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Shayna is a firm believer in everybody having a story to tell. Through the struggles she faced with communication as a young girl, she made it her mission to discover how she could best express her vivid thoughts and feelings. Her quiet, introverted nature drew her to the written word as a cathartic means of letting her imagination run wild. The beautiful flow of ideas combined with the precise structure of language was the perfect combination for her to explore her creative desires in a meticulous manner.
Shayna's love of language led to a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, earning her highest honours (Summa Cum Laude) and several work experiences. She served as a communication officer in non-profit organizations and government departments before embarking upon her Master of Arts degree in Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies. Although her in-person learning was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she wrote the entirety of her thesis virtually, which was subsequently nominated for a university medal recognizing outstanding graduate work.
Upon graduation, Shayna yearned to set her inner artist free by officially pursuing her professional writing career. She has since worked as a ghostwriter with the goal of equipping clients in all corners of the world to tell their stories. While she feels a strong sense of purpose in her work, Shayna also dreams of sharing her own stories. She may have only just dipped her toes into the writing world, but Shayna can't wait to dive into all that it has to offer!
Wow. When I came across Biopage's Storytelling Writing Contest, I thought, "Hey, that's neat. We could all use some feel-good stories right now, and it would be good for me to sharpen my writing skills." Sure, I was intrigued by the contest component, but this was more of a reflection activity for myself. I needed this opportunity to remember the positive memories and milestones that occurred during COVID. This was a gratitude exercise that challenged me to search for hope in an era of fear. To those of you who read and interacted with my story, a special thanks to you. I know that mine was a simple tale; no lives were at risk and no severe trauma was experienced. Yet, it's a story that you still cared to embrace. Thank you for showing such interest in my experience. Special shoutout to Bella, Muslimakhon, Amisha, Frances, and Nabila on your wonderful stories. You are all fully deserving of the recognition coming your way! To those at Biopage, thank you for running a contest intended to bolster people's spirits. It's all too easy to fixate on the gloomy and discouraging realities of our world today, but your platform has been a safe space for incredible users to share some beautiful work. I've thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated being a member of such a generous community. I still don't know how to articulate the significance of this experience in my life. Writing has been an intimidating, yet incredibly rewarding journey for me, though none of this would have happened without the grace of God. By His leading, I trust that He will bring me to the next stage of the journey, one written piece at a time. Let love conquer fear, let light shine in the darkness, and let artists continue to inspire the world. Thank you.
"Please wait, the meeting host will let you in soon." My heartbeat pulses through my temples as I click the "Join Meeting" button. That Zoom screen is so daunting. It's a little hard to believe that my thesis defence is about to begin because it seemed like something that would never happen. Then again, I never thought I'd partake in virtual schooling and write a thesis without my academic cohort, but COVID had something to say about that. Yet, here I am, sitting behind my periwinkle laptop, awaiting the biggest presentation of my life. I frantically scan the dozens of post-it notes scattered behind my desk one last time. All year, I'd been fretting about the scenario in which I didn't know the answer to a question posed by someone much smarter than me. Would I be doomed to fail? I tell myself, "Deep breath. Just do your best, that's all you can do. Also, try not to blush." A grey wheel starts spinning on my screen. This defence is about to happen. And I'm as pink as a peeled grapefruit. As I enter my virtual room, I see half a dozen boxes arranged in a grid. I recognize my two supervisors while meeting my two evaluators for the first time. I've read their work and know them by name, but seeing their faces suddenly makes this more real. These are REAL people conducting REAL research, and they've read my work. That's slightly terrifying. "Welcome, Shayna, to your master's defence," our departmental director greets me. "How are you feeling?" Gulp. "Well, I won't lie, I'm a little nervous, but I'm looking forward to getting started." More like I'm looking forward to finishing, but that seems a bit too brazen to admit upfront. "I imagine so," the director graciously acknowledges, "but try not to worry too much. We're all looking forward to engaging in a rigorous conversation about your work." As the director outlines the format of the defence, my attention is partially directed towards a notification on my screen: "Wishing you all the best for your defence today. Love you!" I smile. I would never be in this position without my loved ones. I know my worth isn't determined by my work, but it helps to know that I'll have a wonderful community of supporters regardless of how everything turns out. "Unless you have further questions, let's proceed with your presentation," the director concludes his opening remarks. "That sounds great," I concur. My hand trembles above my laptop's touchpad as I share my 12-slide presentation through my screen. I also say a quick prayer to allow the Wi-Fi connection to work seamlessly for the next two hours. So far, so good. As five pairs of eyes orient themselves towards mine, I begin to speak. I've rehearsed this presentation enough times to know that I can comfortably land within my 15- to 20-minute time slot. Once I finish up my piece, my examiners and supervisors take turns posing questions related to their field of inquiry. I had prepared answers to some of the questions, so those were no problem. But for others, I try to formulate an on-the-spot opinion based on my research. I just hope it's enough. The director speaks again. "Thank you, Shayna. We'll place you in the waiting room for a few minutes as we deliberate and let you back in shortly." Once I'm booted out of the meeting, I exhale more air than I've ever let out in my life. My part is over. Now, I wait. Two minutes pass by in a flash as I try to regain my breath. Then three minutes... Five... Eight... Okay, so I'm definitely going to have to make changes, but whatever. I just want to rip the band-aid off and know what they are. Ten... Eleven... I'm about to pass out. Twelve... Thirteen... Fourteen minutes later, I'm brought back into the meeting. Everyone is wearing the same half-smile, which feels like the most difficult expression to dissect. "Hi, Shayna," the director says. "How are you feeling?" Like my head is about to explode. "A little relieved, but also happy it happened." "Well, I have some good news... We've decided to accept your thesis as is, without any changes." No... That can't be right. Is this for real? "Congratulations, Shayna." I guess so. We exchange a few more pleasantries, but I have no idea what's coming out of my mouth. I'm still fixated on not having to make revisions to a project that consumed my life for the past COVID-ridden year that I can barely hear any voices outside of my head. I fold my laptop to a close, and it takes all of three seconds before I start sobbing at my desk. It's over. My degree is finished. But it's not really my degree—it's the combined effort of several intelligent and loving individuals who helped me at every stage of this journey. My shoulders feel all the weight of that moment as I sit at my desk by myself, soaking up the reality of being free from this defence. Plus, I could finally satisfy my day-long craving for an Oreo McFlurry. Best McFlurry I ever had.
