Some college students have an exact plan about their future, such as when they will get a job, be married and have kids. However, other students, such as senior Cassidee Jones, believe that they need to make themselves available and make it through life with all of its many turns.
“I think that we get so caught up in planning ahead that we don’t realize that roads turn when we least expect it,” Jones said. “I want to make myself available for whatever there is to come. I want to make those decisions as they come, not years in advance because I never know where my heart is going to be. You never know if you’re going to get so caught up in the whirlwind that you need to take a break to find where you were coming from once before.”
Jones is double majoring in history and political science while minoring in sustainability. She is a part of the History Honor Society, is the president of the Political Science Honor Society and was involved in the Student Imminent Society for the past two years at Auburn.
However, before Auburn, at the age of 15, Jones was diagnosed with acinic cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer. The malignant tumor does not spread but stays where it is and slowly grows.
“This shaped my experience because it made me want to seek the story of others because there was so much more depth to people after my experience of being surrounded by kids — that wary look, but their eyes were so alive,” Jones said. “You look into a person’s eyes and it’s a pathway into their soul. These kids refused to let that tiredness let them down.”
The cancer grew between her major facial nerves and removing it resulted in partial paralysis of the left side of her face. Jones is currently alright, but she won’t know when it will come back until it starts to hurt again.
“There came a new outlook on life after that. You’re given things that we take for granted, and its small stuff too. It pushed me to do and be better. That’s when I decided to apply for the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile, Alabama.”
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Jones was diagnosed nine days after her birthday in December and applied for the prestigious boarding school a month later, attending the next fall.
“It was a horrible and amazing experience,” Jones said. “It pushed me in ways I have never been pushed before. I’ve always been used to pushing my physical limitations, but I learned how to be mentally challenged. Coming into college, I was so well equipped with handling the burden of college because of ASMS.”
While in college, Jones discovered her love for taking care of the environment after taking a class on environmental policy. In her sophomore year, she took her first Early African History class and fell in love with the course as well.
“I recognized I had a knack for it, it was something that the teacher said that I understood,” Jones said. “He would explain something and I could grasp the concept a lot easier than I should have. I could visualize where things were happening or what was happening by the end of the course.”
Her professor suggested that she should travel to Africa if she wanted to pursue a degree in African studies. However, Jones was struggling with the hospitalization of her father during her first semester at Auburn.
“It was a reawakening because, at that moment, my dad had stopped paying for anything,” Jones said. “He stopped being able to pay for anything because he couldn’t work. He stopped helping me out not because he didn’t want to, but because he couldn’t. I ended up carrying a lot of that weight, and it was hard.”
In the summer of 2017, Jones finally traveled to Morocco after pulling out a loan and using her entire savings.
Jones stated that once she came back from Morocco, she realized her life was more than what was offered in the United States. She believes that the United States is too comfortable and that she is surrounded by waste.
“At one point, I realized that the lifestyle I experienced at Morocco is a lifestyle that I appreciated more than the supermarkets that we have here,” Jones said. “Coming home was hard because I judged everyone. I recognize that everyone has a right to the money that they make, and can spend it how they wish. But, at the same time, witnessing a shop owner having to sleep on a cot outside his own store, witnessing someone give up the quality of life to even be able to afford to live — I knew I wanted to do something about it.”
When she came back to Auburn, Jones continued in her African studies and added a sustainability minor. She also applied for a Fulbright to Kenya for the next academic semester.
Her trip to Kenya will consist of researching how developmental policy incorporates environmental policy into the development plans created by the first two presidents post-colonialism. Jones stated that she is really excited about it, especially since the United Nations Environment Program is stationed in Nairobi, which is the capital of Kenya.
Jones is currently interested in a Peace Corps position in Senegal, where she will work with local communities on implementing sustainable forms of agriculture in ways that combat erosion issues. She will also get to help empower girls and young women.
“I will help them learn to live in a Muslim country and still be Muslim and follow religious conditions, but adhere to your own form of feminism and women’s empowerment,” Jones said. “I think that we think of what that means in the Western context that we forget that it varies culture to culture, and that is the same with human rights. It’s not to say it’s a form of political correctness, but really who are we to say that we are the superior way?”
During the summer of 2018, Jones was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. This condition is more common in older women. However, Jones was diagnosed at the age of 21. It causes daily, chronic pain at 16 central points in the body, chronic fatigue, fibro fog and affects short term memory.
“I feel as if I have to invest in myself more than I have ever had to in my entire life,” Jones said. “I did Crossfit for two and a half years, but now I am doing yoga because I need to be able to work out without tearing my body up. Before, working out was a haven for me. So, I lost the thing that gave me control.”
Jones believes that this is the biggest obstacle she has had to overcome in her entire life because there is no cure for it.
“Everything is meant to be overcome,” Jones said. “If you don’t fight your battles head-on, you lose a part of who you could be.”
Fibromyalgia has caused her jaw to be out of place, and to be in the Peace Corps, she can’t have jaw surgery or braces because the time frame doesn’t line up.
“The Peace Corps is worth it,” Jones said. “It’s something I think about and my heart swells. It’s as if that there’s this moment, every time I think about it, where I think ‘This is it; this is what you are working for. Don’t let something that you can’t control feel like you didn’t earn it.’”
Jones is hoping that through her upcoming ventures she will gain experience, continue with her passion and meet new people.
“I hope by taking these opportunities and sticking my neck out for scholarships that are really prestigious that I’m making myself available for something more,” Jones said. “I’m hoping that there is a path that will open that is right for me and right for other people as well, because so often just because something is good for you it doesn’t mean it’s good for the others. ‘Life Unexpected’, that’s what I live by.”
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