<![CDATA[Flyingwords - Flying Blog]]>Sun, 24 Sep 2017 04:43:52 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[The Power of Helpfulness]]>Mon, 08 May 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/the-power-of-helpfulness
My father didn’t want me to go to college.  It’s not that he wanted me to fail.  He just didn’t understand the value of a higher education.  He couldn’t appreciate my yearning to think smarter and be independent.  He thought that a woman’s role was to get married and have kids.  She didn’t need a college education for that.
My three best friends—Laura, Theresa, and Patrice—were all going.  Laura went to a private San Francisco nursing college.  Theresa went to a state college, and Patrice, well, she got a full scholarship to U.C.L.A.  When I heard about Patrice’s good fortune, my stomach fell.  My grades were better than hers, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

I registered at American River Community College since my dad wouldn’t pay tuition, and it was all I could afford from my job at the ice-cream shop. I also moved out of my parents’ house so I could concentrate on school instead of babysitting my little brothers and sisters.

My budget was at poverty-level.

I worried about paying my rent and my tuition.  I stressed about my car breaking down.  I ate frugally.  My parents let me take vegetables and fruit from their garden, so I lived on cheap colas and fresh produce, with an occasional slice of cheese and boiled egg.   What I never skimped on was school books and supplies.

When one day I visited a college counselor to plan my next schedule of classes, I must have looked hungry.  Mrs. Strol recommended that I apply for a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant to supplement my income, so I did.  I filled out the form carefully and slipped it into a mailbox.  Six weeks later, the college notified me that a check was waiting for me at the Financial Aid office.

I needed to fill my car with gas, so I went to pick up the check the next day.  I walked up to the window and gave my name.  The assistant smiled at me, flipped through a file, and pulled out a business-sized envelope.  She was so friendly that I felt like lingering, but I thanked her and left instead.

When I got back to my car, I ripped open the envelope and took out an over-sized check.  Wow. The amount was high enough to pay my tuition for two semesters and my rent for six months.  Wow.

No. . . Wow.

Someone cared enough about my college success that they gave me money, and lots of it.  I hugged the check close to my chest and reflected on my good fortune.  I could do it.  I could go to college and someone would think that it was the right thing to do.

This government assistance was the gesture of kindness that I needed to climb over the wall between me and my personal success.  This single act of charity gave me more hope than I had ever dreamed of.  I felt appreciated.  This act of benevolence erased the chains of anguish that held me down and stifled my optimism.   It was empowerment, realization, strength, determination, liberty, and direction all rolled into one.

Here I am, decades later, teaching college students.  I have received numerous checks from various people since then, but this was the most important check of my life. Within its paper and ink was a life-time of support and approval—essentials for my personal growth and success.

I look around me today and I don’t see anyone who succeeds alone.  Children learn how to walk and run and say “Please” by listening to their mothers.  Young workers get advice from mentors about how to get and keep a job.  Athletes receive guidance from personal trainers and game strategy from coaches.  Cancer patients survive with assistance from doctors.  Presidents are voted into office.

Both private and public support is important, even critical. No one succeeds alone.  But those who receive assistance can and often do learn how to give it to someone else.

They grow, they succeed, and they become the next generation of givers.  The practice of helpfulness originates from a true understanding of the power of generosity.

Helpfulness begets success, and I am an example. My dreams came true because someone once believed in them more than I dared to dream.


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<![CDATA[Ten Tips for Better Writing NOW!]]>Tue, 02 May 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/english-151rw-summer-2016
  1. Learn the functions for each of the nine parts of speech in order to use words more effectively: verb, noun, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, article, interjection.

  2. Choose verbs that are specific: instead of run, for example, use sprint.

  3. Choose specific nouns: instead of boy, use student; not flower, but plumeria; not island, but Kawaii; not individuals, but employees.

  4. Avoid the word “very:” instead, use a more specific adjective: not very smart, but brilliant; not very big, but gigantic; not very funny, but hilarious.

  5. Avoid “there are” phrases that create wordiness: not “There are many students in the classroom,” but “Students crowd the classroom.”

  6. Avoid redundant words and phrases: not “The neighbor next door brought me a plate of cookies,” but “the neighbor brought me a plate of cookies.”

  7. Avoid using phrases that add no useful information such as “in my opinion,” or “as a matter of fact.”

  8. Omit incomplete sentences known as fragments.

  9. Omit sentences with confusing ideas known as run-ons.

  10. Use parallel phrasing:Not “I like to swim, play tennis, and running,” but “I like swimming, playing tennis, and running.”