I love the water. I could easily trace the origin of this passion back to the eleven years I spent as a competitive swimmer. Even now, years after retiring from the sport, I find myself returning to the water whenever I need a calm place to contemplate the world and my place within it. I'm thankful for this reconciliation, given that my relationship with the water during the swimming years had more of a love-hate nature to it. As a ten-year-old, I didn't know how to handle my excitement. I absolutely adored swimming, making so many friends and seeing tangible signs of success. My heartbeat rang in my ears every time I stepped onto that starting block, and oh, what a rush it gave me. Every time I blasted into the water, it seemed as though I'd shave ten, maybe even twenty seconds off of my previous best time. I even lost count of my laps in one of those races, but it didn't seem to impact the final result all that much. I couldn't get enough swimming in my life. But this pattern couldn't continue forever. In my teenage years of racing, I encountered numerous obstacles I hadn't previously faced. On one occasion, my goggles completely filled up with water. Unable to see, I had such a horrendous result that I actively avoided talking to my coach. In another instance, I hyperventilated in the middle of the race, having to stop early and getting disqualified as a result. Those examples don't even account for the races where I felt ready to go, only to simply come up on the losing end. I had no excuse; I just fell short of expectations. As the years progressed, the failures piled up while the successes seemingly hit a wall. Discouraged and devastated, I had many a breakdown on my bedroom floor. “What was it all for?” “Was I always destined to crash and burn?” “Did any of this even matter?” I grew so frustrated with all of those early mornings and endless laps not seeming to matter when the chips were down. I abandoned the pool, festering with resentment for the sport that had seemingly betrayed me. Then, I was confronted by a more challenging question: “Who are you, if not a swimmer?” I hadn't had to face this question in a number of years. I was the swimmer; that's all there was to it. My identity was wrapped up in being an athlete. I took great pride in it because it took all of my effort to maintain that status. But now that I had removed this label, I didn't know who I was anymore. My short-sighted beliefs became apparent to me when I took part in a 24-hour sporting marathon. I was destroyed. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, the whole nine. I was spent. There was NO way I could have the audacity to think I was an athlete after that, when all of my capabilities were stripped away from me. Only by the grace of God did I make it through that marathon, because I had no strength of my own to rely on. However, it was through brokenness and dependency that actually gave me freedom to embrace the future ahead of me. Since my identity was no longer wrapped up in being a swimmer, races didn't have the same hold over me. My worth was no longer determined by the time on the clock. I could swim because I wanted to swim, and I could take pride in putting my best effort forward every time I touched the water. I could race with an attitude of gratitude, being thankful for the opportunities I had to compete against formidable individuals. I ended up returning to competitive swimming for one more year, but honestly, I didn't see any huge improvements in my results. Yet, the shift that transpired during my pause from the sport influenced my whole outlook on life. Swimming taught me that, if I wanted to stay in the water, I needed to embrace the waves. It's an inevitable part of the sport; still water might be a safe place, but it's also a sign of stagnancy. There would be peaks where I felt like I could soar, but there would also be dips where my confidence sank to the bottom of the pool. The key would be to keep steady in the midst of the waves in all of their ferocious power. I learned that it was okay to acknowledge when they've rocked me, but I must remember that my identity isn't defined by my ebbs and flows. I'm a child of an eternal God who far surpasses my immediate circumstances, and in Him can I anchor my true worth. This has been a crucial revelation that I've carried with me into the writing world, particularly in the midst of COVID-19. I can't count the number of times I've heard the word ‘wave' thrown around in the news to signify what stage of the pandemic we're in. But while the presence of waves are a necessity for change, they only represent a temporary phase. I am not defined by illnesses, rejections, or hardships, and neither are you. Together, we can link literary arms to help one another cope with, and get through, this wave. As our favourite animated blue fish says, let's just keep swimming together.