Drawing by Dana Ser

On a sunny Friday afternoon, I had the privilege to sit down and chat with Paul Smith’s College’s own Tommy Tomaszewski, currently majoring in Fisheries and Wildlife with a concentration in Wildlife. You may have seen her in your classes, at the writing center, as an SI for Bio 102, or running a Welcome Week group as a Peer Leader. Usually displaying a bright color in her hair and always a welcoming smile, she is unforgettable. A strong drive to do what she loves in life fills her daily schedule with activities. She claims to get asked, often, how she stays sane with so little free-time. The answer is one that anyone in our campus community can relate to:a push to build ourselves up for a meaningful and enjoyable future.

Tommy did her growing up in several different states. Since birth in South Carolina, she and her family were constantly moving. Until she was eight years old, Tommy had never settled anywhere. When they finally did so, here in New York, Tommy’s childhood was cut short by a difficult family dynamic of three siblings, and a single mother. By high school, she had practically raised two of her siblings and was working multiple jobs to help pay the bills. She knew, however, that in order to get away from her hometown, she would have to multitask and focus on school. For a while, she played field hockey and had roles in musicals, but a greater obstacle lurked behind all of the family hardships and school work. Tommy faced a considerable amount of discrimination against her style and sexual orientation, influencing her to graduate a year early. “High school was bulls**t,” she said. “You can quote that.”

As the case is with most of us, arriving at Paul Smith’s was a breath of fresh air for Tommy, both literally and figuratively. Despite the struggles she faced in high school, she brought her newly realized enthusiasm for education to campus. With glowing energy she told me, “I love absolutely everything about this school.”

Originally, Tommy had planned to attend school for cosmetology, potentially following the path that all her peers assumed she would take. Enticed by the friendly professors, hands-on activities, and our beautiful campus, Tommy felt Paul Smith’s was the right place to be. “Everything about it makes me feel like I’m supposed to be here…And I love that the school validates me and what I want to do.”

So, what all does she do? When I asked her, she chuckled and explained “I’m trying to picture my resume and everything I wrote on it.” She is a Peer Leader and enjoys being given the authority to hype up a circle of freshmen during welcome week. “I have so much fun,” she said. “…I’ve learned how to communicate with large groups of people better.” She is also a Peer Mentor with TRiO, for which she leads a fellowship group.

At the writing center, Tommy stands as an SI leader and an innovative contributor to the helpful changes in routine there. Meanwhile, she is a teacher’s assistant in Sarah Hart’s “Hearts and Minds” course, and comes in every Friday to teach fundamentals, such as proper comma use and literary elements of persuasive writing. “I’m so happy to have the opportunity to be a teacher’s assistant; to learn how to educate people; to tutor and work with students one-on-one, get to know them, and how to tutor different learning styles” she added.

Continuing to give her efforts towards conservation, she recently completed a campus sustainability project, The PSC Travel Mug Initiative, with her best friend, Amanda Preston. Finally, Tommy is proud to be an active member of the Paul Smith’s Pride Club, and is currently working on fundraising for the upcoming Pride Conference in Long Island.    

I know time-management skills and appreciation for course material might seem fairly normal here at PSC; this is because we all have something in common. Tommy’s motivation has stuck by her side through all the chaos with the help of the outdoor environment here. “It’s really great to be able to say, ‘I’m going to go for a walk in the VIC today,’ or ‘I’m going to go sit on the point for just five minutes and stare at the lake, feel the wind on my face,’ and not have to think about the seven different tutoring sessions I have going on that day.” She also explained to me her usage of a journal; she loves poetry, so if she ever feels an inspiring emotion, she jots down a few lines. At stressful moments, she can spill brain stew into the pages, releasing packets of negative energy. During free time, she enjoys working out at the gym.

Most people at PSC can relate to at least one of these in some fashion. When broken down, it is simple; we’re practicing healthy coping techniques. A small drive to do something big goes a long way, especially when there are elements available, like a quiet library or a lake, that offer an open space for relaxation and focus. Since her childhood rug was pulled from beneath her because of family responsibilities, Tommy had to find this inner peace early on. “I could either be miserable every day and I could resent my siblings for it, and hate the fact that I had to be the one to teach them to tie their shoes, or hate the fact that I had to teach them how to make pancakes, or I could learn to love what I did,” she explained. “Now,” she told me, “I have a goal to teach someone something new every day.”

Following graduation, Tommy plans to work in the rehabilitation and conservation of wildlife. She would also like to teach. “[People] want to learn; we just don’t give them a lot of opportunities these days to learn about their natural environment. I want to be a person to give those opportunities to people.” Because she grew up moving from place to place, Tommy wants to travel more, ideally spending time in South America or Africa to study the relationship between animal behavior and genetics.

There are several clichés I could add here to outline the moral of this story, but it should be clear enough without them. Use this time, students, while we’re young and driven, to find out what you love to do. Paul Smith’s offers us an array of opportunities to get ahead, and there’s no doubt that we deserve to take those. Tommy’s story is a prime example of taking an enthusiastic road to success. Each piece of everything we do on a daily basis supports our future selves. Act like a sponge, absorbing particles of life experience from our woodsman habitat, as Tommy has done so well in her time here.      

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Eden, 18, has always enjoyed creative writing. Since elementary school, she has felt inspired to openly express the deep emotions that cross her path, but has been too fearful of judgment. With a task of finding inspiration from one of the most magnificent persuasive writers in history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she decided to finally publish one of her own works. Currently, she is studying Ecological Restoration and is excited to see how she can better incorporate creative writing into her field and future.

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