It's the evening before I leave for my first admissions trip of the season. I'm stopping briefly in Philadelphia for the wedding of a college friend, then tucking my bridesmaid's dress up in a suitcase and bundling myself off to Brazil to talk about liberal arts, Oberlin, and the Common Application with counselors and students.
I love travel season. I love walking into a school and seeing the wealth of fliers lining the halls. I love chatting with students about their academic and extracurricular interests. I love talking to them about the things they might do in college—the concerts, clubs, service opportunities, classes, lectures, theater productions, shows, etc—and the things they'll be bringing to college. The admissions process can feel like it is never-ending, but I love the adventure of it: next year, who knows where you'll be and who your best friends will be, and which clubs you'll have joined or founded? Each fall, I'm wholly caught up in that sense of vast possibility as we welcome the new first-years to campus.
This is what I'm thinking about as I run a last load of laundry and pack up my toothpaste and shampoo.
I'm also thinking about the wedding that I'm going to. I've known the bride since she was a freshman and I a junior in college; that same year, I was her husband-to-be's RA. When I graduated, I worked overseas for two years before returning to the US; in time, she graduated and traveled internationally for a couple of years. We were housemates for a few months in Philadelphia as she started a program at UPenn and I settled into my first serious job.
We were friends during college, but the friendship deepened once we'd graduated and had a bit of real-world experience under our belts. She's now a certified practicing midwife; I travel the world talking about college, scrambling to find time to write poetry between info sessions. Her fiancé is a high school English teacher who plays fiddle, banjo, and anything stringed with a couple of Philly folk bands. When we get together, the conversation inevitably wanders into talking about politics. Or history. Or medical policy. Or an analysis of gender roles in our favorite TV dramas. Or decrying the lyrics of the latest pop hit.
This, to me, is the crux of the liberal arts. The foundation we all received in college was broad enough, and yet deep enough, that we were able to travel and experiment with a variety of jobs before we found the ones that clicked for us. Joe lived in Montana for a while, formed a band, earned an MA, and found his way into the classroom. Waverly traveled through Argentina, Nepal, Spain, and New Mexico before moving to Philadelphia and committing herself to a nursing and midwifery program. I spent time in the Middle East, struggling to decide which level of education I wanted to work in, before realizing that I really like to talk, travel, meet people, and gush over interesting events and projects. Admissions, it turns out, is pretty much the field for that.
My background in the liberal arts allowed me to teach 6th grade in Casablanca for a year, work at a newspaper in Kuwait during the 2006 Lebanese-Israeli War, write about repurposed temples and mosques in post-Partition Pakistan, and draft a university-level student handbook as well as design office furniture in Saudi Arabia. Studying a range of topics, engaging in discussions across a spectrum of disciplines, and contemplating multiple sides of the same issues gave me the confidence to travel to places I'd never been, to explore career fields I had never previously considered, and to take on the challenges that were offered to me because I seemed (and was) capable and game.
And now I get to watch two of my favorite people, whose roundabout routes to their careers and chosen city somehow led them back to each other, get married. The next day I'll board a plane, my fancy purple tulle number taking up suitcase space next to Oberlin College publications, and I will be looking for that spark of recognition in the faces of the students I'll meet: college is an adventure, and I can't wait to live it.