Junior Year of Freedom

Boosted and encouraged by a summer a self-discovery,   I jumped both feet into my junior year.

I liked being an English major. I finally had a major. My year was off to a great start. I quickly chose my classes and I  began composing poems and vignettes about my grandparents. College was new again, like I had pressed restart. I volunteered to help with Freshman Orientation and participated in all the activities. I went to the welcome parties and events and felt like a kid again. Color came into my vision. I felt free and alive.

I was assigned by random lottery (completely not my choice) to Okada House, the Asian-American theme dorm, and my Resident Advisor was Ed Iwata, a newspaper journalist. He invited authors Amy Tan and  Gus Lee, playwright David Henry Hwang and other prominent Asian Americans to give talks at our dorm (lucky me!) He gave feedback on my writing and encouraged me to keep it up. He left books about writing in front of my door. I considered him a mentor and couldn’t believe my good fortune.

I pursued creative writing with a fearless abandon. I asked the well-known Poetry professor, Dianne Middlebrook, whose class I had taken, for feedback on my poetry. She agreed and even sponsored me for a mini grant I had applied for to spend a morning with American poet Ruth Whitman. I enrolled in Advanced Composition with a Lecturer names Jane Emery.  She already had a distinguished career in Australia and had recently taken the part-time position in her seventies. She took me under her wing and pointed out the potential in my writing. We kept in touch for decades after graduation and she became not only a mentor but a dear, cherished friend.

I did not do particularly well in my English classes. I earned Bs in all my classes, but I was not discouraged. I knew that my writing and my thinking skills were improving. I felt like a motor was being started, like car in park while being revved, about to take off.

I spent hours in quiet corners of the university–in the library, at cafe tables, underneath a tree, or on a lonely bench– reading, praying, jotting down notes on napkins, journaling, experimenting with ideas on scraps of paper, enjoying my thoughts. I didn’t t think about careers or what I was doing after graduation. I was lost in my art.

Author’s Reflections:  Looking back, that  year was a gift. After the last two years of confusion and shame I finally began connecting with myself. I started to find my voice.  I had been looking desperately looking for career direction and had not found it, but God had given me through writing what I needed most–self-awareness, self-acceptance, a means to unpack my own thoughts. Writing brought hidden sadness  into existence and I began to heal.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever been flooded by gifts you didn’t ask for or deserve? In my case the gifts were mentors.  What are some gifts in your life right now?

I had put career planning on the back burner and delved into my art. Was this a wise use of time?  Should I have been making plans for my future after college? 

Haunting Newspaper Clipping

The Los Angeles used to print a special supplement each June that featured high school Valedictorians for that year’s graduating class.  We were asked to submit a photograph, college plans, description of achievements, and our intended major and career aspirations. The first three items were easy, but the other two were not.
I stated Human Biology and Spanish as my intended majors then dreaded reading my
profile when it came out. I didn’t want to see what I submitted in print because I knew my major was false.  I stated Human Biology because my parents wanted to me to go to medical school. But I could not see myself as I doctor. I disliked science and hospitals made my knees weak. As for Spanish, I had taken four years in high school and was seriously involved in the Spanish Club, but didn’t have a knack for the language and was ready to move on.
My career goals were printed as follows:  “to become an active environmentalist, to travel, and to help people of all nations, healing, counseling, and just making friends.”

Reading that statement also made me cringe. Although I had been honest, I was embarrassed I had written those things. They were childish dreams in an idealistic world of which I knew I would never belong. I had no idea what I wanted to major in, not to mention what type of ‘“real job” I could see myself doing. Within a few short weeks the joy of my hard-earned accomplishments had begun to unravel and I was about to enter some very dark places.

Questions for Reflection:
Parents:  I thought my goals were childish. Were they really? Does your child or teen have space in his his or her schedule to explore interests or future careers?  Did you know what you wanted to major in college? How did you come about that decision? What do you know now that you wish you had known in high school?
Teens: Have you thought about what you want to study in college?  Please share any ideas about you might want to study and why, even if it seems unrealistic to you.