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If Not Just For The Turtle’s Sake…

Hey JMU.  My name is Stephen and I am the UPB President for the upcoming year.  My life throughout the school year consists mainly of balancing working with the student activities organization with a social life, as well as staying on top of a double major and other extra-curricular activities.  I know that I’m not alone when I say that since arriving on campus as a freshman – JMU is my life.  I get so caught up in what is happening in the immediate that the rest of the world, as vast as it may be, seems to somehow slip through the cracks.

Now summer is here, and the whirlwind of responsibilities has stopped.  I was able to step outside the comfort of the James Madison bubble and look at what was really happening beyond the Harrisonburg scope for the first time in months.  I had heard some news in passing, but this May I learned the truth.  The world is facing one of the worst marine disasters since the Exxon-Valdez crisis in the 1980s.  In the aftermath of the April 20, 2010 accident, up to an estimated 1 million gallons of oil has been leaked into the Gulf of Mexico per day.  However, only 630,000 gallons are currently being recovered each day.

Not only are the humans who demand the oil facing trouble, the local wildlife also suffers.  Five different threatened and endangered species of sea turtle populate the affected area.  In less than two months, humans may have jeopardized the animals’ reproductive cycles that have been ongoing for over a millennium.  Shore clean-up crews have discovered almost 300 dead turtles compared to the average 30 turtles this time of year.

Conservative assessments claim that it could take up to 10 years for the endangered species to recover. Other experts are more skeptical.  “We’ve spent 28 years trying to restore this turtle, and we’re staring at the brink of extinction right now,” Pat Burchfield, head of the U.S. contingency of the Binational Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Project, said.  As the weeks pass conditions are not improving.  Local wildlife services report the total number of oily birds in the first week of June alone is over five times the past six weeks’ cumulative total.

While it may seem like a hopeless situation now, I see this situation with a positive outlook.  For my part, I want to strive to make sure that UPB upholds its responsibility to constantly remind students that the world is bigger than next week’s test or the big group presentation this semester.  If there’s ever a way for us to gain from bringing in speakers to hear their experiences from these types of tragedies, you can bet I’ll be looking into bringing them…….. If not just for the turtles sake.

– Stephen

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

Interview with Corey Smith

Being interviewed is the last thing that any normal person would want to do after a long day of preparation, performing, and meeting fans. Corey Smith; however, is no ordinary person. He’s a rarity in show business because he truly puts the fans first, and he has an abundance of personality that pervades all of his conversations. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him after his concert last Thursday night and quickly came to find him to be one of the most humble and collected people that I’ve encountered. Here’s how the question and answer session proceeded:

What’s your pre-concert routine?

It’s pretty simple. I just will do some vocal workups, try to get myself psyched up and forget about whatever’s bothering me that day, whatever’s stressing me out, just try to focus on the show.

I used to drink a lot before the show. We’d take shots before we went on stage, but that’s not really conducive to having a long career.

So you’ve been performing since college…

Yeah in college, and even right out of high school I started taking some cover gigs, I never thought of it as performing really, more like being a juke box that you pop quarters into. I’ve been doing this full time for four years.

You were a social studies teacher before that?

Exactly. I taught high school for four years before that and picked up gigs on the weekends and it gradually got bigger and bigger and it got to the point where eventually had to make a choice.

So how’d you first get into playing music and decide to do it full time?

I’ve been around music since I was a kid, singing was just second nature. I never thought “oh I’m gonna start singing”. I’ve just always been doing it since I was in church or chorus in school.

I started writing songs right out of high school. So its been a very gradual sort of thing. I’ve always been a pretty cautious person. I don’t like taking risks so I never wanted to just throw all caution into the wind and give up my day job and be a rock star. I went to school and got an education so I figured I’d have a backup plan, something to fall back on.

You give a lot of your music away for free on your website. How did you come up with this strategy?

When I write a song I want to share it with as many people as I can as quickly as I can because its close to how I’m feeling at that time – its up to date. Giving the songs away for free is a way to take away all the barriers and make sure that as many people that can experience the song experience the song. As an artist I don’t care so much what the people are paying for it. The song itself isn’t really worth anything – there’s nothing physical to it. Artistically it fills a need for me.

You don’t like to be defined as just a country artist. How would you describe your music to someone that’s never heard it before?

I have to start with country because it’s more country than anything, but its unprocessed country. Its unrefined, it’s more free than popular country. It’s really more a blend country and rock and blues and folk. The main reason we have these ideas of genres is so folks can pitch towards certain radio formats. It’s important in that world in the mass media to make a record and pitch it as either a rock record, as a top 40 record a country record, a blues record, but because I’m not plugged into that world I have a lot more freedom and I can write one song that sounds very traditionally country and I can write one that sounds more rock and roll or blues. I’m not forced to be in one of those molds.

Where were you able to find you inspiration for the new album Keeping Up With The Joneses?

