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All schools and colleges to remain closed tomorrow, Department of Education confirms

In response to the imminent Storm Ophelia, the Department of Education and Skills has confirmed all schools, colleges and other education institutions will remain closed on Monday.

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Quiet Power

If the Myers-Briggs assessment didn’t do it, Susan Cain’s Quiet certainly did. The word “introvert” has become common parlance. People now correct themselves if caught using the word “shy.” Cain has helped to develop nuance and sensitivity around introversion (e.g., introverts don’t hate people, we need alone time to recharge, we are great thinkers). But has higher education recognized the significance of this personality theory in order to better support introverted students’ learning and success?

I was an undergraduate at a traditional, midsize, land-based institution. While some of my classes had more than 100 students enrolled, most were much smaller discussion sections. But for a young introvert like me who was still getting her sea legs in life and at college, size was irrelevant. As a rule, I did not participate in class unless called on and questioned. Even then, my answers were cursory, more along the lines of, “What can I say that will get everyone to stop looking at me?”

I did well in college; I could write thoughtful essays in my sleep. I did all the readings. I rarely missed class. But participation was an anxiety-inducing experience for me. I dreaded it. Worse, never was it communicated to me that my inward focus was normal and valuable. I often felt just plain wrong in a land-based classroom; ideas were bouncing around furiously in my mind, but my square-peg style didn’t fit into their round-hole discussions.

Years later, long after learning to navigate my introversion through a combination of age and professional demands, I began teaching college success strategies to online students. During one of my first courses, a young man (we’ll call him Joe) shared his story on the class discussion board as students responded to a prompt about their previous educational experiences. Joe told us that when he was a child, his teachers and parents were concerned that he had a serious speech disability because he spoke so little. I couldn’t believe this, because Joe was one of my best and most “vocal” students in the online discussion. He responded to all of his classmates’ posts, always going beyond the required number of responses. Ever curious, I emailed him to inquire further.

Joe told me that after his high school graduation, he’d put off college because of his fears of the classroom environment. He’d decided to enroll in this, one class at his local community college, because he had the option to take his courses online. Joe loved the online environment, and rather than feeling like it was his second-best option or that he was a second-best learner, he was empowered and eager. I imagined him pursuing his degree while maturity had a chance to do its job, gaining confidence in his ideas in written form first so that he could begin to take more extroverted baby steps in the future.

I completed course work for my most recent graduate degree almost entirely online. I’m confident in saying that I was one of the most active participants in my courses. One of the things that I noticed as an online student is the importance of the time I was allowed to reflect on ideas due to the asynchronous nature of my courses. When I took traditional 55-minute land-based courses, I often thought of an answer to my professor’s questions four hours after class ended. I always felt like I was two steps behind everyone else, because introverts need time to process and consider internally. Like Joe, land-based courses made me feel like a fish out of water. As an online student, I could finally swim.

Very little has been written about whether introverts are more successful in online courses, but Rick Harrington and Donald Loffredo did consider the question in their 2009 article “MBTI Personality Type and Other Factors That Relate to Preference for Online Versus Face-to-Face Instruction.” In their admittedly small study, they found that introverts were more likely to prefer online courses while extroverts were more likely to prefer face-to-face. Though I’ve taught online for many years, I’ve never been privy to a discussion about the impact of personality type, specifically levels of introversion and extroversion, on our learners. Questions abound.

  • Do introverts prefer online learning? (We need more than one small study.)
  • Are introverts more likely to succeed in online courses? (We need to go beyond preference.)
  • How do introverts describe their experiences as online and land-based learners? (We need to value the introverted voices of the world.)
  • What about introverted professors? (This would fall under the “whole other can of worms” category for future exploration.)
  • Can we improve the online experience for extroverted students? (In the spirit of creating systems of success for all students, we should.)

While critics will argue that extroversion is the ideal mode of existence and that as higher educators, we are therefore bound to press all students into a life of extroverted servitude, let us return to where we began, in the work of Susan Cain, whose “quiet revolution” made the leap from a book to a movement. Cain has dedicated her life to remedying what she calls the “grave mistake” of idealizing extroversion and argues that we must stop treating introversion as a “second-class personality trait.” One of Cain’s model introverts, Rosa Parks, is a reminder that quiet can also be powerful. Isn’t it our job, after all, to help all of our students claim their power, even if that means letting go of our deeply held beliefs about primacy in learning modalities?

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MWAH mixes music, advice on youths’ toughest issues

Whenever Kevin Barlow posts new content, you’ll get an email delivered to your inbox with a link.

Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.

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Department of Education orders EVERY SCHOOL in Status Red alert counties to close tomorrow ahead of Hurricane …

THE Department of Education is advising EVERY school in Status Red counties to close tomorrow ahead of Hurricane Ophelia.

Eight counties have been issued with the red warning from Met Eireann: Galway, Cork, Mayo, Clare, Kerry, Waterford, Limerick and Wexford.

Education Minister Richard Bruton

Education Minister Richard Bruton

Signs on the front door of St Patricks Primary School in Tuam Co Galway

Signs on the front door of St Patricks Primary School in Tuam Co Galway

The Department said its decision comes “following a special meeting of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning in response to Ophelia’s imminent arrival.”

In a statement they said: “Following a special meeting of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning in response to the imminent Storm Ophelia, the Department of Education and Skills is now informing all schools in areas affected by Met Éireann’s status red wind alert that they are to act on the Department’s advice and remain closed tomorrow, Monday 16 October.

“For parents, this means that their children will not attend school tomorrow in any area where there is a status red wind alert already announced or announced in the intervening time.

Hurricane Ophelia, as it is predicted to look on Monday evening

Hurricane Ophelia, as it is predicted to look on Monday evening

The National Hurricane Centre has issued a graphic detailing Hurricane Ophelias likely path

The National Hurricane Centre has issued a graphic detailing Hurricane Ophelia’s likely path

A satellite image of Hurricane Ophelia approaching Ireland

A satellite image of Hurricane Ophelia approaching Ireland

“Schools in areas affected by a status orange alert should remain vigilant, and keep themselves appraised of any hourly and other updates from Met Éireann, and from their local authorities, local radio, and an Garda Síochána. In all events, and if in any doubt, schools should err on the side of caution.”

The National Emergency Co-Ordination Group met today to discuss Ireland’s preparations for the MOST POWERFUL hurricane to have ever been on this side of the Atlantic.

Met Eireann told the emergency committee that it expects Ophelia to hit the south before moving its way up the west coast.

Meanwhile, a number of colleges in the affected areas have been forced to close their doors.

Cork Institute of Technology, the Tralee Institute of Technology, University of Limerick and the Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and Thurles have so far announced that they will be closed.

Bus Eireann have also announced that a number of their scheduled Road Passenger Services have been cancelled with further cancellations a ‘strong possibility.’

  • What can you do to prepare for the storm to hit? Here’s a few pointers.
  • For the latest news on this story keep checking back at the Irish Sun Online, where we will bring you live updates as soon as they happen, before anyone else.
    Like us on Facebook at, and follow us from our main Twitter account at @IrishSunOnline, where we will bring you this story and all the rest of the top news and exclusives of the day. is your go to destination for the best celebrity news, football news, real-life stories, jaw-dropping pictures and must-see video

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Sharing skills and advice through education

A South African delegation of educational experts visited an Oxford college to learn how industry partnerships are helping boost employability for students.

City of Oxford College, run by education group Activate Learning, welcomed five senior members of staff from the Department of Basic Education in South Africa for a two-day visit last week.

As well as discussing industry partnerships, the group enjoyed a tour of BMW’s Mini plant in Cowley, one of Activate Learning’s partners, and visited Bicester Technology Studio.

Group executive director at Activate Learning Lee Nicholls said: “We are delighted to welcome the delegation from the Department of Basic Education in South Africa to Activate Learning.

“We are very proud to be chosen by the British Council to demonstrate the good practice in technical and vocational learning in this country. We are committed to equipping our students with the skills and attributes they need for career success.

“The visit from the Department of Basic Education provides us with an exciting opportunity to share best practice, so students in South African educational institutions can also reap the benefits of our experience.”

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Official Department of Education and Skills Schools and Severe Weather guidance for school management as follows:

Be prepared Be informed Be vigilant


Schools should conduct a pre-event evaluation of what should be, or could be, in place to ensure the opening of the school in the event of severe weather. Areas for consideration are maintenance of school premises and utilities, salting and gritting and transport to and from school.

Access in the school to a battery operated radio and flashlights should be put in place. Schools should ensure that every member of staff is clear as to their role and responsibilities during severe weather including in the event of a school closure. A member of staff should be assigned to monitor weather conditions and to contact the principal response agencies and
school transport services where required.

Included in the school’s plan for severe weather should be the proposed responses and roles
which will apply in the event of a Red level weather warning from Met Éireann.

