It’s About the Journey…
“Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now”
No matter how different each of my days as a high school administrator was, I could always count on certain cyclical events. At the start of the year for Grade 9s, it was always about being or not being with friends in classes.
For the Grade 10s, it was about how difficult the math had become seemingly overnight.
For Grade 11s, it was about getting to Grade 12 and already worrying about final year course selection.
And for the Grade 12s, the Grad Class, it was all about university. But even more specifically, it was about the program and the school that they absolutely had to get an offer from or else their life would be over. Whether it be Western for Ivey, Queen’s for Commerce, or McMaster Health Sciences, I would be a very wealthy man if I were to receive a loonie for each time I heard that without an offer from one of these prestigious programs a life would end. Seriously. All or nothing. Four years of high school boiled down to one program. One school. One city.
Of course, dealing with irrational teenagers is one thing, but having the conversation with intelligent professional parents is another story. Parents who have been there and done that and know full well that there’s so much more to university than such single-mindedness. And yet, dollars to donuts it was an annual tradition as reliable as the Grade 12 grad prank and final graduation.
Perhaps because I have a travel background, my parents started the first commercial travel agency in Ontario in our basement in 1966, I absolutely love to travel. And for me, it truly is the travel and not just the destination. I love everything about the actual transportation part of travel. Maybe because my ancestors on my father’s side were shipbuilders. I love car rides, bus rides, train rides, boat rides, and plane rides. I have biked around Amsterdam, hiked to the top of Mount Sinai to see the sunrise and camel trekked through the Sahara. And no matter where I ended up, I was always mesmerized by the actual journey to get somewhere.
University is a lot like life itself – – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Kids will have long enough in the workforce, so it’s important to enjoy the process of earning a postsecondary education and to really get it right. Somehow believing that everything depends on a faceless admissions process is ludicrous and something that needs to be debunked and tossed to the side of the information superhighway.
Of course, there are some students who follow a very linear and simplistic path. Apply to THE program. Get into THE program. Graduate from THE program in exactly four years. Get a job at THE company. And essentially live happily ever after. It happens, but so do eclipses.
More often than not, students change courses. Change programs. Change minors and majors. Change schools. Take intercession courses. Even change schools altogether. That is more the norm.
When discussing this issue I often use a former student as a case study. Having never shown much interest in business, she had to get into Ivey at Western or Queen’s Commerce. And she did. She decided on Western but early on in Business 101, she realized that there was a reason she had never shown any interest in business – – she had no interest in the subject. So now what? Here she was at Western for four years and she really had never thought of the what-ifs?
The what-ifs are the nitty-gritty of the journey. My rule of thumb is the program first the school second. And do not base the decision on what everyone else is doing. What if you arrive at the school and program of choice and it’s not for you? Have you checked out other options so that you can switch programs or is the only reason you find yourself at a school is a single program? Be sure you can see yourself at that school for the duration even if you decide the program is not for you. Or at least take into consideration that if the program isn’t for you that you are prepared to transfer schools. Choosing a school with your ultimate primary program is great, but it really is important to have a Plan B in mind and that is easier if it entails switching programs and not programs and schools.
Perhaps even more important in understanding the reality of the situation is that, as already mentioned, there are few who take the linear route and that doesn’t mean that they are the success stories. Nor does it mean that those who take a more circuitous route have somehow failed. Postsecondary is really about finding your passion and finding your way. I don’t like the notion of finding oneself, as I truly believe that in most cases that is part of the ongoing journey. As well, the postsecondary process is not about arriving at the ultimate destination after four years and moving on to the next ultimate destination. And then again and again. Hopefully, as life-long learners, we are on a constant journey.
Sometimes, though not always, it really is student dependent, I underscore my meaning by referencing perhaps the most misunderstood poem ever written. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Now I do this for two reasons. First, as an English teacher originally, I can’t help myself. But secondly, it’s because it is such a well known and misunderstood poem that it really does support my argument.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Most readers see it as a straightforward poem in praise of decisive individualism. Taking the road less travelled. Making a choice that makes “all the difference”. The problem is that the two roads are interchangeable as they are both “just as fair” and in terms of wear and tear and use “really about the same.” Yes, the choice makes all the difference, but the other choice would have as well. In many ways, it’s about choice without actually making a choice. It’s about the constant choice or the constant journey. We all return to the same crossroads throughout our life’s journey. So remember, enjoy the ongoing journey. Enjoy the ride. There will be many destinations along the way.