It’s really the same as my other records. That one thing that’s stayed constant. I’m a very introspective person and a lot of my songs are personal and they are usually my way of resolving some sort of internal conflict I have. I find that my growth as a person is something that goes hand in hand with my growth as a writer. its really me just maturing as a husband writer father whatever. As I mature I get better at writing and communicating.

What’s your favorite song to perform for a crowd?

My favorite songs to perform are the ones that are most recent because they’re the closest to me at the time so I liked performing the songs off the new records like “$8 Bottle of Wine”, “Keeping Up with the Joneses.” At the same time its cool to play “Twenty-One” or if “I Could Do It Again” because you can feel the energy it creates in the crowd.

What’s the most bizarre moment you’ve had with a fan?

….Hmmm there’s been a lot of them. OH! I got bit. I’ve gotten bit a couple times actually. Apparently theres a whole subculture of people who like to bite. Women especially. Cougars. I got bit in Arkansas doing a meet and greet, taking pictures, like I was doing out here. And this drunk lady came up to get here picture taken and just reached over and bit me right on the chest. I had to get security to kick her out. It drew blood and stuff. I had a mark and had to explain to my wife… ‘yeah I got bit.’

You’re a long way from where you’ve started in Athens, Georgia. How would you sum up your experiences so far?

Its gradual, cautious, calculated. That’s the way I am. Sometimes, I wonder if I just dove in I might have had even more success. I might be able to go to California and draw a crowd like this. But you know its easy to ask a lot of what ifs. The reality is I feel pretty good about the choices I’ve made with what I’ve had to work with and the hand I was dealt in life I’ve done pretty well and set a good example for my kids.

– Stephen

For Love, For Haiti

The devastation in Haiti has hearts around the globe reeling. Coordinated relief efforts have tried to show the millions affected by the tragedy that they are not alone in their struggles. As a nation we have reached out to offer any aid that we can, and here at JMU we are proud to support one of the most worthy causes that most of us have seen in our lifetimes. As Valentine’s Day approaches, UPB wants to remind the student body to continue to extend their love to those that truly need it. Please come out to the For Love, For Haiti event sponsored by many of the organizations here on campus.

SGA provided a description of the benefit gala tomorrow:

Maybe you’ve found the perfect valentine already, or maybe your still on the last minute prowl, or perhaps you’re just planning on spending the day with friends… whatever your plans are you should come out and do some good while having a “ball”!  The For Love, For Haiti Charity Ball is happening tonight from 7:30-11:30 in our very own Festival Ballroom.  Get all dressed up and throw on your dancing shoes because there will be demonstrations from both the Latin Ballroom and Swing Dance clubs. DJ Masked Man-Ty Walker will dropping the latest hits along with some oldies but goodies.  Not only will there be dancing but there will be delicious hors d’oeuvres and mocktails (so essentially this is a pretty cheap date boys ;-])!  So come on out in your semi-formal attire, have a fantastic evening, potentially find a valentine and make a difference in the world at the same time! We can’t wait to see you there!

Hope to see you all there tomorrow – tickets are available for $3.00 at the Warren Box Office and at the door.

– Stephen

The Evolution of Dating

It’s a timeless tale. Man and woman meet, become enamored with one another, and decide to spend the rest of their lives together. The details; however, have varied greatly over time. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, here’s the progression of love through human history:

Prehistoric Dating

Approach: The lonely male gathers his courage, hobbles over to the closest single female, and impresses her with the different range of his grunts.

First Date: He shows off his skill with a spear while she dolls herself up and dons her favorite animal fur.

It’s Getting Serious When… He goes hunting for her. Girls, nothing says true love like when he brings you back that Wooly Mammoth tusk.

Proposal: He shows her their new cave that all the neighbors are going to be jealous of.

Medieval Dating

Approach: Pray that your parents made alliances with attractive lords and ladies, because you’ve already been betrothed before you can say your first “thy”

First Date: While she sits there in silence, he’ll write her epic poetry that will be read and misunderstood for centuries to come.

It’s Getting Serious When….. The male fights in her honor and puts her handkerchief on his lance in the joust.

Proposal: He polishes that suit of armor, gets all the trumpeters to blast “Greensleeves,” and creates their own fairy tale.

Victorian Dating

Approach: The gentleman follows all the rules of courtship, and then begins calling on the lucky gal.

First Date: He busts out all the stops with a carriage ride through the country… with the proper chaperones of course.

It’s Getting Serious When….. She lets him see some sock, and if he’s really lucky maybe a knee or two. You know, the kind of scandals that keep the gossipers happy.

Proposal: The young lovers risk losing their “sexy” pale skin and he asks the question in front of their cottage.

1950-60’s Dating

Approach: Ever seen Grease? It’s nothing like that.

First Date: Poodle skirts meet athletic jackets at the diners. He tries to impress her with his rebellious musical preference for Elvis and Motown.

It’s Getting Serious When….. They “park” the T-Bird at the local drive-in movie.

Proposal: After asking the parent’s permission, the teens get down on one knee and start building their life in the suburbs together.

