequently speak about the victims, say their names, and tell their stories.

Minn and Ardern are on the right track to decreasing mass shooter copycats as well as bring more attention to the victims of these horrible acts. There is no reason to make horrible people famous because of their horrible actions. The whole world should not know their names off the top of their heads, or how their childhood was, or if he had some sort of hate towards a certain group. None of those details should matter. What should matter are the lives of the people who are no longer living. The victims should have all the fame and all the limelight, not the monster who stripped them of their future.

Crystals You Say?

Olivia Belcher 3.11.2019

Crystals and rocks have always been a huge part of my life. I used to stuff my pockets with the coolest looking stones form the playground in kindergarten and ever since then I have just been drawn to them. As I got older I learned that each different stone inhibits its own energy and along with that energy comes a wide range of ways stones can help humans with health, mental, mood, and even lifestyle problems. I believe strongly that stones have the ability to heal people because I have experienced it firsthand after fair amounts of research.

As a third-year college student, stress and anxiety are the number one ailment that I constantly deal with. Gems have been a great asset to controlling that stress before I have an anxiety attack. Here are a handful of beautiful stones that can help anyone with stress and anxiety.

Lepidolite is the first crystal on the list and considered one of the best mood stabilizers. I was first introduced to this stone by my friend Mariah Vega. It comes from the Greek word for scale which coincides with its ability to balance and harmonize. There are very high amounts of lithium in this crystal which is the same substance used in anti-anxiety medication. Having this crystal close to you in your daily life and as a part of your meditation routine will bring you a sense of peace and tranquility. Lepidolite’s effects also help aid restful sleeping which can be disturbed by an excess of stress and anxiety. This crystal allows you to detach your mind from the troubles that you are facing and bring you back into balance with your own soul and the energy of the world around you.

Next is Jet stone. This stone is actually a type of coal that comes from natural fossilized wood. Jet stone is a gateway that can be used to release motions of anger, stress, anxiety, fear, grief, and depression. It allows the release of negativity to make room for positivity. Aside from its ability to let you release the negative emotions, it also helps you to understand the lesson that was meant to be learned from that negativity. Letting go of what is causing your anxiety and stress is the first step to getting rid of anxiety and stress which is why the Jet stone is so helpful. “I have a piece of Jet stone in my purse so I can constantly be free of negativity.”

Now let’s talk about Danburite. Danburite provides comfort in times of stress letting you know that what is causing your stress is taken care of. It possesses the strongest energy that can rid your body, mind, and aura of stress and anxiety. It also has one of the highest vibrations currently found which connects your mind and your heart. This crystal helps greatly in times of drastic change which can bring huge amounts of stress and anxiety. If things are changing in your world if you are about to start a new job or new school you should defiantly keep Danburite close to you.

Black Tourmaline is next and it is your security blanket. This crystal completely protects you from negative energy entering your life. It can also extract negative energies that you have within you by merely holding it in your hands and imagining it sucking all the bad energies out of your body. Using Black Tourmaline really does speak for itself.

Fluorite is the last on our list but should not be considered our least. This crystal boosts peacefulness and clear thinking, which is perfect for students in particular who are stressed out. It helps you clear your mind and focus on a clear thought process during challenging times where our thought process usually goes out of whack. Fluorite makes your decision-making process clearer as well so that you’re more inclined to make the right decision.

A friend of mine, Emilie Rosales, is a huge gemstone enthusiast and when I asked her what her go-to stones were for de-stressing she mentioned these and a whole bunch more but told me about a personal inside experience she had with Jet stone and how it helped her get over the worst anxiety attack she has ever had:

‘I went to Baylor University my freshman year of college and it was my first time living on my own and living 9 hours away from my family. At first, I didn’t mind it and I kind of enjoyed being on my own, but after my first semester, that feeling had gone away. I hadn’t made any good friends, the girls I was rooming with and I didn’t get along, and I felt very alone. I remember one day sitting in my room on my bed and then just this horrible feeling came over me and I started freaking out over how I had no one at Baylor that cared about me and my heart started racing and started crying. I remember that I had gotten a Jet stone pointe on the internet a while back after I read that it helps with releasing negative thoughts so I grabbed it off my desk and just held it close to my heart and I did not think it would be so instant but my heart immediately stopped racing. Ever since then I always have the pointe with me.’

