Readers Digest Restores Blind Woman’s Confidence!

Well friends, I am going to have to interrupt my studying one more time for another long overdue news flash, but this time it is exciting news! Last Sunday night shortly after posting my last entry, I felt the beginning signs of a cold: that ominous sore throat when you swallow and an unusual amount of sneezing. Despite taking benadryl so I could breathe and get some sleep, I didn’t sleep very well because the sore throat kept me awake. So by Monday morning, instead of feeling rested and refreshed from the weekend, I was tired, plugged up and achy. But I had to get through a very busy morning before I could rest. First, I had my business class at 9:00, and this class happens to be located on the second floor of Rankin Hall which requires climbing three flights of stairs since it was built before elevators. Then I had to make a trip to the library to interview a student for a story I was writing for the student newspaper, followed by a trek to the Disability Services Office to ask about a book I hadn’t received yet. After that, it was off to Maxon Hall where I had to interview a faculty member for the same story, and then it was back to the library to frantically look over the quotes from these interviews and type the story, a story that was actually due last Thursday but I was given an extension by the editor because I couldn’t meet with the faculty member I needed to interview until Monday unless I skipped a class, something I didn’t think would be a good idea. No sooner had I finished the story than it was time to hurry to Shattuck Auditorium for Concert Choir Rehearsal. Needless to say, after such a busy morning, on top of my cold, and perhaps some lingering discouragement from the zoo internship lady I wrote about in the last entry, I was ready for Dad to pick me up and drive me home where my Mom had a steaming bowl of chicken tortilla soup waiting for me. But it turned out the soup and lounge chair weren’t the only things waiting for me when I got home. There was also a print issue of Reader’s Digest in the mailbox, inside of which was my name!

Alright, maybe I should back up and tell the whole story behind this exciting event. I have been receiving Reader’s Digest in braille since I was in eighth grade, an age when I was ready to start reading more adult centered magazines. Since my mom is a print subscriber and said this magazine has a lot of good general interest articles, I decided to go with Reader’s Digest too. Subscribing to this magazine was a great decision as there are always articles of interest to me in each issue, and I still tear in to the box and flip through each volume of the magazine when it arrives despite the fact that in many other ways, I am a different person from the eighth grader I was when I first subscribed to it. But being that I am a writer, and an aspiring Journalist who loves to share her opinions, I occasionally enjoy not just reading the articles, but writing letters to the editor about them. The first letter I wrote was regarding a profile of John Kerry that was written the summer before the 2004 Presidential election. (I supported John Kerry by the way despite being too young to vote back then. I didn’t agree with George W. Bush’s obsession with banning gay marriage and abortion, personal moral choices that I don’t feel the government has any business getting involved with, and his No Child Left Behind policy which meant teachers had to teach to the state tests or risk loosing funding, which was very stressful for both students and teachers. I also may have been influenced by my family who vehemently opposed the war in Iraq and thought Bush lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction. But I respect everyone’s right to have their own political opinions, so let’s not have any heated political debates in this journal). Anyway, I don’t think I have a copy of this letter anymore, but that is alright because I have developed so much as a writer since that letter was written that I am sure if I ever did find it and reread it, I would be embarrassed for sending it, and deep down I knew it wouldn’t be published. I submitted a couple other letters over the years, all of which resulted in me receiving a form letter with the usual “Thank you for your letter. We value your feedback” spiel. And then I was reading through the August issue when I saw an article titled “Extreme Make-over College Edition” which I thought would be relevant for me given that I am in college and thus have an insider’s perspective on college education, and my parents have an insider’s perspective on the high cost of tuition, both of which were topics discussed in the article.