Schools should ensure to have the relevant contact details of the principal response agencies for their area, including An Garda Síochána, fire brigade and local authorities and other appropriate services. Schools should also have contact details for the transport services serving their school.

These details should be checked regularly and kept up-to-date.

Schools should establish communications with neighbouring schools to ensure, as far as practicable, a unified local response to severe weather events may be implemented. It is noted however that while schools in an area may try to co-ordinate their decisions, the circumstances can vary between individual schools in close proximity and may on occasions lead to different
decisions being taken by schools.

Most schools use a text messaging service to communicate with parents and staff. Local radio, the school’s website or social media may also be useful to alert parents and students to school conditions and closure should this arise.

State Examinations
In the event of severe weather during scheduled state examinations the State Examinations Commission will communicate with schools to put in place alternative arrangements.

Status Red Weather Warning
All weather warnings of Status Red will require some action on behalf of schools. Schools need to assess the potential impact of such weather events taking account of past experiences and in light of advice on the current event from the principal response agencies in their area. 

A Status Red weather warning for heavy rain may be particularly relevant if the local area is prone to flooding. A Status Red warning related to ice or snow which may compact may cause local issues due to the location of the school and/or the routes taken to reach the school.

Status Red Weather Warning for Wind
Schools should note in particular Status Red weather warnings where strong winds or storm conditions are forecasted. Due to the high degree of unpredictability as to the impact of the weather associated with such a Status Red warning on local conditions schools should use the following guidance to assist them in making their assessment.

Status Red weather warning for wind related conditions may be given in advance of a school opening or it may arise during the day while a school is underway.

Advance Warning of Status Red
Following consultation at a national level with the Office of Emergency Planning and the management bodies for schools, the Department of Education and Skills’ advice to schools is that they should consider not opening where a Status Red weather warning related to wind is forecast to coincide with the period/s during which students and staff would be expected to be
travelling to and from school.

Whether the school should open later in the day where an improvement to the weather is forecast is a decision which should be taken in consultation with An Garda Síochána, the local  authorities, school transport services and other appropriate agencies based in the school’s area. 

Warning of Status Red that arises during the school day

Where the Status Red weather warning related to wind is issued when the school is already underway with students and staff present, the school management should immediately contact An Garda Síochána, the school transport services and other appropriate agencies for advice on whether it may be safe to undertake journeys from the school or when such journeys should  commence. Consideration should also be taken as to the safety of parents undertaking journeys
to the school to collect children.

Where a decision may have to be taken on health and safety grounds based on the advice available to the school for students and staff to remain on the school premises during a Status Red warning related to wind, then schools should plan for such an eventuality by considering how students and staff can be accommodated within the school while awaiting an improvement
in the weather. Such decisions should be taken based on the health and safety of all concerned taking account of the prevailing and forecast weather conditions in the vicinity of the school.

Guidance for the maintenance of school buildings and utilities is available from the Department of Education and Skills at

Guidance for primary schools on health and safety is available at

Guidance for post-primary schools on health and safety is available at

Information on weather and weather warnings is available

Useful guidelines on weather and being winter ready available at

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Machiavellian advice for college principals

Principals are often maligned, but they’re only mirroring government policy, argues Damien Page

It is not hard to find criticism of college principals: academic literature is littered with it, the trade press is awash with it, social media thrives on it, and the staffrooms of colleges mutter it constantly. Principals are greedy, overpaid, uncaring, narcissistic, ignorant of pedagogy, anti-autonomy, and a barrier to professional practice. In short, principals embody the worst excesses of neoliberalism.

Yet what is forgotten is the difficulty of being a principal. The environment is unstable, perpetually in turmoil, tossed on the winds of fortune by ministers that never quite know what to do with the FE sector. Colleges are complex organizations containing myriad tensions, be they financial, human and technological.

When people engage in disparaging commentary about principals, they forget about the external environment. Their criticism often positions principals in a vacuum where they are masters of their own fiefdom, governing capriciously for personal gain.

Yes, principals may make massive cuts to their staffing and they may impose new contracts that increase contact hours or make more use of zero-hours contracts; they may even create environments where teachers are continually surveilled and evaluated. But let us remember that these are not the voluntary acts of managerialist despotism that they may at first appear. The principal acts not in a context of governmental concern for the FE sector but in a context where FE is an afterthought, an easy target of austerity cuts that create little public outcry.