These five stones are the ones that should be around you frequently if your prone to getting anxiety and always feel as if you are stressed. I personally find a lot of comfort with Fluorite because I have grown up with it. I have found that having it near me when doing homework allows my thoughts to flow a lot better and I don’t sit there staring at my computer screen as long. All of these crystals can work alone or together to bring your mind peace. The key to allowing these stones to help you is including them in your daily meditation and life.

Sources used: -www.energymuse.com -hibiscusmooncrystalacademy.com -www.healingcrystals.com


My Relationship with the Church

Olivia Belcher 2.25.2019

Religion is just one of those things that people have their personal opinion on. An opinion that is not easily changed by other people’s opinions. My opinion of the Catholic church has been molded from my first-hand experience in Catholic school. I’m not going to beat around the bush with this topic and just come right out and say that I whole-heartedly feel that the Catholic schools teach judgment before unconditional love, which is what it wants everyone to believe it teaches.

I attended a private Catholic school from 1st-grade until I was a Junior in high school. From 1st grade to 8th grade I enjoyed private school for the most part. The one thing I had a problem with was how controlled we were, from our appearance to our attitude.

Private school was an environment that dictated the color and brand of our tennis shoes, how short all the boy’s hair had to be and even the type of book covers we had to use. There was no room for individuality at all. We were all dressed the same in all of our tucked in shirts, we were all forced to speak English and English only (unless you liked the principal’s office) and we all just dealt with it.

I don’t necessarily expect elementary and middle school kids to challenge their teachers, but I do expect the school to allow some degree of individuality and self-expression, especially since “loving your neighbor as yourself” is instilled in us from day one.

Once I graduated from the 8th grade I decided to attend the all-girls, Catholic high school in my home town. I honestly wanted to go because that was where most of my friends were going and I had no idea what public school was like. Little did I know then that I had made the worst decision of my life. I had willingly committed myself to a place of judgment, hate and closed-mindedness.

I remember sitting in the back of my religion class freshman year and a group of girls to my left were having a conversation in Spanish before the bell to begin class had even rung. Our teacher yelled across the room from her desk, bible in hand, “You girls over there, you’re going to go to hell if keep speaking Spanish.”

At that moment I was truly shocked that the women who were responsible for teaching us the teachings of an ‘all loving God’ actually said something like that to a student about their native language. From that day forward I started seeing more and more judgment come from that specific teacher, and then sadly even from the principal.

When I was a sophomore I joined the softball team and I remember one of my teammates got called into the principal’s office because she had a pixie hair cut and would wear the uniform shorts instead of the skirt. The principal told her that she was setting a bad example for the younger classifications of girls and other things I’m not going to mention.

I remember being so mad when I heard about this because it proved to me that they don’t truly believe that we are all God’s children. My principal took how my teammate looked and immediately pegged her as a lesbian. It doesn’t matter whether she was or not, she should not have been scolded for her hair being too short or for wearing handbook approved uniform shorts.

What broke my heart the most is that once she showed up for practice, she was late because of this meeting, she sat in the corner of the dugout and just cried. The principal had made her feel so horrible about herself that it brought her to tears. To me, that is just SO INFURIATING.

What makes it even worse is our principal wasn’t just a person who was Catholic, but a Catholic nun. She is supposed to put all judgments aside and love all God’s children no matter what they wear or how they cut their hair, but instead took action on her own personal opinion.

I also noticed that money is really important to this school in particular. I came across a handful of situations where I noticed that the girls with wealthy or well-known parents would have their needs and desires met before the rest of the students.

Girls who were unique and who live life to the beat of their own drum were looked down upon and made fun of by other girls and even some teachers. We were also required to go to church once a month unless you could prove that you were raised with a different religion. “I don’t believe in God,” was not enough and you would still be forced to go.