Modern Dating

Approach: Those that aren’t great with pick up lines rejoice – you can now put on a confident witty persona via the internet. Just practice the line “Girl, can I get yo’ screen name?”

First Date: Dinner’s a little too much of a time commitment. The most complicated conversation of the evening is placing the coffee orders at the nearest Starbucks.

It’s Getting Serious When….. Your relationship starts to resemble one of the cliches in the movie He’s Just Not That Into You.

Proposal: Females are tired of the old fashioned stuff. Guys get creative – notes in the sand, sky writing, something involving puppies and dolphins, etc.

I’m going to have to say that my ideal time would have been the Prehistoric era. No mind games or power struggles, just simply two singles sharing some time in a cave. I’m hoping this cycle somehow comes full circle in my lifetime… but if not I guess that I can learn some tricks of the trade at Sex Rules this Friday.

– Stephen

Singin’ In the Snow

JMU is a cultural kaleidoscope. With the student body completely rotating every few years, traditions and practices change so frequently that the school must be almost unrecognizable to some former Dukes. I recently had the great opportunity to correspond with such an alumni – Linda Hevener, UPB’s Film Chairman in the mid-1980’s.

Over 100 years of changing traditions

She shared some stories about how different the atmosphere was when she went to school:

“I have even heard JMU is cancelling classes because of snow now.  Being snowed IN was fun back then.  My senior year, we had back to back storms and got 3 feet of snow accumulated on the ground, and a driving wind made very deep drifts.  My car is in the yearbook that year, parked in X-lot, at the edge of a row of cars, with snow blown until it completely covered one side, and a lot of snow left on the other side.  We were basically snowed in for about 5 days.  Some of the professors couldn’t make it in.  That was a shame, but we made the most of our time. ; )”

While Linda may be disheartened over some of the changes at JMU, such as how “they closed the Hill, and took away toilet paper, streamers and shaking newspapers at basketball games” she was glad to hear that at least the film spirit still lives on at Grafton-Stovall theatre. She described one of her many great experiences at school:

“When I first got to JMU, we would show Gone With The Wind on a cold Sunday afternoon, since it’s a 4 hour movie.  On Thursday nights, we showed old classics and musicals, the kind everybody could sing along to.  One night, while I was working a showing of Singin’ In The Rain, it snowed, one of those Harrisonburg snows that creeps up on you and dumps a few inches while you are in a building and don’t see it happening.  People came out of G-S Theater and got excited by the weather and started singing “Singing In the Snow” and kicking it up in the air, like Gene Kelly does in the rain in the movie.  It was the coolest thing because such a diverse crowd was singing the same song, enjoying the snow together, showing that “little kid” that will come out when it snows.  I had the best feeling from that, and still get a great feeling from remembering it. “

I personally find it incredibly beneficial to hear from those who were at one point in the exact same place as I am now. If there are any more alumni readers I would love to hear about any of your JMU experiences or memories this post may have envoked. I hope you all enjoy the upcoming winter season and (hopefully) many films like Singin’ In The Rain that are truly deserving of being deemed classics.

– Stephen

We’re Goin’ on a Ghost Hunt

It is a question that every person walking this earth has asked themselves….. What will happen to me when my life ends? Obviously, I cannot give you an answer to this question, but in light of UPB’s event this evening, I can expand on one theory for the afterlife: your spirit can continue to function on earth as an apparition. There are many of picture from gocanada.about.comus out there that do not believe in ghosts. I was among this demographic for the majority of my life, basing my reasoning on what we as a society know to be logical. It just didn’t make any sense to me how anyone could believe in something so fantastic and vague. Why haven’t we seen more of them, and why is it that we can’t prove their existence? Then I took a step back and realized, that I couldn’t prove that these spirits were any more fake than they could prove that ghosts were real.  This epiphany just rocked my world, and I now consider myself open to the idea of souls lingering on after their times.

You all have seen the countless movies, read the numerous accounts, or maybe even had an spectral encounter yourself. Among these sources there are a great number of reasons given why someone’s soul would continue to have a connection to the living – such as unfinished business, a wrongful deed committed in life, or (according to J.K. Rowling) they were just afraid to leave. While we can’t be sure what the reason, one thing I can tell you is that there have been many legends of hauntings around the JMU community.

One story you may not have heard of however is the “thirsty ghost” of JMU. People claim that our former President Samuel Duke Ghost Hunterstill wanders the premises of a Shenandoah Hall on the quad (now the Alumnae Hall). Instead of trying to scare students, his trademark is causing drinks to fall out of the vending machines in the building. It seems that even the ghosts around our school are friendly.

If you are an avid believer or not in ghosts, the ghost hunter coming to campus tonight should offer some thought and sense provoking insights. He will even be more fully exploring the infamous ghost of the Wilson bell tower. Legend has it that an adulterous affair ending in a hanging in our campus’ most recognizable building – and the event tonight has set a goal of delving deeper into this tale. Hope to see you at Festival tonight for a very unique experience.

– Stephen