Hey y'all! I think I missed the last go-round of Reverb Broads, but this time around, I'm determined to at least post a bit, and was happy to discover upon sitting down tonight to start playing catch-up that I need not catch up! Yay! So, having not brought any grading home tonight to do and still recovering a bit from a nasty stomach bug I've had since last Thursday, here goes!
Prompt # 3 -- What's the best advice you've ever received from a parent/sibling? What's the worst?
Right off the bat, I know exactly what I want to discuss for the "best advice," but am at a COMPLETE loss for the worst. I guess my parents and my brother just don't give bad advice.
Except MAYBE haircut advice. I had some wicked awful bangs at some point in my life. But I've never been given bad life advice by either my parents or my brother, so I guess I'll count my lucky stars for that one.
But best advice? The answer came immediately.
So here goes.
Up until I was in high school, I had wanted to be an astronaut/aerospace engineer since I was teeny-tiny. Second grade, easily, perhaps even first grade. Space has always held endless fascination for me; it still does, truth be told. But all throughout upper elementary school, middle school, and into high school, I was single-minded and focused on the goal of getting into a good engineering school, becoming an engineer, and eventually working for NASA. Dream big, right? And I could have been very successful. I've always been very good at math and science; I did Science Olympiad for five years, starting in eighth grade and ending as a senior in high school (and I'm still involved with the organization now as an Event Captain for the San Diego regional event). Science is absolutely in my blood, and for a long, long time, I lived and breathed it.
But then those pesky high school English classes came along, and two problems arose.
Problem #1. My teachers were absolutely amazing.
Seriously. I really, really lucked out when I think back on it. I really and truly had the cream of the crop that my high school had to offer. (Some would argue this was because I was on the Honors track, and this is possibly has a good chance of being true. But. Still. Doesn't change the outcome.) I love and respect every one of the four English teachers that I had in high school and I looked up to them in ways I didn't necessarily look up to other teachers of other disciplines. I always generally liked my teachers fine -- I never had issues with any (er. not true. one. One I despised. But. You know, who ever likes their history teachers?). But for some reason, my English teachers made their practice so transparent and awe-inspiring. I had always toyed with the idea of being a teacher -- I remember the idea creeping in as early as fifth grade, but figured I'd do a stint at NASA and then maybe teach science. Seemed like an easy and obvious career trajectory. So I always had a pretty critical eye pretty early on for good pedagogy. (I swear I wasn't a nightmare to have as a student. I promise!) But I count these four amazing individuals as four of the most central to the way my life had turned out, and to who I am in my own classroom every day. I strive to emulate them daily.
Problem #2. I was freaking good at English.
This didn't necessarily come as a surprise, and it was only occasionally a moderate annoyance that sometimes my grades would be better in English than other classes. (Momentarily. I always ultimately had As.). But English came just a hair more naturally to me than other classwork. I scored higher on English portions of standardized tests, like the SAT and the Golden State exams. My Senior English teacher trusted me with grading some of my peers' work, and other English teachers in the department valued my input on assignments, writing prompts, and essays. I caught the bug, and I loved it. But it also scared me.
When it came time to apply to college, I felt a weird paralysis. What do I do? I'm SUPPOSED to be an Engineer. This is what I've told everyone since I could pronounce the word "Engineer." I'm SUPPOSED to grow up and work for NASA. Every gift everyone in my life has ever given me has been related to Astronomy: I own a telescope, two sets of binoculars, several star maps, a bazillion Astronomy books, and various other astronaut-related paraphernalia. Turning my back on it seemed to be a slap in the face to every family member that had seemed, in one way or another, to have believed in me and wanted me to work for NASA just as much as I did. What was I supposed to do?
After much perseverating and a couple of trips to my counselor (the counselor I didn't meet until my senior year and knew absolutely nothing about me), I ended up applying to mostly Engineering programs -- Cornell being my first choice, with Boston University and Tufts trailing behind. But, on a whim and while harboring a semi-secret desire to change my life path, I applied to two schools as an English major: Wheaton and Skidmore. And lo and behold, I got in everywhere I applied (except Amherst. Bitches.)
And thus began one of of the not-that-hard hardest decisions of my life: follow my dream and go to Cornell as an mechanical/aerospace engineer, or follow the lure of Wheaton's full ride on a English Major Scholarship program with the promise of cheaper tuition and a free computer? The discussions in my house were endless.
And then my mom sat me down for a conversation that would prove to be one of the most important we have probably ever had.
Her advice? Go to Cornell. Try Engineering. Do everything you're supposed to do in your first semester. Then, switch.
And her rationale? Not to game the system, or to convince me that by just "trying" it would magically make the torn allegiance go away. But instead, to prove to myself that I wasn't abandoning engineering because it was too hard, or because I was a girl, or because I was too stupid, or couldn't do it, but because I was really and truly about to make a choice to pursue a career path that was going to be much more important to me and would feed my soul a thousand times more.
She knows me really well. I mean, obviously, she gave birth to me, but sometimes I think that doesn't always mean your parents know you as well as my mom knows me. It's cosmic. My mom knows how hard I am on myself about being perfect. She knows I desperately hate to fail, and she knew that in my head, turning my back on the engineering career path was failing. She wanted me to realize on my own it wasn't failing. She wanted me to spend that first semester at Cornell proving to myself that I could, in fact, do very, very well as an engineer, and that I was happily changing majors because I was about to embark on a more fulfilling life. Plus, Cornell had been my dream school since I had discovered it somewhere along the way in middle school, and whether I was an engineering major or an English major was besides the point. I would still be living a dream, regardless of the degree I held at the end of it.
And she was totally and completely right.
I spent the first semester in the Cornell School of Engineering, and though I did hate every.single.second of Engineering Chemistry, I didn't hate the rest of it. In fact, I did fine. I aced many of the assignments in my Civil Engineering course, won an award for a bridge I designed and built with a partner, and felt confident in my skills at designing and building actual useful things. Had I stayed in engineering, I might have even considered a switch to Civil Engineering.
But I knew I was making the right decision every day when I went to my required Writing Seminar course, which was The Reading of Poetry. It was the one class that I always felt truly excited to go to. I soaked it in. And when I went to the Internal Transfer Office to inquire about transferring, and found out how easy it was going to be, it felt like everything was right in the universe. I was going to get to pursue the major I really, truly wanted to pursue AND I got to spend the next three and a half years at one of the most absolutely gorgeous universities in the United States, earning an Ivy League degree and having the most amazing experiences during the time I spent there.
And I owe every second of the time I spent at Cornell to my mom, whose wise advice made all the difference. I may complain about my English teacher life because of budget cuts and my increased workload and the fact that it feels often that this country doesn't value the work that I do, or even the work that my students do, but then I look at what I get to do every day in my classroom with the brilliant, weird, crazy, lovable, stupid, adorable, snarky teenagers and I am so, so thankful that my mom knew exactly what advice I needed when I needed it the most.
I love you, mom.