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With more downtime than a usual semester, I set out to find a job to help support me and my family during the pandemic. The job I came across has been such an invaluable experience that it certainly has helped me diversify my experience as a worker and a member of the community.
If there is anything I have learned from my time at Arcadia, it would be that adaptability, excellence, and responsibility are some of the core values that drive the university, which ensure that each student is prepared for anything that is thrown at them in life. In that same spirit, I felt I was lacking that in my life. My classes this semester are very challenging, but I needed to really get out of my comfort zone and push myself more than I have before. I was getting too comfortable being at home and doing Zoom, and my summer job as an ocean lifeguard was not as challenging as it had been when I first started out.
A few weeks ago I got a phone call from a friend, asking if I was interested in making grave blankets. I had never heard of them, but they apparently are quite popular. Basically, a grave blanket is a blanket that is put over a dead loved one’s grave, usually around the Christmas season. It is made out of pine tree limbs, which are put into a styrofoam block and taped to a small plank of wood. My job was to tape blocks together, which were already cut, so it was pretty easy work at first. But then I was moved into cutting brush, which required me to measure out different lengths of branches and keep feeding the cuts to the builders. I was corrected a lot, which was understandable because I had no clue what I was doing. The tools and equipment I was using were very foreign to me, so I spent many long days honing my craft, but this took a toll on my grades. As I mentioned before, balance is key, so I needed to figure out how to manage these two responsibilities.
This job ends before Christmas, so there is a finite number of blankets to be made, just like there is a certain number of assignments in a class to complete before the end of the semester. In recent weeks, my boss started trusting me with more equipment I’ve never used before, which required me to figure it out. I’m talking hooked sickles, leaf blowers, chainsaws, trucks with trailers, dump trucks; you name it, I probably used it. In a similar fashion, my teachers introduced me to writing research papers using more in-depth looks into primary and secondary sources, the Landman library, peer-reviewed journals; more tools that I have never really used before. I started to understand the blue-collar working life as well as learning how to become a better student. I learned that these jobs are more similar than I could ever imagine. Both require hard work, dedication, and consistency—something I have been lacking ever since going to the online platform.
Perhaps the best part of the blanket-making job is delivering the blankets. They are sold to markets, but I am allowed to make some for people I know, which has been so rewarding. I am able to present them something I put my heart and soul into, and knowing it is decorating their loved ones’ graves makes me feel even better. On the other side, being able to write these long research papers for my teachers is also very rewarding: I am able to present them a paper on a topic of my own choosing, which allows them to give me feedback and sometimes push my idea to the next level of publishing.
Never would I have thought that making blankets would have such an impact on my life, but all in all this job experience has taught me the value of hard work, and has definitely made me a more responsible and better student.