At Villanova, we believe that it is our similarities that make us strong, but our differences that make us stronger. Please tell us about a relationship that you have with someone who is different from you and how that has changed who you are today.
At my school, AP U.S. History has a reputation all its own – difficult, lengthy, overbearing. Still, in comparison to the teacher’s notoriety, the class seems like a piece of cake. You would have thought The Imitation Game was based on the way students feared him.
From the first day of class, I sensed that we could never get along. A Napoleon-like man, Coach Marks, as we were to call him, spoke of his staunch conservative values and political ideologies through a southern accent so thick, I could hardly understand when he teased me and called me a Yankee for spending my childhood in Massachusetts. Autographed pictures of President Reagan and Senator Marco Rubio lined the walls adjacent to his desk, a sharp contrast to my idolization of CJ Cregg, the fictional Press Secretary of The West Wing and Senators Chris Murphy, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker.
The lens through which we learned the history of our country was shaped by his socially and fiscally conservative ideas. Democrats were corrupt and taxation was theft. Jefferson’s preference of states rights was favored over Hamilton’s national bank and President Nixon’s scandals were not nearly as shameful and un-presidential as President Clinton’s, we were told and tested on.
Having grown up in a service oriented, Catholic family, the daughter of civil servants who worked in non-profit organizations, I learned that respect should be given to all, those who agree with you and those who do not, no excuses. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes was tortuous each day, not because of his views, but because of the sarcasm he showed towards the ideas of others.
This being an election year in an early primary voting state, political tension filled the air inside and out of the classroom. I lasted a full semester without Coach Marks discovering my political affiliation, but the day he found out that I was a Fellow on the Hillary Clinton campaign, I thought that I, and my A in the class, were history. He put on a big show for my classmates, exclaiming that I was a Communist and on the path to the career of Hillary Clinton’s deputy “email deleter”. As class ended, I believed I was saved by the bell, until he asked me to hang back for a moment.
I feared more yelling and more insults, without the safety net of my classmates as witnesses. Yet, rather than yelling, we spoke about the issues, ignoring the personalities of the candidates, instead discussing feminism, the economy, immigration, and foreign policy for close to an hour. The conversation was one of genuine respect and interest on his part. It proved to him that I could form my own, intelligent opinions, and he showed me that when people are able to interact with respect for each other’s differences, we can go so much further.
Twenty years from now, I will remember Coach Marks as the teacher who set me on a path to success. He taught me to advocate for and defend myself, to debate, and to show respect to others whose’s ideas differ from my own.