May 13, 2008

COMMENTARY: Tales of Two Students

Walking on the Ledge: Student Life
Sometimes the best thing a college can provide is stability

Thor Nystrum stands in the parking lot where a fight in 2003 triggered a breakdown that resulted in Nystrum begging a police officer to kill him. "Shoot me in the head. No one has to know," he begged. Photo by Rachel Seymore, courtesy of The Daily Kansan

Johnson County Community College plays a part in two recent stories focusing on students struggling with life challenges.

Current student, Cali Senkpeil, finds herself trying to keep her family together in The Kansas City Star's "Neighbors come to aid of brother and sister who lost parents."

Cali Senkpiel spent the past two weeks gaining custody of her younger brother, John Christian, and then helping move him into her apartment. At the same time all that was going on, there was one other responsibility the 20-year-old needed to fulfill — make funeral arrangements for her father.

Once those matters were settled — difficult as it was — Cali felt strongly that she had to keep moving. So this week she headed back to her classes at Johnson County Community College.

Former student Thor Nystrum, describes his break and mental health recovery in The Daily Kansan's "To Hell and Back."

Upon returning home, I inform my parents I will be returning to Kansas. They call it a “terrible, terrible decision.” I have enrolled in spring classes at Johnson County Community College, and I have agreed to sublease a place from a student in Lawrence. They attempt to talk me out of it.

“This is what I’ve decided to do,” I say. There is a conviction in my voice that I haven’t felt in more than a year.

Published within days of each other (Cali's story on May 2 and Thor's on May 5) these articles illustrate how the college serves as a grounding force in students' lives -- especially in times of need.

I hope Thor and Cali inspire us to make our campus a better place. They show us that responsibility doesn't come by simply following the rules but though understanding them. They also show us that breaking the rules is as an essential a skill as following them.

The articles remind this administration watchdog that I need to tell students' stories more often. Wt think that investigations uncover truth -- and they do -- but so do these stories.