It’s an all too familiar story. In fact I’ll shorten the setup.
- College undergrad is walking around aimlessly on campus.
- Doesn’t know what they will major in, which of course, determines the rest of their entire lives.
- Wanders into the department doors of a subject matter they’ve never heard of but by title alone sounds very intriguing.
There I was, standing in the Urban Studies department office, no more than a glorified windowless closet in the main campus’s equivalent of a high school building. Urban studies. Hmmm, I wonder what this is. I mean, I picked up the pamphlet a couple times, and I knew I loved tall buildings, main streets, and walkability before I knew walkability was a word.
The undergrad director at the time was in his office and gladly welcomed my unannounced visit. After stating what could be the most repeatable line any college professor hears, “hi, my name is ____, and I have no idea what I am majoring in,” this professor launches. I mean, he must have either been caffeinated or just waiting for this moment. I’m certain there’s no way I was the first to do this to him. But what followed gave me the sense he was just muddling through his day until I showed up.
A few things were said about urban studies. Maybe a couple. I think you’re obligated to at least address a person’s direct question at first to be polite.
Then he started to make his transition. It flowed rather naturally. Although, as I would discover later on after taking a course with him, he had indeed been preparing.
His message to me, paraphrased:
Do you want to change the world? Do you want to make an impact? People like Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi changed the world by finding something bigger than themselves and throwing their all into it. Something they couldn’t direct on their own, but something they certainly could bring hope to others by their actions. Do you want to do something lasting which changes the lives in your own life?
I don’t think we actually came back to urban studies after that. He may have handed me the brochure.
All I knew while he was talking was this: I need to take any course I can with this guy. If this is how he is when I just waltz into his office, I can only imagine what a class is like.
Not long after I signed up for the co-major of urban studies. A co-major meaning it didn’t have enough core classes to be a full major, so I still needed to pick a major.
Which he then suggested something audacious. Pick something I really like. What a strange concept. So I picked history because I love, love, love history. I also loved seeing the faces people would make after I told them I was in college and they asked “what is your major?” My answer made their starting smile which read ‘good for you kid, being responsible and stuff by going to college’ turn to shear terror of ‘God bless your soul and future career.’
I figured I would go on and obtain a masters in urban planning (which I would). But here is what I neglected.
Somewhere along the way I allowed his message to be hijacked by all the usual trappings. His message to me that day was not ‘sign up to urban studies.’ His message was ‘change the world you live in, help people in your life, and grow into the person you really need to become.’
It wasn’t go get your masters in urban planning.
It was go do what you like and help others while you’re at it.