I just didn’t feel like I was in a healthy environment for learning because there were so much judgment and hatefulness. I could see that all the teachers had the same opinions, values, and outlook on life which gave no variety of ideas and thought processes to the students. I knew that this was not where I wanted to be anymore.

I decided to leave that environment during my junior year of high school and go to public school. I have to admit it was a major shock. Public school was a completely different world and I wish I had gone at the beginning of my high school career.

I had never been exposed to so many different types of people in my entire life. I was used to rich to upper-middle-class girls who grew up extremely privileged and were not open-minded. I was now submerged in this sea of so many different personalities, backgrounds, beliefs, economic classifications and even sexual preferences, and I loved every second of it.

It was enlightening to be exposed to all of these different people and I think it made me a more self-aware member of society and ultimately even closer to God than ever. It defiantly opened my eyes and my mind to how unique humans really are and that it is so much easier to just be nice to everyone as long as their nice to you than to purposefully go out of your way to be mean or rude to someone based on their looks, skin color, religion, beliefs, or anything really.

I saw a greater level of acceptance in public school for everyone. I’m not saying that there was no bullying because every school has bullying, unfortunately, but there was this mutual respect for everyone’s differences and if bullying did happen the teachers shut it down immediately.

Every teacher I had was different and showed me different ways of thinking and problem-solving. I felt that they cared about me learning their subject way more than they cared about whether I am a good practicing Catholic or not.

This environment was so much more positive and made me feel like I could think the way I wanted to think and speak about things I wanted to speak about without being judged. I met so many unique people that opened my eyes to individualism.

So, this is my thank you to public school, for opening my mind and allowing me to experience the real world. Thank you for allowing me to meet unique people that made me a better person. Most of all, thank you for the life experience.




Olivia Belcher 2.11.2019

Locked in memories can no longer be re-visited on Scenic Drive in El Paso. I’m sure many of us locals have driven up the windy road to Murchison Rogers Park to overlook the beautiful El Paso city lights. It wasn’t long before we started to mimic France’s Pont des Arts bridge by placing padlocks on the hand railing of the outlook staircase. The main point of this is to commemorate relationships and special moments with loved ones. I myself had a padlock there that I placed with my boyfriend. We loved re-visiting the lock to remember our commitment and seeing more locks on top of ours was great.

About a month ago, we drove up Scenic to see our lock again, but to my great disappointment, each and every lock that had been removed. To keep how I felt about this to a minimum, I felt very sad and sort of robbed of a memorial location that is special to my life.

I started thinking to myself, what if someone had placed a lock there with someone who has passed away and that was a very special place for the surviving loved one to visit and feel close to that person who is no longer there. I know the act in itself is probably considered defacement to city property, but if it was not harming the safety of the visitors or the structural soundness of the stairs, I see no reason as to why the locks were removed.

I can see why the locks on the Pont des Arts bridge have to be removed because the bridge is holding people above a body of water and all the extra weight was making it start to break, but I didn’t quite understand what the issue was at Scenic.

I had previously heard and seen some plans to renovate Murchison Rogers Park, but no advancements towards that have been made, and I wonder if the city even considered whether citizens would be hurt by this action.

Steve Lunsford, the Land Management Superintendent for the El Paso Parks and Recreation Department, said “It was determined that they are not part of the standard park equipment and they were making the rails unstable due to the excess weight.  Because of this, they were removed.”

The weight of the locks creating a safety issue is understandable and it is unfortunate that they couldn’t withstand the extra weight.

I looked for a possible announcement about the locks being removed to see if people had the chance to get their lock prior, but Lunsford said “No, there was not any public announcement.  Please keep in mind, that the locks were originally placed there without any permission.”

It is sad to know that the lock I placed with my boyfriend has been disposed of, but I can’t imagine how others who may not have that person anymore feel. I know public safety is very important and the city was not wrong for removing them, I just wish they had given everyone an opportunity to remove their locks themselves, regardless of whether they were placed with or without permission.

There should be a spot that is designated by the city the allows people to safely place padlocks, that way our parks stay safe and citizens can have a place to commemorate special moments.