By Kerri Youngs
Go back to your first year in college. Think of the goals you had, in particular the career you just knew you'd be pursuing. Depending on how far back your freshman year was, those memories might be hazy. But for many of us, those goals were either non-existent or like a Spokane airport February morning fog.
I fitted into the "non-existent" goals category and, at first, that wasn't an issue. Why, I was surrounded by freshmen who were equally directionless. Our faculty advisors were saying, "You'll figure out a major soon enough; don't worry." So I didn't. But while delaying the day when I knew I'd finally have to choose a major, I was neglecting something even more Important: by focusing on the trees, I was not seeing the forest that made up the broader college experience.
Coming into Whitworth after high school I struggled with discovering where I was going to fit in. As classes went on, activities ensued, and I met people, there wasn't any one group I especially wanted to be associated with. College is a new world and you are not always going to be categorized. I have been blessed by a wide array of people who have come into my life here at Whitworth and throughout my college experience.
I was content taking classes in this-and-that and dabbling in courses such as psychology, sociology, business, marketing and the sciences. By the beginning of my sophomore year, I still didn't feel the pressures of nailing down my major. But then the euphoric, carefree, college student feeling was dampened half way through the year when my dad brought to my attention the rising cost of tuition.
I had a job, and was for the most part, supporting my basic financial needs. I didn't understand why this was suddenly an issue – and one that could determine my future at Whitworth. I didn't understand why there was no savings account for me or my siblings' higher education endeavors, especially since both of my parents went to college. Why was it suddenly my fault or my issue to find funding for my education after I had settled in and made friends and a home after a year and a half away at college? This was mostly a result of miscommunication and the fact that my parents and I had never had a clear discussion about how to pay for college.
I felt Whitworth was out of the question once the financial struggle was brought up. My dad never made it clear how much he was willing to help, which made my decision-making process tricky. He simply stated I needed to go to banks and research their student loan policy. That terrified and hurt me. Why did he not want to help me? Why couldn't he do this?
Conversations held between my dad and me were cloudy and unclear. Things said were misunderstood and taken in different ways than they were meant. Against this backdrop, I still needed to make a decision about school but didn't feel ready. I felt like I was being forced out of Whitworth because it was a waste of money, and since I didn't know what I wanted to do anyway, it would make no difference if I left. In actuality, as I look back, those ideas most likely were fabricated out of my emotional turmoil at the time.
I was interested in the medical field and a job shadow piqued my interest in nursing. So I decided to launch full force into it. I searched many schools for their program options and tried my best to stay local in order to keep in touch with my friends and the community I knew at Whitworth.
At the start of my junior year I took the beginning science courses at the local community college. The next quarter arrived and the classes I needed were not available anywhere in Eastern Washington. In winter quarter I relocated to my hometown of Seattle to take my pre-requisites at another community college. I was heartbroken about leaving my friends and what I knew of college life. Towards the beginning of March, I was thinking about my options and my future. I considered nursing and realized my time in school would end up being roughly six years, after which I would emerge with only an associate's degree. I began to panic.
Not only did I want a bachelor's degree, I also wanted to go back to Whitworth. As much as I, and others, make fun of Whitworth and the culture and some of the small-mindedness that can be found here, I was unable to forget the feeling of home Whitworth offered.
I spoke with my dad about my reasons for wanting to return to Whitworth: the community, my friends, wanting closure on my education and my experience at Whitworth, having a college degree, and solidifying my place and my identity at Whitworth.
To my surprise he actually supported my decision. I had taken a few communications courses and enjoyed them the most, so I decided that's what I would return to. I transferred again for spring quarter to begin taking the prerequisites for the communications major. I reapplied to Whitworth and resumed my journey here.
I finally realized at the end of my junior year (spent in various community colleges across the state) that it doesn't matter what you major in. Since I didn't want to be a doctor, a teacher, a minister, or a lawyer, my decision wasn't critical. I wasn't interested in those professions but I also had no clue what else I would do. From there I decided that college is an important part of human development and if it doesn't matter what I major in, I should choose the topic that interests me the most. The habitual changing of my major wasn't laziness or a lack of commitment, but it was a natural growing experience.
Coming back to Whitworth offered another harsh transition. I had missed a whole year. I was unaware of significant changes on campus and experiences my friends had had. I didn't have the same relationships with people when I came back as when I left. Many people didn't know where I had been or what had happened. I felt like the new kid again, having to rebuild some of previous friendships.
My first friends in college have made an enormous impact on what I have become and who I am becoming. Although I was gone for a year, and some friendships have ended or have since been distanced, Whitworth and the class of 2008 have shaped my life – and I want to end my college journey with the people I started it with. I have not been involved with many clubs or teams, but simply being at Whitworth means you are part of the community.
What I have learned in the past four years isn't taught in the classroom. I don't need to decide or plan the rest of my life right now; it will eventually change anyway. I have learned the importance of the hurdles on the path and the people that help you over them. I have learned that no matter what happens – changing schools, changing friends, financial struggles, finding a job, the pressure of "growing up" – in the end it will all work out. It always does. I will be able to take this lesson with me into future endeavors after college and it will help me remember that it's not about what you want to do or where you are headed, but how you manage to get there.