Hello again, readers! Hope everyone is enjoying their summer break and getting excited about the new year at LMU! This week I thought I would tell you a little bit about what I’ve been doing this summer. I’ve been taking a few classes at a local community college, and for one of them, my professor’s challenge for our final project was to do something we had never done before. It could be something we had avoided out of fear, something that we had always desired to do but never had the means to, or something that put us in a minority setting.
I had a bit of difficulty deciding what to do for my project. When it comes to trying new things, there are very few things that I just will not do. I’m a picky eater, but I will give any food a chance before I decide I don’t like it (even though I usually do find I do not like it!). I would have gladly ridden in a helicopter, gone bungee jumping, or driven a racecar, but none of those would have fulfilled what I wanted to gain from this experience. My choice for this assignment had to be something that truly interested me and would give me a sense of accomplishment. It had to be just right, and it had to be something big.
Then it finally hit me.My term project should have something to do with elephants, my most favorite animal! My first thought was to volunteer with them. However, the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee had already accepted its maximum number of volunteers for the year, and even then I would have been limited to painting fences. The Knoxville Zoo had also already completed its volunteer training, so I was too late for that as well. After some more brainstorming, I realized I had never ridden an elephant either. Though it would not be as personal as actually helping an elephant, it would still give me a chance to cross something off my bucket list. Yes, this was the subject of my term project, and I could not have been more excited!
I started by doing a Google search of places that let people ride elephants. I was afraid my dream would be crushed again with the results directing me somewhere far away like California or Florida. Surprisingly, there was a place just a couple of hours away from home—the Natural Bridge Zoo near Roanoke, Virginia. Their website explained that it would be just twelve dollars to be admitted to the zoo, and then once I reached the elephant enclosure I could pay an additional five dollars to ride. They did this every day from noon until three o’clock in the afternoon, as long as weather conditions permitted it. So far so good!
Now I just had to convince my parents to help me out. Fortunately, they agreed that it was an excellent choice for my term project. They were almost more excited at the thought of seeing me ride an elephant than I was about getting to do it! Plus, we had been looking for somewhere to go for a quick family vacation anyway, so we decided to make this our destination. We settled on the Fourth of July weekend because Mom and Dad would be off work for the holiday on Thursday, and they would only have to miss one day of scheduled work on that Friday. Choosing this time frame was a big risk because my class would be ending the following Tuesday. If this didn’t work out for any reason, I wouldn’t have much time to come up with a good alternative. But I was not worried at all.
I actually had no second thoughts about being able to complete the assignment until the weekend of our trip arrived. When we left home, it was only starting to rain just a little, but the further up the road we drove, the harder the rain fell. My friends back at home were sharing Facebook statuses about all the fireworks shows in town being canceled, and the Knoxville news services were showing pictures of flooding in certain areas. If it was raining like this in Roanoke, the zoo would be canceling its elephant rides. My plans were suddenly in very real danger. Fortunately we were greeted at our hotel with dry roads and even a little sunshine. We checked in and then went out to dinner feeling reassured. But when we walked out of the restaurant, we found dark skies and a wet parking lot. The rain had followed us all the way out here.
Now I was really getting worried. It was going to be hard to come up with another topic for my assignment in less than a week. And I had really been counting on getting to do this for my project. I went to sleep that night hoping I would wake up to the beautiful, sunny day I so desperately needed. There were still some pretty ominous looking clouds in the sky the next morning, but at least it wasn’t raining! The local weather forecast didn’t expect there to be any rain until later that evening, long after we would be finished at the zoo. So we made our way to the Natural Bridge Zoo and paid our admission fees, and I crossed my fingers as I entered the park, hoping the weather man was right.
We actually arrived about an hour early for the elephant rides, so we decided to go tour the rest of the zoo first. There were so many other unique animals there, from rheas to gibbons to llamas. I even got to feed a giraffe! When it started getting closer to showtime, I made my way over to the elephant habitat. She was still inside her barn getting cleaned up and prepped for her appearance, but I went ahead and took my place at the front of the line and waited. At last, the time had come, and I watched in awe as the magnificent creature made slow, careful steps over to me. She was absolutely beautiful, and when the zookeeper told me her name actually was Beautiful, I remarked how fitting it was for her. Finally, the gate was opened and I walked up the steps to the raised platform that opened right to the saddle on Beautiful’s back. I propped myself up, the zookeeper closed the safety rail around the saddle, and an attendant on the ground led Beautiful around the lap one time. The whole thing probably only lasted two minutes, but I soaked in every second of it, from the movements of her shoulders to the flapping of her big ears against my legs. It was simply amazing. Only in my wildest dreams did I ever think I could be that close to such a majestic creature. I definitely got what I wanted out of this adventure!
So what exactly does taking summer classes at another college have to do with my LMU experience? Well, since I became a student at LMU I have added a math minor and participation in the Honors Scholars Program to my program of study. If I had made these choices when I was a freshman, I could have finished them in four years, but at this point I don’t quite have enough room in my schedule. Fortunately, a few summer classes will take care of this and allow me to graduate with all my classmates! I actually considered taking the classes at LMU, but the two classes I wanted were offered at conflicting times. So I looked into Walters State Community College. They have a campus near where I live and were offering the same two courses at convenient times. I asked LMU’s registrar to confirm that they would transfer to LMU as the same credit that I needed for my degree, and from there it was a matter of filling out the proper paperwork and applying for summer financial aid. It was a really quick and easy process!
One of the things I have enjoyed best about my time at Walters State is that some of my old friends that went on to other colleges had the same idea. I was able to take my speech course with some friends from the University of Tennessee, and now I’m in a statistics course with another friend from Carson-Newman University! It’s been really nice catching up with them and hearing about how different life is at their schools. It’s also been quite a fun challenge taking courses in a shorter time frame. A normal semester is around fifteen weeks long, but my summer classes have been condensed into nine four-hour class meetings. That’s over a chapter a day! Falling behind is definitely not an option, so I’ve learned a lot about time management and keeping up with my work. It certainly isn’t easy, but it will be so worth it when I can finally finish all my upcoming projects back at LMU!