Colleges are not isolated outposts in control of their destiny. They can be merged as a result of area reviews, they can have whole sections of a curriculum removed through financial strangulation, they can have GCSE retakes foisted upon them to the detriment of vocational education. The principal’s sole responsibility is the survival of their college and the education of their students, and if that is threatened they must take whatever action is necessary, and pacifism in the face of an invading force is rarely successful.

Colleges are not isolated outposts in control of their destiny

Principals must engage fortune on its own terms: neoliberal responses for neoliberal times, autocracy for an autocratic government. The lamentations of academics’ insightful criticism of policy in peer-reviewed journals have not halted the march of funding cuts to colleges; the wailing of the left-wing press at the redundancies resulting from forced mergers has not stalled the march of devastation. No, principals are the ones keeping the neoliberal wolf from the door and ensuring students continue to be educated. The question is how. Machiavelli had a clear answer to this question: “I believe also that he will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful.”

What is required from leaders is that they choose a strategy that is congruent with the context. Machiavelli himself was a product of his times and The Prince was written in a dangerous context of intrigue, political manoeuvring, torture and assassinations. It was no time to recommend virtue, fairness and pacifism; it was a time to choose behaviours and strategies that could adequately combat the dangers of political life.

Principals, then, similarly need to select their actions according to the context, adopting a bullish neoliberalism to combat the invading horde of neoliberal governmental aggression. If colleges are forced to operate within a marketised topography, principals would be foolish if they didn’t in turn ground their strategy within the most marketised strategy of marketisation possible; when they are faced with performativity, the prudent strategy is to fashion the most performative institution they can create. In this context the principal who survives, whose college survives, is the one who becomes a paragon of neoliberalism.

In times characterized by ferocity of competition, where colleges have become players within the commodified education marketplace, where the government imposes throttling systems of performativity, where the sector continues to be stripped of resources, there is no place for lambs; there is only a place for foxes and lions.

This is an abridged version of a chapter in The Principal: Power and Professionalism in FE, edited by Marie Daley, Kevin Orr and Joel Petrie.

Damien Page is dean of the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University

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Lawyers will offer free legal advice at MCC; other charitable events planned – Omaha World

Lawyers offer services: Get free legal advice from volunteer lawyers and paralegals from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Friday at Metropolitan Community College South Omaha Campus, 27th and Q Streets, in Connector Building Room 250. Lawyers and paralegals will meet with people on a first-come, first-served basis. Spanish-speaking volunteers will be available. The event is hosted by Creighton University School of Law, Justice for Our Neighbors Nebraska, Legal Aid Nebraska, Midlands Bar Association, Omaha Bar Association and the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Nebraska Bar Association. Lawyers can provide legal information on child custody, tenant rights and bankruptcy. Immigration counseling is available for the morning session only.

Habitat for Humanity: Bid to Build, a Habitat for Humanity of Sarpy County fundraiser, will be at the Beardmore Event Center, 3730 Raynor Parkway in Bellevue, on Friday. The 6 to 10 p.m. event includes silent and live auctions and dinner. Tickets are $45 and available at; search “Bid to Build.”

Tri-City Food Pantry: First Lutheran Church, 420 N. Washington St., will host an Oktoberfest fundraiser for the Tri-City Food Pantry from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Traditional German food will be available for purchase from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. There will be a craft sale, bake sale, live polka music and beer available for purchase. Admission is free.

Conservation Foundation: Pottawattamie County’s annual “Go Wild For Conservation” beer tasting and auction is at 6 p.m. Thursday. Try specialty brew and custom food pairings at the event at Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs. There will be silent and live auctions. Tickets, $40, include beer tasting, a souvenir mug, non-alcoholic beverages, food and an auction bidder number. Money raised goes to land stewardship, environmental education and impact recreation activities. For tickets or more information, go to

Operation School Bell: Assistance League of Omaha, 3569 Leavenworth St., provided new clothing for more than 4,000 metro-area students during its annual Operation School Bell effort this month. The program provides school clothes, shoes and coats for kindergarten through eighth-grade students when the family has a financial need.

Human trafficking battle: Council Bluffs Noon Rotary Club will host a soup lunch fundraiser Thursday for Southwest Iowa Human Trafficking Coalition at Masonic Lodge, 130 S. 6th St. There will be soups, rolls, salad and desserts from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person, available at the door.

Completely KIDS: Lincoln Financial Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Lincoln Financial Group, recently awarded a $12,000 grant to Completely KIDS for its after-school program, including materials, staffing, field trips and programming. Completely KIDS works with more than 2,000 local children on literacy and helps families break the cycle of poverty with support, education, mental health resources and referrals to other agencies.