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<![CDATA[Ten Reasons to Love that "C" in English]]>Mon, 01 May 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/ten-reason-to-love-that-c-in-englishA great education is better than a great grade.  So, now that you've received your first essay grade and you're staring at a “C,” think about what you have actually accomplished.  Maybe some of the following ring true for you:
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1.       Just by being in class, you have become familiar with all kinds of things: farmed fish eat pellets; playing with #LEGOS can prepare you for college; William Shakespeare’s dad wanted him to become a lawyer, not a dumb playwright; a plot doesn't necessarily have to be a conspiracy; and a motorcycle and a wheelchair have a lot in common.

2.       This was your first class after being out of school for three years.  Your confidence is so high that you’re ready to sing about the parts of speech in the shower.

3.       You discovered that when you create redundancy in your paragraphs even your classmates get bored.  

4.       You never really understood what “critical thinking” was until you received a low grade for not carefully deliberating about the argument of a reading.  Oh.  It’s THAT.

5.       You hadn’t read a whole book for years, and when the teacher asked you to “map” out Chapter 99 of The Life of Pi, you found yourself reading it and becoming intrigued.  Maybe you’ll download a book this month.

6.       You now understand that it is better to use a noun than the pronoun “it” in every other sentence so that the reader can understand what “it” really is.

7.       You never thought about how titles forecast the main point of an article.  Now that you do, you find yourself creating one for each event in your daily life: “Alarm Horror,” “Breakfast Bedlam,” “Digital Diorama,” “Sandwich Baloney,” “Girlfriend Gout,” “Critical Creaking after School,” and “Homework Hemorrhoids.”

8.       You have recently come home from Afghanistan and you met another student in class who also served in the marines.  Together, you both attended the meetings at the Veteran’s Club on campus and secretly admired each other’s civilian T-shirts and jeans . . . and hair.

9.       You now can create metaphors that impress your friends like “Tina, the rabid raccoon, cowers in the gutters of academia throughout the day and rummages through the yards of her roommate’s food lockers at night.”

10.   You have finally seen the inside of a library.  Siesta!

If you choose, this “C” could eventually glow on your transcript like an orange neon light on a dark street at midnight, indicating that you, indeed, are more than just average.  This “C” could represent the class during which you found your windhorse, your sense of well-being and fundamental goodness.  It could signify when you chose to trust in your unlimited potential instead of your unlucky fate.  When you became “Conscious” that you are magnanimous and much greater than a collection of letters.
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<![CDATA[Wanna Be Smart and Happy? Read a Novel]]>Mon, 24 Apr 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/wanna-be-smart-and-happy-read-a-novel
Every summer, De La Salle High School in Concord, California requires its students to read novels.  For example, new freshmen must read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane even before they start their first year of high school.

Students entering as freshmen at New York’s Columbia University are required to read The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, perhaps the most ancient story in the history of humanity. 

Why this obsession with literature?  With novels?  Isn’t it just as useful to read texts on a phone or the short blurbs about news on the Internet?

Well, um, no. 

Novels teach us how to live.  They reveal the ups and downs of life.  They make us more successful human beings by helping us to understand the complexities of life. 

Let’s get more specific; here are nine reasons that reading a novel makes you both smarter and happier:

1.      Novels are topics of conversation.  They are great ice-breakers at parties and church picnics, and even great subjects for spending half an hour with grandma at the nursing home. 

2.      Reading builds self esteem and pride.  Once you read a book, no one can ever take that achievement away from you.

3.      Researchers at Emory University discovered that when students read novels, their brain functions changed for up to five days after reading.  These changes improved their language skills. 

4.      You learn proper English grammar without even studying by reading lots of well-constructed sentences.

5.      Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, found that reading novels enhances empathy.  When reader’s become involved with the protagonist, they better identify with other human beings.  Increased empathy helps people develop good relationships based on understanding. 

6.      When you read, you learn new vocabulary words like synchronize, intuition, verbose, germane, and lenient.  Better vocabulary makes you a better learner and communicator.

7.      Reading teaches you how to predict the future.  While reading about the protagonist and antagonist, you naturally start to predict what will happen next.  This critical thinking develops your thinking process.

8.      Books are like friends on paper.  Because characters in a novel come alive, you interact with them while reading.  You build a relationship with the characters, and relationships make you happier.

9.      Garth Brooks wrote, “You aren’t wealthy until you have something money can’t buy.”  Money can’t buy the knowledge and skills gained from reading novels.

Find a book at the library, at a run-down but charming used bookstore, at Costco, at a thrift store, on a bookshelf at your aunt’s house and read it.  You’ll feel both richer and happier. 


