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21 November 2005

“I’m a survivor
I’m not gonna give up
I’m not gon’ stop
I’m gonna work harder
I’m a survivor
I’m gonna make it
I will survive
Keep on survivin’.”

—Destiny’s Child, “Survivor”

Survivor

At a university that is rich with history, legends and traditions, there is a story that tells about the mystical powers of an albino squirrel. It is rumored that if a student studying for a test the next day is fortunate enough to lay eyes on the majestic white fur of this magical squirrel they are guaranteed to make an “A” on that test. And while this story might only seem to be hallucinations of a student who forgot to “just say no,” my common sense was trounced by my curiosity and a frenzied sense of anxiety to pass my impending calculus exam. And so, armed with hope, desperation and a bag of nuts, I began my nocturnal quest to find the legendary squirrel.

The moon was full, its soft light bathing the campus grounds with a silvery hue. The subtle cries of an owl combined with the hushed voices of students on a midnight stroll added to the air of suspense and mystique. With a flashlight in one hand and a bag of nuts in another, I crept along the bushes that surround the Performing Arts Center building, not only the final destination for performing artists traveling through Austin, but also rumored to be the location where the albino squirrel was frequently sighted.

Goosebumps crawled up my spine as the cold breeze of the previous day’s cold front hit my bare skin. Like Indiana Jones in search of a hidden treasure, I silently stalked the campus grounds, straining my eyes to glimpse a flash of white fur. That night, UT had turned into a jungle and I was traveling deeper into the heart of darkness. (Cue ominous music and the weird tune of “The Outer Limits.”) Well, it was dark outside. (Besides I’ve just finished reading Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and I promised myself that I would make an allusion to the book somewhere in my next entry.)

During that night I was filled with a primal instinct, a sudden urge to succumb to my wild side, and with a gusto seen only in the movies, I howled in the moonlight. OK, so I was really getting obsessed with finding this squirrel. Believe me, when you’re as desperate as I am to make an “A” on a calculus exam, a grade that will decide whether or not you pass or fail the class, you’ll pretty much do anything, even embark on a scavenger hunt for an albino squirrel. But, as the minutes turned to hours, the thrill of the hunt subsided and I was left in the dark cold night to wallow in my own feelings of desperation. You know that you’re at your lowest when you’re looking for a magical squirrel to solve your problems.

But, in the words of the sexy ladies of Destiny’s Child, “I’m a survivor.” Now before I shake my “booty” to their hit single “Bootylicious,” I’m going to come out and admit that I’m a Destiny’s Child fan, and yes, I’ve “raised my hands up in the air” to their song “Independent Women” and I can “keep up” with the ladies to their song “Loose My Breath.” Now that I’ve rid myself of any semblance of masculinity I think I’m going to stop before I embarrass myself even more and reveal more humiliating details about my life, like the fact that I sleep with a stuffed animal. OK, I really need to stop now. 

Surviving and thriving in college is as much about learning as it is living every moment you’re there. I’m going to give you a piece of advice, and it’s not something that you’ll hear every day. Listen up: Sometimes grades don’t matter. Now I’m not saying that if you fail a test, the grade will somehow disappear into oblivion because I said it doesn’t matter. What I am trying to say is that sometimes there are things in life more pressing than the grades you make because when it all boils down to it, it’s just numbers.

In a society that’s obsessed with numbers, whether it’s the numbers on a scale, the numbers on a report card, or the number of our football team on the Bowl Championship Series rankings, we have lost the true goal of life, and simply enough it’s about enjoying every moment.

Not surprisingly, the National Mental Health Association reports, “10 percent of college students have been diagnosed with depression.” Driven by our desire to succeed, we compromise our happiness, our very wellbeing to be successful. But, as humanitarian and theologian Albert Schweitzer profoundly reminds us, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.” Such simple advice, yet it’s so overlooked.

So the next time you feel you’re being played by the “numbers game,” the next time you feel the need to search for an albino squirrel, the next time you’re feeling down on your luck, the next time you feel the whole world is against you… take the time to smile, be happy, then shake it like a Polaroid picture! And you’ll be surprised by how much brighter the world will seem.

In closing I would like to give thanks to everyone who came to the Longhorn Saturday event to tour the university and meet and talk with UT students, faculty and staff. If you have any more questions, want to make a comment or you just want to say hi, e-mail me at emmanuel.winston@gmail.com.

Until then, smile.

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