Walking with confidence

Nicole Stempak

I didn’t see how a LGBT professor and my Italian friend were related at first. Then I realized they have something in common: both made a decision that has made their lives both difficult and worthwhile.

A couple weeks ago, my friend, who has only been in America for four months, softly knocked on my door one night while I was watching TV. She didn’t come to watch one of those shamelessly addicting reality programs; rather, she came to me overwhelmed with papers from International Affairs.

The papers, meant to help international students adjust to life on an American campus, provided information about everyday encounters from seeking shelter during a tornado to locking the door before leaving.

My favorite advice was about being aware of campus surroundings: “Walk with confidence. Hold your head up and your shoulders straight. Look at the people you encounter.”

She attempted to imitate proper walking behavior, and I think we laughed for a solid three minutes.

As we sifted through the papers, I was reminded of the fact that I have taken my life for granted. All of my life problems and out-of-proportion catastrophes seemed trivial.

I conducted my final interview with a professor the following day as part of a series of faculty coming-out profiles for Fusion magazine. After we finished, I stayed to scribble down some final thoughts.

Watching her leave, I was instantly reminded of my friend, but I couldn’t pinpoint why.

Both are personable, talkative and patient, but that wasn’t it.

I didn’t realize until I was typing my notes, but both are genuinely content with their lives. This is by no means an easy accomplishment considering what they’ve sacrificed in the process.

My friend left everything she’s ever known to pursue her dream of being a chemist at Kent State. She came because she knew it was the best decision she could make today, for tomorrow.

Likewise, the professor risked her personal life to come out as a lesbian. She even stopped talking with her family for about a year. While she talks with them, she said her sexual orientation is off limits. Her relationship with her family has never been the same since.

Perhaps the most striking feat is she has been able to take such bold leaps with a smile. I don’t honestly know if I would have the courage to do that, much less smile through the hurt.

Both have taken that risk. What’s more, both say it was the best decision of their lives.

They have been faced with adversity and hardships along the way. They know what it’s like to be teased, ostracized and ignored. At the same time, they know what it’s like to be proud of who they are and happy with their lives.

Through it all, they walk confidently with their heads held high — a lesson we all remember and one I’m still trying to learn.

Nicole Stempak is a freshman magazine journalism major and a Web reporter for Fusion magazine. Contact her at [email protected].