Combat hunger donations: Walmart Foundation recently gave three Nebraska nonprofit organizations a total of $150,483 in grants. Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue of Omaha received a $68,000 grant to connect people in need with local food resources and nonprofits. Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach of Lincoln received a $25,000 grant to provide daily meals for near-homeless and homeless people. Tabitha Inc. of Lincoln received a $57,483 grant to support its Meals on Wheels program, which delivers hot meals to individuals.

Southwest Iowa Nature Trails: The Omaha Running Club on Saturday donated $2,000 to Southwest Iowa Nature Trails in Council Bluffs. The trail group is a nonprofit organization that supports recreational activities and trail development on the Wabash Trace. Money was raised by the club from its Beat the Heat 5K in July.

Know about something we should include in our weekly listing? Email it to

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Current, Former Students Say Formal College Advice Not That Helpful

Current, Former Students Say Formal College Advice Not That Helpful

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Terri Tchorzynski works hard to help young people in the American state of Michigan succeed after they complete high school.

Tchorzynski is a school counselor at a special public school called the Calhoun Area Career Center in Battle Creek, Michigan. There, students in their final two years of high school take classes that relate directly to industries in which they might work someday.

Tchorzynski makes students’ plans after high school a priority, whether they expect to attend college or enter the workforce.

Tchorzynski uses many tools to help her students. She makes regular presentations on issues such as financial aid. She offers special tests to help identify qualities in the students’ personalities and how those qualities might relate to a job or field of study. And she also directs students to websites that provide information on colleges and universities.

Terri Tchorzynski, school counselor at the Calhoun Area Career Center
Terri Tchorzynski, school counselor at the Calhoun Area Career Center

All of Tchorzynksi’s hard work has gained her some national attention. The American School Counselor Association named her its School Counselor of the Year in 2017.

But, a new study finds that many Americans who either completed a degree program or attended at least some college are unhappy with their high school counselors. They do not feel the advice that their counselors provided about higher education was all that helpful.

Tchorzynksi says a lack of personal attention may be one reason why students are unsatisfied.

But she notes that most school counselors are in a difficult position. They have more to do than just provide college advice to students. Also, she says, many counselors across the United States are overworked.

“In Michigan, we’re about 750 students to one school counselor…The American School Counselor Association says it should be 250 to one. But that’s not the case…So I would say that some school counselors are probably in a spot where maybe they cannot provide the individual services…getting the students exactly what they need.”

Not all advice is created equal

The Strada Education network is a nonprofit organization that supports the growth of higher education in the United States. Last year it partnered with the research company Gallup to ask over 22,000 Americans about their experiences with college. Researchers focused on where people received advice about what field to study in college, and how helpful the advice was.

The study found four main sources of advice.

There are the formal sources, such as school counselors, websites and print media.

There are informal school-based sources, such as teachers and other staff.

There are informal social networks, such as friends and family.

And there are informal work-based networks, such as bosses and co-workers.

The study showed that formal sources of advice about what to study in college were the second most commonly used, after informal social networks.

But only 64 percent of people who used formal sources found them helpful at all. In other words, formal sources were the least helpful source.

Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup.
Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup.

By comparison, informal work-based sources were the least used, with only 20 percent of people using them. Yet 83 percent of people who did found informal work-based sources to be helpful. In other words, bosses and co-workers were the most valuable sources of all.

Brandon Busteed is executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup. He says it is surprising that current and former students find what some might say are the most traditional sources of advice to be so lacking.

“It’s a call to action on a number of fronts, certainly to think about how we improve the formal advising that happens in and outside of schools,” he told VOA. “But also to think about how we can ramp up the number of touch points between employers…and students.”

How formal sources can improve

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. is the president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. His organization supports historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, across the United States. Taylor helped connect the Strada and Gallup researchers with minority communities.

Taylor suggests that in addition to being overworked, counselors may also simply have limited knowledge. He argues that many school counselors mostly have professional experience in education. Therefore they may not always know the best way to go about becoming a chemical engineer or graphic designer, for example.

The limits of counselors’ knowledge is why schools need to strengthen relationships with both local employers and national professional organizations, Taylor says. These connections can provide counselors with the most up-to-date information about what a job in a given field requires. Counselors can then pass that information to students.

In addition, relationships with professional groups might give students a chance to meet with employers and ask important questions themselves.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund president Johnny C. Taylor Jr., right, at special event where Gallup and the Strada Education Network presented their joint study on Monday, September 25.
Thurgood Marshall College Fund president Johnny C. Taylor Jr., right, at special event where Gallup and the Strada Education Network presented their joint study on Monday, September 25.

