I’ve been on the move a lot in the past few weeks but it’s allowed me to catch up with old friends and make new ones, which is always fun. This past weekend was hectic too, with a full social calendar that began with the Saturday wedding of a kid I once led to her first leadline victory (!) and continued into Sunday afternoon when I grabbed lunch with my first-ever client who was back in town before departing this week for school in Ohio. These kids keep growing up around me – which is crazy because I swear I’m still a youthful 25! (No, really – if you ask me how old I am, I’ll tell you 25.)
Yet according to the updates that stream across my social media feeds, time continues to fly at a rapid pace. I’m always excited to see when my former college students experience big new events in their lives – job changes, engagements, moves across the country, new horses, new babies, etc.. They’ve come so far since the day I first met them – and yet the other day I realized something that’s true for all of them: From the day I first encountered them until now, not a single one of my former students have ended up where they originally planned to be. And that’s a very good thing.
Want to know why?
During my admission counselor days, I worked for a school small enough that we employees had to wear multiple hats. (I was alternately a college admissions counselor, tour guide coordinator, visit day organizer, campus club advisor – you get the idea.) This meant that the students I admitted each fall didn’t automatically disappear into the depths of the student body and lose touch after matriculation. Instead, one of my favorite things about the job was that I got to know students better after they enrolled – I might see them at all-campus event, advise their favorite club, or judge their song and dance abilities during the annual Greek Week mock rock competition. Sometimes they stopped by my office just to chat or to ask advice with a current problem they had in a class or with a roommate (or maybe because there was always candy to be had on the coffee table).
Inevitably, somewhere along the way, these kids went from being aspirational seventeen and eighteen-year-olds to being educated and poised young adults – and the more they learned, the more they often changed course from their originally planned path. For instance, one student who could talk about nothing but becoming a large animal vet from the first moment I met her as a high school junior plopped down in my chair one day in the spring of her freshman year of college and announced, “I just declared my major!”
“What did you pick?” I asked, prepared to hear the common response of biology or chemistry.
“French!” she said proudly.
An unusual choice – but not impossible to accomplish thanks to the fact that ours was a liberal arts college.
“The vet schools will certainly find that to be interesting,” I remarked.
She shook her head rapidly. “I’m not going to vet school anymore – I’m going to law school now.”
“Why the shift?” I wanted to know.
Without a moment’s hesitation, she told me: “I hate chemistry and never want to take it again.”
Fair enough. And after a semester abroad in France, an LSAT score that sent her to her top choice law school, and recent marriage to a fellow attorney, she’s packing up this month to move herself, her husband, one dog, and one horse to a new city for a new job. Already living in that same city is one of her dressage teammates – another recent transplant to the area who now works as a physical therapist after deciding against following her father into cardiology during her junior year of undergraduate study. I hope to catch up with both of them when I travel up next month to visit campuses and try a sales horse.
There are dozens of different stories on this same theme that I could relate to you, readers, each one illustrating the funny twists and turns that life sometimes takes when we aren’t paying close attention. There’s the student who aspired to be a professional show jumper who now works in conservation for endangered African animals; the one who toyed with the idea of becoming a concert trombonist (encouraged by the music faculty) who is finishing a PhD in geology; and the one who decided halfway through her freshman year to move to France and join the circus and is still touring the world. (I can’t make this stuff up.) And even my former students who are working in the career fields they aspired to as high school seniors have gone in their own unexpected directions – the one who didn’t care about fitness just completed her first Ironman competition; the one who thought riding hunters was the be all and end all of equestrian sport has taken up reining; the one who didn’t like to travel now flies abroad regularly on behalf of her company.
And you know what? They’re happy.
It’s something I try to keep in the back of my mind at all times as I work with my current students to build their list of potential colleges and submit their applications – they each need to find a school that will fit them where they are at this moment in their lives but they also require a place that will encourage and support them through the inevitable twists and turns that will take them in new directions, introduce new interests, and send them to a place they might not even have imagined when they first began to think about college. People always talk about college as a place to grow and it’s vital that I help my students find a place where they can do that in all directions so that one day ten years from now (when I will still be claiming my age as 25, thank you very much) I will learn that they’ve wound up exactly where they were meant to be doing exactly what they were meant to be doing – even though it’s nothing like either of us imagined it would be when we had our first meeting.
The surprise is half the fun.