Serendipitous and Conflicted Professor
Sometimes, the strangest occurrences can inspire the greatest passions, when your eyes are open to seeing them. You will undoubtably go in unanticipated, but wonderful, directions. That is serendipity!
Growing up in a typical low to middle class neighborhood in East Tulsa, I never imagined I would end up where I am today. I credit my unlikely academic career, strangely enough, to having a relatively mediocre K-12 public school education, a deep sense of curiosity, and a Bolshevik-looking boyfriend in college.
I started kindergarten at James Fenimore Cooper Elementary school when I was 4 years old. Had I been born on November 1 instead of October 31, I would have been the oldest child in my grade rather than the youngest. According to my parents, I couldn’t wait to go to school. Maybe I was just ready to get out of the house? (shrug) I don’t remember performing particularly well, or particularly poorly in school. I was an okay student, but not a standout by any means.
What I remember most about my public-school education was going through the motions. I more or less endured the 13 years of K-12 until I was able to graduate. I don’t recall having many inspiring teachers, or guidance counselors, or anyone who encouraged me (or my classmates) to excel. I did have one or two high school teachers tell me I would make an excellent candidate for one of the military academies (I’m still not sure what they meant by that), but was otherwise overlooked when it came to college prep. When I thought about going to college on my own, I knew that I wasn’t well-prepared—and I had no idea how I would pay for it.
But that’s when my curiosity kicked in. I had always been a curious child. I remember my mind always racing, full of questions and schemes and ideas (well, mainly schemes). Most of the time, this curiosity didn’t get me anywhere but into trouble. However, it did serve to get me, eventually, into college. I don’t want to admit what my ACT score was (I got the same score as a high school senior that my daughter would later earn when she took the ACT as an honors student in the 7th grade). Impressive for her and not so much for me. But it was good enough, at that time in the mid-1980s, to enroll in community college and later transfer to a public state university.
From day one in the college classroom, it felt like I had found my purpose, like all the lessons of life that I had somehow skipped, or ignored, or missed were now waiting for me to grasp and consider. I couldn’t wait for each and every lesson (well, except for accounting class). I felt my curiosity swell every day as I read classic literature, studied politics, and learned history. I was a latecomer to education, for sure, but eventually, and fortunately, I discovered its great value and welcomed its impact on my life.
Most strangely, however, is the event I most credit with leading me down the path of academia and a lifelong love of, and passion for, international education, While early in my college career, a friend rather randomly pointed out that my college boyfriend at the time had “a distinctive Bolshevik appearance.” Having to explore what that meant is perhaps one of the most memorable defining moments of my life. But ultimately, the (somewhat embarrassing) truth is that I developed my interest in global issues, and began my globe-trotting, because my college boyfriend looked like a Russian revolutionary. The boyfriend didn’t last, but his impact on my future certainly did. Just goes to show, one must always keep an open mind and seek answers to puzzling questions (like looking up the meaning of “Bolshevik”).
Although my academic career hasn’t been without its challenges, I have loved nothing more than being in the classroom and working with students. About academia, however, I remain conflicted. Higher education undoubtedly saved my life, but it has also harmed it in a number of ways – via discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, just to name a few. Sadly, higher ed is not immune to corruption and abuses of power. But higher education has also made me who I am, and I am a fighter who is doing all she can to ensure that colleges and universities are the humane institutions they should be.
Sometimes, the strangest occurrences can inspire the greatest passions, when your eyes are open to seeing them. Once you discover, perhaps by means of a chance event, something you are passionate about, always (ALWAYS!) follow where that passion leads. You will undoubtably go in unanticipated directions. But the outcome will be wonderful. That is serendipity!