Taylor says those connections are especially important for poor and minority students, whose exposure to people with high skilled jobs may be limited.

“Many of them are first generation. And as first generation students, they simply don’t have engineers, doctors, lawyers in their families to give them this advice. The result is that they make really, often times, poor…college going decisions and ultimately have a certain level of regret about what schools they chose, which majors they chose when they did go to school, and, ultimately, what careers they found themselves in.”

Also, Taylor notes, school counselors need to pay better attention to some other considerations when giving advice. He admits that school counselors do the best they can to get students into college. But they do not often talk about the difficulties of finding a job in some fields, or the consequences of heavy student debt, he says.

Tchorzynski, Busteed and Taylor all agree that, in the end, the amount of time and effort that students put in will decide how happy they are with their decisions. But students still need to be pointed in the right direction.

I’m Dorothy Gundy. And I’m Pete Musto.

Pete Musto reported this for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. We want to hear from you. What do you think are the most helpful sources of advice about college? If you are a current or former college student, what are some regrets you have about the first decision you made in the process? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

counselorn. a person who gives help and advice to students about educational and personal decisions

priorityn. something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first

financialadj. relating to money

advicen. an opinion or suggestion about what someone should do

formaladj. made or done in an official and usually public way

social network(s) – n. the collection of personal relationships a person has with other people

ramp upp.v. to increase or to cause something to increase in speed, size or number

exposuren. the fact or condition of being affected by something or experiencing something

major(s) – n. the main subject studied by a college or university student

consequence(s) – n. something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions

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Wilson Cruz Gives Advice on National Coming Out Day – People

Wednesday marks National Coming Out Day, and actor and LGBTQ activist Wilson Cruz — who was the first openly gay teen to star as an openly gay teen in the cult show, My So Called Life — is opening up about his own experience.

He’s also sharing hi personal advice for those who are thinking of coming out today.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it was hard,” says Wilson, now 43 and starring on Star Trek: Discovery.

Still, he credits Ricky Vasquez, his My So Called Life character, with changing everything.

“My parents knew I’d auditioned for a gay character, but that’s all the knew,” he tells PEOPLE of his Puerto Rican mom and dad. “I made a deal with myself that if it got picked up, I would come out.”

Before the show began airing, he came out to his mother, which he says didn’t go so well. “But she got over it pretty quickly, because that’s her,” he says.

ABC Photo Archives/Getty

His father was a different story. “He chased me and kicked me out of the house,” Cruz says. It was Christmas Eve, and without anyplace to go, Cruz wound up sleeping in his car and couch-surfing until they began filming the show.

“My character Ricky Vasquez went through the same experience on the show, and was kicked out of his house,” Cruz says. “I didn’t know my father was secretly watching the show, and when the credits rolled on the Christmas episode, he called me and said, ‘Maybe it’s time we had a talk.’”

Cruz says he went back home and proceeded to have the most heartfelt, loving conversation with his dad. “It was difficult, uncomfortable, but I told him, ‘If we’re having this conversation, you need to ask questions you’re afraid to ask, and I need to answer questions I’m afraid to answer,’” he says.

They did, and with a greater understanding of one another, it brought them closer than ever.

Choking up at the memory, Cruz says, “My dad is now an incredibly important ally of mine. I’m so impressed with him. He’s a hero to me because he put love and his family first.”

But Cruz has advice for those hoping to have a positive experience when coming out.

“When I think about people coming out, especially young people, my first concern is, ‘Are you safe? Is this a safe time? Are you in a safe place?’” he says. “Do you have a network of people outside of your parents you can go to if this doesn’t go as well as you hoped?”

Cruz says his second concern is for their education and wellbeing at school.

WATCH: Orange Is the New Black Star Lea Delaria Says ‘It’s Taken Everybody’ to Achieve Diversity for LGBT Television Characters

“When you’re 14, 15, the most important thing in your life should be education, because that’s what’s going to set you up for success as an adult,” he says. “So if coming out now will hinder your education, maybe we take some time to think about whether the time is right or not. Those are my concern.”

Cruz says he still has people approach him several times a week on the street to tell them what Ricky Vasquez meant to them, or how it inspired them to be okay with coming out. And he understands what they mean completely.

“The show changed my life. When I tell you that I am just as grateful for Ricky Vazquez as much as anyone else?” he says. “I mean that.”

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