A Fresh Start

I’ve been waiting a LONG time to write this post because it just seemed all too good to be true. :::::DRUMROLL::::: I am officially a third year graduate student in history, taking classes, studying for comprehensive exams, writing a dissertation proposal, and on track to be ABD* soon.

I honestly never thought this day would come, or at least, only thought this day would come in a dream world. But it’s real. I’m here, back in the same program, picking up more or less where I left off. Of course, some things have changed. I’m doing better physically. I have much more teaching experience. I know what I want out of the program. Plus, I have a new adviser who is really smart but also generous. He’s also very excited about my project, and we’ve made a lot of progress already considering class has only been in session for 6 days.

I love studying and thinking about grand thoughts, but I honestly miss teaching already. I miss the interaction with students, seeing those lightbulb moments, and wish I had more time in the classroom organizing activities that have definite purposes instead of just marking time. But I have a first year graduate student who has requested to shadow me, so perhaps that will give me an opportunity to walk into the teacher role again. We start tomorrow with office hours!!

Grappling with the dissertation topic again is hard, mostly because I’ve been away for over two years. I haven’t thought about these issues for a long time. Reading some secondary literature last week, I stumbled across the term “millennialism”. Now I used to know not just what that meant, but also what the different schools of millennialism were and how each of them were associated with different expectations of family, responsibility, society, slavery, etc. It’s taking time to refresh everything that I do know. So part of it has been adjusting to being a student. Part of it is about adjusting to being back.

Besides that, being back has been hard. Being in graduate school at the stage I’m in is very fast paced. I’m supposed to read something like 50 books this semester, which is kind of ridiculous, especially when you pair that with the fact that I’m taking two classes and TAing and also polishing a dissertation prospectus. Add to that the fact that I also have a life outside of school, and you’ve got an Abigail pulled in seventeen directions. It’s not just the fact that I want to be active in church and have time for my hobbies or just want to sit down and read about Kate Middleton for a second. It’s also the fact that I have to get a new driver’s license and deal with my car insurance and worry about not having the proper furniture, etc. Plus, throw on top of that the fact that router decides to stop working or one of the toilets in our apartment just decided to spontaneous flood the entire bathroom for no reason, and I have to drop whatever things I’m trying to do and attend to that.

A lot of my old friends are here, which has been helpful. And I’ve been meeting new people. Timothy & Grace have moved, but Aaron’s still here. He’s married now with a baby, so that’s exciting. Joseph and Erica are still here, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time with them already. Diana’s still here; she was actually scheduled to spend a large portion of the term abroad, but those planned were nixed at the last minute, so she’s actually in my neck of the woods. I wish Tabitha was here, but her little brother just started school down the road, so he’s a pretty good substitute.** And all my doctors are still here — Drs. Mark, Leo, Samuel, Harold. It’s nice to have some grounding.

It’s definitely going to be quite the ride, but I’m excited overall.

Abigail Cashelle

*grad school has its own nicknames for everything; ABD stands for “all but dissertation”.

**hopefully that’ll be more than wishful thinking

Operation Gratitude

Working three jobs has been exhausting but also illuminating. This blog has been silent because my life has been full!!

At my retail job, we’ve been writing cards to anonymous members of the armed services as part of our contribution to Operation Gratitude. I’ve been racking my brain for a good extra credit project to give my students, not only so they can earn a few more points to their final grade but also so that they can learn to be productive members of society. That’s when I realized that Operation Gratitude was the perfect fit!!!

My pitch to the students:

Boost your grade, build community, be part of America, and do a good deed: all at the same time!!

I’ve asked my students to turn in a handwritten card thanking an anonymous member of the armed services for their service & to wish them well this holiday season. If they do so, they earn 0.5 points added to their final grade. If they can get >95% of the class to participate, there’s an additional 1.0 point bonus.

It’s been exciting to watch them take on the challenge of collective action. I’ve been really impressed and encouraged by my students’ responses. Some of them are one sentence thank-you-for-letting-me-get-extra-credit-in-this-class but most of them are heartfelt letters of gratitude and admiration. A lot of my students pour their hearts out into these letters, and I can see that they’ve taken to heart the cost of the freedom and liberty we enjoy and the degree to which we are all part of a community. These men and women need our support and encouragement as much as we need their work overseas. It’s always exciting to see people applying what they learn in class to real life situations.

I’m a big believer that if you have high expectations, your students will rise to the challenge. My favorite comment by Amy Sherman-Palladino about her series Gilmore Girls was that it was so successful because she crammed so many pop references into each episode and so much dialogue into each scene. There’s no way that you can catch everything on the first watch, but you’re so intrigued by each episode that you want to watch again. She has commented that people often assume that people who watch TV are stupid and that TV shows need to be dumbed down for people to appreciate them. Instead, she challenges her viewers to have a higher standard. And it works. That’s why we love her shows.

So far, about 1/3 of my class has participated in the challenge. They have a week left, so there’s still a lot of time for them to get their act together. We’ll see how things progress.

I’ve challenged myself to also write at least one card a day for every day of the drive. I’ve written 9 cards so far (with one week to go). It’s getting more challenging to find something different to say each time, but it’s a good challenge, one that’s appropriately achievable for me.

I’m excited that I’m feeling well enough these days to do things for other people. I’m also really excited that I’ve been able to rally my students together to do something for others and to show them that it doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone else’s life.

That’s all for now,


the tables have turned (in a good way)

Now that I’m on faculty at a university (can we just pause and reflect on how amazing that is??), I have a student in my class with a significant chronic illness. She came up to me with some paperwork from the Disability Office asking for some specific accommodations. Now accommodations are annoying to teachers, and I get why. You have some great plan and vision for your class, and all of a sudden some random person comes up to you and says, Sorry. Mandatory change of plans.

But I looked at her sheet and listened to what she had to say and realized that she wasn’t asking for a whole lot. In fact, she was asking for exactly what I asked the ravenous lion for on my very first encounter. She asked for a flexible attendance policy. Attendance is mandatory in my class. You can miss up to 3 classes penalty-free, and attendance counts as 10% of the grade. That’s bad news if you have an unpredictable chronic illness.

What made me really happy was that I was able to sit down with the student and talk through some of the logistics with her. I told her that I was more than happy to give her the full 10% as long as she realized that she was fully responsible for all the content in the class. If she missed a lot of classes, it would be a huge challenge to pass the class. (So it doesn’t really give her much of an advantage.)

But mostly we just talked about life with a chronic illness. I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to know about her illness, anything that I could do to make things easier or intervene in the case of an emergency. I told her that I myself have a chronic illness and am familiar with how scary that can seem to other people. And that secret made her really happy.

She said that most people are freaked out when they find out that she’s not healthy and immediately want her to vanish. And so she spends a lot of time thinking about accidentally making other people feel uncomfortable and how she can avoid that. She was really happy to meet a teacher who felt comfortable talking to her about it and who was immediately on her side. She said that she felt so much safer in the class.

I’m so happy that she found me approachable and understanding. I’m still really nervous about my illness and my lack of a Ph.D. in the department and haven’t told anyone at this university about my illness besides her. I know exactly how she feels because I live in that exact same world. But I’m glad that I could make her feel a little more at home in school. And it gives me a comrade too. Someone else who knows that I’m also struggling some and that sometimes, things are not what they appear.