The author’s current, nine favorite books:
1. Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal
2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
3. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
4. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
5. Growing Up by Russell Baker
6. The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
7. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
8. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
9. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
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<![CDATA[Achieving Word-ness]]>Wed, 12 Apr 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/achieving-word-ness
The key to writing well is choosing words carefully. . .
I’d stare up at the wild ascent of the staircase from the bottom like I was a finless salmon at the foot of a river.  The incline was daunting, and I panicked that I would never feel the heady rush of reaching the top.  I was doomed to crawl back and forth on the first few stairs, feeling weak and powerless, without hope or optimism.  

Then one day, I climbed past the first flight of stairs.  I rested on the landing like a panting dog, my torso leaning against the railing for support.  I scrambled up the second flight and sloughed across the next landing, gripping the rail with clenched claws, too winded to speak.  

I scaled and mounted the steps like they were enemies.  I heaved and sighed, trudged and tripped.  I counted and lost count.  I ascended the steps while dots danced across my eyes and pins jabbed the center of my chest.  Then, when I was too weary to go any farther, a stranger grabbed me around the waist and pushed me up.  We climbed like one unit, in a slow march for a common purpose.   And I found the top of the stairs, my head in a fog, deficient of breath and oxygen, with a new friend beside me.  

Not every staircase can be climbed alone, if you don’t have shoes, can’t afford a cane, or just don’t have the stamina.

This is not the average wording found in a high school or college essay.  Many student essays are crammed with meaningless phrases—in my opinion, in other words, as a consequence, being that there are, due to the fact that—phrases that increase the word count, but decrease the content value.   
The key to writing well is choosing words carefully.

The example above represents strong writing because carefully selected words elicit imagery and meaning.  Instead of overusing pronouns, such as “it,” the writer uses specific nouns like “salmon,” “optimism,” enemies,” and “march.”  Verbs pack the sentences with action and vivacity.  This is “tight” writing—prose that contains no useless words and maximizes the use of words. 

Instead of employing wordiness to convey a vague meaning, this writer exploits choice words, achieves word-ness, to create a dynamic story.  Strong student writers should too.

Read the following short excerps for further examples of “word-ness.”


From “Reunion” by John Cheever:
We went out of the station and up a side street to a restaurant.  It was still early, and the place was empty.  The bartender was quarreling with a dlivery boy, and there was one very old waiter in a red coat down by the kichen floor.

From “The Last Night of the World” by Raymond Carver:
He poured some coffee.  In the background, the two small girls were playing blocks on the parlor rug in the light of the green hurricane lamps.  There was an easy, clean aroma of brewed coffee in the evening air.
From The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:
But the stones had told him that the old man was still with him, and that made him feel more confident.  He looked around at the empty plaza again, feeling less desperate than before.  This wasn’t a strange place; it was a new one.

To achieve word-ness, students must believe that they have something to say.  From now on, I grant you complete freedom to express yourself without the threat of criticism or ridicule.  Your voice is credible.  What you think matters.   Write down what you really think and then revise it by using incredible nouns and verbs.  

The following poem by Shel Silverstein may help:


The Voice

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you—just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
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<![CDATA[Wanna Be Smart?  Eat Intelligently]]>Mon, 10 Apr 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/wanna-be-smart-eat-intelligentlyPicture
Hundreds of studies have shown that school success depends on good nutrition.  This means that the best way to succeed in college is to practice healthy eating.  Here are some tips to sharpen your brain; boost your energy levels; and heighten your mental mood:

1.      Eat protein for breakfast.

A great benefit of protein is that it fills you up better than any other food.  If you eat protein for breakfast, you’ll avoid pangs of hunger during class and binges of unhealthy snacks between classes.  You'll not only feel better, you'll become stronger and look vibrant.

Protein is an important component of every cell in the body, and your body uses protein to build and repair tissues of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, hair, nails, and blood.  You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals.  

Good examples of protein for breakfast include boiled eggs, whole-grain cereals, and yogurt.

2.      Drink water and tea, not sodas.

Sodas contain large amounts of sugar, which can contribute to obesity and lower your immune system.  Diet sodas are not nutritious either since their fizzy nature has been shown to increase appetites, thus leading to over-eating. 

To stay healthy and hydrated, students need about 64 ounces of water a day.  Stick a water bottle in your back pack so you can drink throughout the day.  If you live in an area with healthy drinking water, you don’t need to buy bottled water.  Just fill up your water bottle and drink up.

Green tea provides natural anti-oxidants which help your body get rid of oxidized cells that contribute to disease.  Take a break in the afternoon for a cup of tea to energize your study.

