The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” — Marcel Proust
San Diego State University.
When I typed those four words into a Google search 13 years ago, I did so with intrigue. I’d just spent a 15-minute car ride listening to my idol describe this college ambition of hers, one she was clearly excited about. The person I admired more than anyone + a place that had her excited = this must be somewhere pretty neat.
I’d never really thought of college that way before — a destination, a place to dream about. Mostly, I thought of college as a good, yet convenient school from which to get your degree. My home state University of Wisconsin seemed a logical place to go. The state university my cousin had attended might also be an option. Or maybe a few other schools in the Midwest could hold opportunities. I knew of course that there were more exotic schools out there — UW’s football team had played UCLA in a bowl game, and my dad had had me cheering for Duke since I was in diapers. Yet going somewhere far away and exotic couldn’t really be a reality, right?
If anyone was up to the task, it had to be my idol. When images of a coastline, mountains, and a campus of white stucco buildings and red clay roofs greeted me on my computer screen, I could only smile. How cool to experience a place like that.
It was this very thought that led me to type a school that I’d been dreaming about into another search engine 2 years later. My motivation for doing so was less positive than I’d liked; I was frustrated by what my idol hadn’t done. Yet that frustration made me determined. I had to prove that going somewhere like that could be done.
And I did.
I had an experience at my “dream” school I could’ve never imagined. My ties to the university, the bonds formed with fellow students, the lessons I learned inside and most importantly, outside the classroom were ones I didn’t even know could exist. I graduated so appreciative for having been inspired to go to such an amazing school where I could do all that.
A year after graduation, with hotel points and frequent flier miles earned from my new job as a traveling consultant, my mom and I headed out West for the first time. I didn’t pick our destination city with intentions to visit any campuses within it; in fact, I was quite content with our itinerary that included Sea World, Mission Bay, and the Gaslamp Quarter. When we decided to rent a car the last night though, and when my mom told me she didn’t want to go anywhere before our 1:30pm flight the following day, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
My first thought when I stepped onto campus was how neat to see it: the school that had inspired my school. How great to be up close and personal with those white stucco buildings and red clay roofs, walk the huge brick sidewalks, gaze off at the mountains in the distance. But when I sat down and began to watch the students hustling by, a new and different idea washed over me.
My time on campuses other than my alma mater had been mostly limited to sporting events — football stadiums, in particular. Here though, something more fundamental hit me: students gabbing as they walked the campus corridors to class; others heading into the cafeteria together for lunch; still others stopping at tables to sign up for a volunteer opportunity; all decked proudly in their school colors. They were doing those same things I had done, at a school that meant to them what my school had meant to me.
The college experience was universal.
Five years ago today, I sat in the San Diego airport in a sort of daze — a good one. I’d known I wanted to pay back the inspiration I’d received to follow my dream. I’d even known that it had to do with college. But after my morning on campus, the depth of that suddenly took on new meaning. Ideas of graduate school — getting a degree in an education-related field — scanned through my mind. A part of me wanted to stop right in my tracks and go down a new career path. But then I thought about the book I’d been writing.
Let’s see if I can have an impact on getting kids to college with that, and then I’ll decide if I want or need to do anything more.
Since that day, I’ve visited dozens more colleges. Not necessarily with education in mind; rather, recruiting for my former employer was my main task. Yet I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity: jumping at trips to campuses I’d never seen before, making sure I get up early the morning of interviews to go for a run or walk and take in the atmosphere. Each one has only strengthened my resolve — both that the college experience is something everyone can and should get to have, and that I want to spend my life helping as many people as I can do so.
This month, I (finally) started my Master’s degree in college education. I can’t say that I’m 100% certain of my career goals yet (or even whether I’ll stop at just a Master’s degree); but as I continue to learn more about the field, I continue to think about the source of my passion for being in it: the school where I went to college, as well as the school that changed the way I thought about college….
At two points in my life.