Toni R. Draper '99

Toni R. Draper ‘99

Major: B.A. Spanish; Employment: Special Education, TX
Author: “WILDFIRE” (www.tonirdraper.com)

Toni R. Draper ‘99

Graduation Year

1999

Department

  • Global Languages & Cultures

As a Brodbeck Scholar, your campus experience had to differ from that of a “traditional age” student; so what prompted you to choose Hood?

Because I was an older student with a rather large expanse of time between when I first enrolled in college classes and graduated with my degree, I didn’t have time to socialize with campus mates. I had a full time job that, thankfully, worked with me on course scheduling, and I had a young daughter to raise. It never occurred to me to look outside my community for another college or university. Hood has always had an excellent reputation and offered all that I wanted and needed.

Why did you choose Spanish as your major? Did you have a specific related career or job in mind when you chose this major?

In my early undergraduate days, I had my mind and sights set on a degree in Psychology. In the end, I took nearly as many (more?) classes in that subject as I did for my major. As a matter of fact, I think I was only lacking one course – statistics – for a double major. Alas, my life-long aversion to numbers, at the time, was stronger than any of my irrational decision-making. Although I’d been around Spanish speakers since my after-school working days at the age of fourteen, and realized early on that I not only had a love of the language, but also a certain affinity for its acquisition and learning, the actual game-changer came about when I found myself in Mexico without a good enough (then) grasp of the language to take advanced courses in another subject in Spanish. It was then and there that I decided to switch majors. I never gave my change another thought. After all, to my way of thinking, there’s not much difference really. The study of literature (no matter the language it’s written in) involves the analyzing of a fictional character’s psyche. I really didn’t have a particular end-goal toward which I was striving, but being bilingual has come in handy in every job that I’ve had, and is almost a necessity here in South Texas.

Did you have a particular professor, course, or campus experience that had an impact on your undergraduate and post-graduate success?

Dr. Roser Caminals-Heath was the most influential professor I was both honored and fortunate to have grading and guiding me in my studies. Her many red-pen marks on my exams, essays, and papers continually challenged and pushed me and my writing to be the best we could be. The encouragement she provided in her feedback and comments planted the first seeds of a writer in me. I will always have her to thank for however far my writing takes me. I would say the course that had the greatest impact on me was The Spanish Novel and our semester-long look at and discussion of Don Quioxte. I still have my copy of the paperback classic that I marked up for that class, with all its margin notes, highlights, and under-linings. The in-depth study of Cervantes’ writing offered the perfect blend of Spanishand Psychology. I especially loved the small class size that allowed for individualized attention and thoughtful, probing questioning.   

When you were a Hood student, you had a High Impact Experience studying abroad in Mexico at the Universidad de las Américas. What did you find most challenging about this experience? What was most rewarding?

Interestingly, the most challenging experiences themselves turned out to be the most rewarding. Beginning with my arrival at the start of the semester to find that (due to my name) I had been assigned a bed in a male dorm, and there was no room at the inn on the women’s side. I was fortunate to have a family step up and open the doors of their home to me. That gave me the incomparable opportunity to experience the language and culture up-close and personally. To live it, not just study it, actually. This unexpected living arrangement, however, came with a challenge of its own. The family lived quite a distance from the campus, requiring me to take three different buses to and from the city of Puebla to Cholula’s UDLA daily.  But then, doing so presented unique and rewarding experiences of its own. Time to sit among a variety of people from all walks of life, even some livestock, regularly. The challenge of a major change in my studies also proved to be rewarding. Because the language was what I most needed, I enrolled in a single four-hour-long daily intensive immersion course in Spanish, and found myself in a class with a professor who, in an attempt to discourage students from skipping, assigned a writing/speaking requirement to all students returning from an absence no matter how long its length. It involved showing (via written words on paper) and telling (sharing aloud to the class that writing) what one did during their day/time away. I’m not sure if she ever knew that this encouraged rather than discouraged me by giving me the opportunity to write creatively, fiction, for I always embellished my story-writing and telling, and her laughter and praise for my writing inspired and incited my truancy.

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your debut novel “Wildfire!” Reflecting on the entire process from concept to cover, what advice would you give to someone who has the same aspirations?

Thank you. Trite as it may seem, my advice would be to never give up on your dream. I started writing WILDFIRE more than ten years ago, when I first moved to Texas and was between jobs with time on my hands. Although I did finish and submit it for publication then, it was rejected by two different publishers, deservedly. I knew in my heart I could do better and it was nowhere near the best it could be. But, I never gave up on my dream. I did, however, begin what would become more than a decade of a career in teaching (Special Education and Spanish.)  It wasn’t until I decided to transition from the classroom to the Regional Office of a school district, when I again found myself with some time on my hands, that I picked it back up, blew off the dust, and practically re-wrote it. Although I very much believed my story had potential, I was never quite happy with where I’d taken it and how I’d ended it, and I suddenly knew what changes to make. I guess I got something right because the very first publisher I sent it to expressed an interest in it, and on July 27th, my WILDFIRE will finally ignite thanks to Interlude Press. As a new/debut author, I’m still learning much about the process, but I will tell you that it takes longer to birth a book than a human baby.

If you could go back and give advice to “Hood Student Toni”, what would that be and why?

Maybe it’s the influence of my current geographical environment, but the first thing that comes to mind is a Trace Adkins song, “You’re Gonna Miss This.” If you’re not familiar with it, take a look and listen on YouTube. In the fewest words possible for me, it sends the message to slow down, take time to breathe in and enjoy the present, the here and now, because the now will become the then before you know it.

One last question! What does “Hood is Home” mean to you?

As the term implies, my “Alma Mater” (Nourishing Mother) Hood played a very important, influential, and nurturing role in my life. It was while there that I was first inspired and encouraged to write. As “another mother” might do, she guided me as I forged my path and set out to explore the brave new world that opened up to me at that time in my life. Much like one feels when returning home after a long absence, Hood will always be there, if only in my/our memories. Spoiler Alert! My WIP (Work in Progress) has a main character who attends and graduates from Hood, and I’m enjoying every minute of its writing. Maybe one of these not so distant days I’ll return home to visit my alma mater for a reading and signing of that book. As I encouraged, never give up on your dreams! I won’t give up on mine.