3.      Eat lots of fiber.

The most important thing that students can do to stay healthy is to eat lots of fiber every day.  Fiber is found in beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Meat and fish have no fiber at all. 

Why is fiber so important?  Well, fiber helps the body eliminate the toxins that build up from processed foods, pollution, and used hormones.  If these toxins are not eliminated, they get stored in fat tissues and eventually cause diseases such as cancer.

For snacking during the day, bring apples, strawberries, raw nuts, carrot sticks, celery, or granola.  In addition, make fruits and vegetables the main course for your lunch and dinner. 

4.      Load up on power foods.

Smart students eat foods that offer concentrated amounts of nutrition.  Avoid eating processed foods such as white rice, boxed mashed potatoes, packaged macaroni and cheese, and white bread.  Instead, invest in foods that boost energy and strengthen your body against weakness and disease.  Here is a list of powerful foods to include in your college diet:
blueberries
strawberries
apples
tomatoes
spinach
broccoli
kale
cucumbers
whole-wheat 
beans
lentils
brown rice
wild salmon
quinoa
falafels
hummus
So, before you open that book or solve that equation, sit down to breakfast.  Intelligence begins with healthy eating.
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<![CDATA[Scholastically Sexy: The Semi-colon]]>Mon, 27 Mar 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/scholastically-sexy-the-semi-colon
Within the deep, scholarly recesses of their hearts, college students dream of using the semi-colon.  

When coming across one in a text, their hearts skip a beat.  They yearn to steal it off the page and paste it into their essays to call it their own.  They know, after all, that using a semi-colon is the epitome of suaveness, sophistication, and literal sexiness.  
When semi-colons are misused, sentences can be confusing or even embarrassing.  Their meaning can boggle the reader’s mind and discredit the student’s reputation.

Students who use semi-colons successfully see their essay grades soar.  They receive nods from their professors like never before, and their deepest literary dreams come true.

Basically, the purpose of the semi-colon is to create relationships within a single sentence.   And, the semi-colon is only used two different ways in doing this.

First, the semi-colon can be used to connect two sentences that convey related ideas.  Let’s suppose a writer wants to say, “Scholars speculate that Shakespeare did not actually write his plays himself.  Many believe that some of the actors wrote their own lines.” 

That’s not bad writing, but, by using a semi-colon, the writer can create a distinctive relationship between the two sentences: “Scholars speculate that Shakespeare did not actually write his plays himself; many believe that some of the actors wrote their own lines.” 

By connecting the two sentences with a semi-colon, the writer creates a stronger connection between the content of the sentences.  In this case, the writer first reveals that maybe Shakespeare didn’t write his plays by himself, and, right after the semi-colon, he explains who did.  

The second way of using the semi-colon is for listing several ideas in a sentence.  Let’s say the writer wants to convey these ideas: “During the summer, Ivan traveled to Paris, France.  Next, he flew to Munich, Germany.  Finally, he spent some time in London, England.” 

Well, this kind of writing is wordy and redundant, and any reader would get bored waiting to find out where Ivan went next.  By using semi-colons, the writer can convey the information succinctly and satisfactorily: “During the summer, Ivan traveled to Paris, France; Munich, Germany; and London, England.  In this case, a semi-colon is preferable to a comma since commas are already separating the cities from the countries. 

Some other examples of semi-colons used for listing are:

1.       When I wrote my last essay, I first made myself a chocolate shake; sat down at the computer; and typed until 2:00 a.m.

2.       During the next five years, I’d like to marry my girl friend; graduate from college; and start working at Google.

3.       At the University of California, Davis, Michelle majored in Communications; joined a sorority; and launched an online magazine. 

Separating the phrases with semi-colons creates a clear distinction between each activity. 

So, using semi-colons is all about creating clear and refined relationships.  What could be more scholastically sexy than that?


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<![CDATA[First Aid for Sick Sentences]]>Mon, 06 Feb 2017 08:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/first-aid-for-sick-sentences
I’ve written thousands of incredible essays, brimming with profound notions and creative solutions.  But, nobody’s ever read them.  Why?  Because I haven’t taken the time to transform these ideas into comprehensible prose.  So, my insightful thoughts are merely that—thoughts that have never been shared and never been understood by anyone else.  

Poor writing is the same. Writers who don’t revise their sentences into clear prose waste their time and words.  They confuse readers with unclear sentences and fail to communicate their ideas.  Why write at all?
To produce clear prose, writers must build sentences that convey ideas logically and accurately.  In other words, writers must use punctuation to create meaningful structure.  They also must choose words that accurately express what they want to say.

