By: Diane Stirling
Poetry is far more than simply self-expression for Michelle Tarshus, one of 35 newly-named 2012-2013 Syracuse University Remembrance scholars. Poetry is the path she has used to connect, serve, and inspire others for many years now, and to create her own momentum.
Now finishing her junior year at the School of Information Studies (iSchool), Michelle was recognized recently through the elite designation. Awarded on the basis of distinguished academic achievement, citizenship and service to the community, the University-wide honor comes with a $5,000 tuition award for the senior year of study. Michelle will take part in ceremonies and service-to-community programs that memorialize the 35 SU students who perished in 1988 on Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, as well.
It’s likely that Michelle will use poetry as part of those efforts. The communications medium is ingrained in her life as a mode of self-expression, but more so, as a means to an end. “I feel that poetry is a form of activism, and I really use it to reach out to other people on personal issues, political issues, injustices and inequalities,” she concedes.
The connection with poetry started for Michelle as an 11-year-old. Elated when she was accepted to the only college to which she applied, Michelle experienced a tough freshman year nonetheless. She was homesick for Elmira, felt out of place and invisible in the large-school environment, and nearly dropped out. Then, she met another poet on campus, and things began to click. She joined Verbal Blend, the spoken-word program in the Office of Multicultural Affairs. She got a position as a resident assistant for a poetry learning community. She began doing Sunday poetry workshops and co-founded the NuRho Poetic Society, a professional group that advances the practice of poetry forms and techniques.
When she lost her beloved grandfather, Michelle started a poetry group for local veterans at the VA Hospital as a way to honor his memory. Last year, a poetry reading was hosted once a month. This summer, Michelle hopes to start a poetry therapy workshop for patients at the hospital’s mental health unit.
An effervescent young woman, Michelle is drawn to challenges, she said, and her enthusiasm for new initiatives and forward momentum is evident. Now an Information Technology major with minors in Global Enterprise Technology and Asian American Studies, she’s thoroughly enjoying her iSchool education. She said the diverse environment and comprehensive curriculum offerings have provided her with a breadth of subject matter and wider perspectives with which to implement her communications interests.
She recently was accepted to the iSchool’s graduate school in the Information Management program. Her plan is to incorporate some library information sciences learning, perhaps including a specialization in school media, she said.
“I had a revelation recently that I need to do something with education and technology,” said Michelle. “I want to work with the digital divide, look at how socio-economic factors play into it, and how students in low-funded schools fall behind students who have more options, opportunities, and resources.” Her future plans include the possibility of working in a public library and creating community programs for students and others who have not had the opportunity to go to college, she said.
That interest goes back to her roots, and to the positive outlook that allowed her to overcome college-life trepidations and a first-generation college student status. “Once I made myself feel more significant on such a large campus, everything else began to fall into place. Now, I can’t believe how fortunate I am and how lucky I’ve been,” she remarked.
Michelle’s advice to others is characteristically upbeat. “You’re only as small as you think you are, and there are no limits to how great you truly can be,” she says. Her suggestions for moving forward in life include not letting others discourage your dreams. “It’s not about proving other people wrong, it’s about proving yourself right,” she says. “If you really want it, you can achieve it. Just put in the time, because whatever time you put in, you’ll get back. Look at the bright side of every situation. You only live once, and you’re only as incredible as you make yourself.”
Michelle’s web site is: http://www.signaturemimi.com.