This week’s photo challenge was to express victory in a photograph. It appeared on Friday 11/13 – the same day as the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris (and just three days after the equally horrible attacks in Beirut). When thinking of victory, I immediately thought of the people of those cities, and all those who face violence in their daily lives. Just getting out into the world is a victory for these people, and I salute them for it. But I can’t get to Paris or Beirut or Syria or any of these places to photograph people facing down their nightmares. What can I photograph to illustrate this idea? But then I looked closer to home, and found victory happening every day right under my nose.
I teach at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. I am surrounded every day by students who get up, get to class, get their work done, and get an education, often facing down challenges that would send me shivering in the corner. Sometimes students share their stories with me. Just today I got a message from a student who has missed several classes because she was in the hospital with a dear friend who nearly died from a drug overdose. Another apologized for not having her cell phone switched off during class; her seriously ill son sometimes had to be rushed to the hospital, so she would stay by the door to sneak out quickly if she got an emergency call from his caregiver. Another missed class because he had a court date to determine custody of his children. Another had heart surgery, and missed exactly two class meetings.
These are just the stories I hear about. In any random group of students, such as the ones in the photo working away at computers in the library, there will be dozens of stories like these that their teachers never know. College students in general, and community college students in particular, tend to have what a colleague of mine describes as “complicated lives.” But still, here they are.