Look at the following confusing sentence:

At the crack of the bat; the ball whistles through the air, thump of the glove, the cleats gripping the dirt as they run, sliding aggressively as a cloud of dirt rises from the ground like steam in a hot tub, strawberry Bubulicious gum blown into bubbles bigger than their head, sunflower seeds cracking and landing softly on the field and in the dugout.

This writing has some great ideas about baseball, but the ideas are not completely or clearly expressed.  The writer uses vibrant language such as “crack of the bat,” “whistles,” “thump,” and “like steam in a hot tub.”  This language, however, needs to be organized logically, using standard punctuation, so that a reader can understand exactly what the writer is trying to say.

Look at how this "sick" sentence was revised into more than one sentence to paint a clear, fascinating scene:

At the crack of a bat, a ball whistles through the air and thumps into a glove.  Cleats grip dirt as a baseball player slides aggressively to first base; a cloud of dust rises from the ground like steam above a hot tub.  Players in the dugout blow gum into bubbles bigger than their heads.  They crack the shells of sunflower seeds in their teeth and spit them softly on the ground.

The student that wrote this confusing sentence loves baseball, but he hated writing.  When his teacher helped him revise his sentence to express his own excitement about baseball, he suddenly became enthused about revising the rest of his essay. 

After all, he is the baseball expert whose head is filled with scenes of green baseball diamonds and dusty base plates.  He can hear players chewing, spitting, blowing, and grunting.  If he can transform his “sick” sentences into coherent writing, his readers will feel excited too.   


P.S. Visit "Flying Sentences" on this website to learn more about improving sentence clarity.
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<![CDATA[Superbowl Verbs]]>Mon, 23 Jan 2017 08:00:00 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/turning-writers-block-into-writers-blastSports writers and announcers really know how to empower their sentences.  
 Here are a few examples from a Bill Pennington article in New York Times on January 21, 2014:  “Belichick, usually so adept at midgame adjustments, did not come close to finding a way to trump Manning this time. . .  Late Sunday afternoon, Brady slowly walked off the field here as confetti showered the stadium and about 50,000 fans in No. 18 jerseys hugged and cheered.” 

You have to love Pennington’s choice of verbs: trump, showered, hugged, cheered.

I truly am impressed by the verbs that sports writers and announcers use to embellish the commentary of their games.  A running back doesn’t just run over the goal line; he lopes.  The wide receiver doesn’t miss a catch; he fumbles.  He doesn’t lean to catch the ball; he lunges.  And throughout the whole game, the announcers help us understand what is going on by excitedly describing how the players tackle, shove, poke, drag, sprint, sprain, and foul. 

Every sentence blaring over the field is crammed with power verbs that excite the crowd and this English professor into a frenzy.  But my feverish bliss is not because the Denver Broncos just scored another touchdown; I’m excited at the untamed emotion of the sentences spewing out of the intercom.

Verbs are action words.  They provide most of the emotion of a sentence.  If a verb is dull, its sentence is dreary.  When a verb evokes passion, its sentence blasts its significance into the consciousness of the reader like a running back suddenly bursting through a throng of linemen.

Writers who want to create sentences that grip the interest of their audience would do well to imitate the sport writers and commentators of American football.  Make your writing come alive with as many action verbs as you can.  Don’t let your characters walk across the stage when they can saunter.  The shade can slide down the side of a building every afternoon.  The water can undulate like a silken sheet in the wind.   A stone can glisten like a pearl.  An author can mold a character.  Even sentences about arguments can employ verbs that intrigue readers, such as parallel, symbolize, and contradict

When writers use verbs infused with heightened emotion,  their sentences bleat with adrenaline.  They rouse their readers like the football fans being pelted with Superbowl verbs over the intercom—verbs that deserve a trophy of their own.

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<![CDATA[Words That Work for Students]]>Tue, 10 Nov 2015 01:41:22 GMThttp://flyingwords.com/flying-blog/words-that-work-for-students
Read the signs on campus . . . they're words in action!

Colleges employ thousands of words in their mission to provide higher education.  These signs (some created by students) from California universities speak specifically to students.

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Ohlone College, Newark Campus
Good writers love words.  They notice them everywhere because they realize how powerful they can be.  Words inform, clarify, explain, convey feelings, or encourage enthusiasm.  They work.
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Carnegie Mellon West Coast Campus in Mountain View
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Ohlone College, Newark Campus
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University of California, Davis
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California State University, Long Beach
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Mills College in Oakland
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Dorm Room at California State University, Long Beach
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Ohlone College, Newark Campus
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Ohlone College, Newark Campus
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