The article was written by Mark Taylor, a religion professor at a university, and while I liked a lot of the ideas he had for reforming college education, I couldn’t help thinking back to a newspaper story I read for my Investigative Journalism class and being appalled at one suggestion he made that colleges should partner with for-profit companies to finance courses. I tried to talk myself out of writing a letter for days, reminding myself of all the other polite reject letters I got, so I shouldn’t waste the editor’s time with another letter when I am still not as well educated as the adult population who reads this magazine. But late one Sunday night, an especially dangerous time for writers since nighttime is often when inspiration strikes, I could resist the urge to speak my mind no longer. Here is the original letter I emailed to Reader’s Digest at about midnight that night in case I chickened out by morning:

Dear Reader’s Digest Editors,

I just read the “Extreme Make-over College Edition” piece in the August issue, and since I am a college student myself, my parents and I can attest to the need to reform the college education system to lower the cost of tuition. I also liked a lot of Mark Taylor’s suggestions to improve the quality of a college education, especially allowing students to go to other schools and take courses that aren’t offered at my small liberal arts college, and doing more interdisciplinary education with people of different majors. But I was absolutely outraged by Mark Taylor’s suggestion that colleges need to partner with for-profit companies to finance courses. In fact, last year in an Investigative Journalism class, we read a series in our local newspaper about how a well-respected university in our area, especially for science related fields, was having medical students take an online course paid for by a drug company. So of course, these courses promoted the company’s drugs. I believe this college made changes to that particular program so that is no longer the case, but the story came back to me as I read this article. Yes, schools need to find new ways to finance what they do, but this financing must be ethical, and I think while such a huge projected increase in college tuition over the next ten years is scary, it is a lot less scary than having generations of doctors who are taught based on drug company propaganda rather than unbiased science.

Allison Nastoff

After sending this letter, I went about my life without giving it much thought until I was going through my e-mails on August 10 and saw a message from Reader’s Digest. I expected to see another form letter, but instead of the polite rejection of my letter, the message said it was being considered and may be used for publication! They just wanted me to send a reply verifying my name and address. I promptly sent the message verifying this information, but tried to keep my excitement in check since the message said it “may” be published, and I figured since thousands, maybe even millions of people probably send letters to Reader’s Digest since it is an internationally distributed, well-established and well-respected magazine, the chances of my letter being published were slim. So when my dad saw the print edition of Reader’s Digest in the mailbox that day, I was preparing myself for disappointment when my dad, without even driving the car the rest of the way up our driveway, eagerly flipped open the magazine and exclaimed, “There it is!” The braille version of Reader’s Digest always arrives a couple weeks later than the print edition, so there is still some excitement yet to come when I see my letter for myself published in braille. But I told my parents they could break the news to me right away since another friend or relative might spill the beans anyway, and I didn’t want to be the last to know about the publication of my own letter. Anyway, here is how the letter appeared in the magazine: As a college student, I can attest to the need to lower the cost of tuition. But I was outraged by Taylor’s suggestion that colleges need to partner with for-profit companies to finance courses (Extreme Makeover: College Edition). Last year in an investigative journalism class, we learned about how a well-respected university in our area had medical students take an online course paid for by a drug company. These courses promoted the company’s drugs. Yes, schools need to find new ways to finance what they do, but this financing must be ethical.–Allison Nastoff

The letter was edited significantly of course because of space limitations, but it was still my letter and conveyed my point perfectly. My cold was forgotten temporarily as I savored the soup and the cheerful turn the day took. But I also think the publication of this letter and the arrival of the magazine on that particular day was just the shot of confidence I needed after the message from the zoo internship lady. I know there are many more people like this lady who will come in to my life and try to use my blindness to shatter my confidence. But knowing that my writing and my ideas are appreciated by the likes of Reader’s Digest, I feel like my confidence has been restored, and my belief that being blind will not stop me from using my writing and education to be a valuable contribution to society has been reaffirmed. And to make this boost of confidence even sweeter, you should know that I went back to my principles when I sent this letter by not mentioning I was blind. So I can also feel confident that when this letter was published, Reader’s Digest treated me no different than anyone else which I believe is the way it should be.

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

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