Friday, June 22, 2007

No slackers here

I am the administrator of a collegiate men's choral group, and I interact with the members on a regular basis. They are mostly college guys ranging in age from 18-22.

One thing that amazes me about these young men is how together they are. They aren't going to school and just trying to fulfill the basic requirements for their major. They have plans, big ones, and they are working to implement them. And I'm not just talking about the students who are pre-med or pre-law. I'm talking about others who are going the extra mile. Applying for internships. Giving up school vacations to take extra classes. Double-majoring because both fields are just so interesting.

For example, one of the guys who just graduated actually double-majored in TWO different engineering specialities. Two majors in engineering. I don't know how he found the time to eat or sleep, much less sing in the group.

Another guy will be doing something technical involving nuclear power, but I can't say with certainty because all I heard him say is, "I got a job, blah blah blah, nuclear engineering, blah blah blah." I tried to listen and understand, really I did, but it was so much more technical than this history major's brain could handle.

Another guy in the group plans to go to medical school after he graduates next year. This summer, he's volunteering in a hospital and also has an internship in a related field. He's definitely not lounging by the pool and working on his tan.

Then there's the young man who is spending his summer studying Arabic in the Middle East. He plans to apply for an internship with the FBI next summer and, later on, while he's working on his master's degree, will apply to both the FBI and the CIA. He's doing the master's degree because applicants have to be at least 23, plus it will give him an edge over other wannabe spies. This is a 19 year old -- technically, still a teenager -- and he's got the next several years planned out already.

I don't know about you and your friends in college, but I don't recall any of us really sweating five years down the road. We all had summer jobs, maybe one or two interned in a law firm, but mostly we were working retail or in our parents' offices. Actually, I did have the most amazing job for two summers as a guide at Monticello, but that's another story.

When I graduated from the University of Virginia (Go 'Hoos!), I had no fucking clue what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had some vague ideas of working in a historical setting such as at Colonial Williamsburg or Monticello, but the field was competitive and the pay was crummy. As it happens, my research skills helped me land a job working for the University's fundraising office in a research capacity. I didn't want to be a fundraiser, that was for sure. Then we moved to the D.C. area and, because I was already working in fundraising, I was able to get another job in the same field. And then another and then I suddenly was a professional fundraiser, which was what I stayed until Graceful was born and I became a SAHM. And, when I started looking for jobs again, my professional fundraising experience, coupled with my extensive volunteer work, led me to my current job. But the thing is, I didn't plan on any of this. I didn't know at age 19 that this is what I wanted to do. Nor did I know at 22 or again at 27 when I finished my master's degree.

For Pete it was the same. He majored in astronomy and, because he had to use the telescope in the observatory, he had to take a computer class (very cutting edge back in the late '80s), which led to his first job in computers, which led to another, and then another, and now, more than 15 years later, he's in a specialized field within computers. (And, no, I can't describe to you what he does. It's all just a bunch of "la la la la la" in my head when he talks about work. Unless of course there's some good gossip, when I'm all ears, but these are computer geeks and good gossip is hard to come by.)

Among my group of friends, there are lawyers, CPAs, teachers, doctors, etc. Aside from the lawyers, who were born wearing ties and who asked for briefcases for their fifth birthdays, pretty much most of the rest had no clue what they were going to do when they graduated. We just went to college for eight semesters, graduated, and figured things out as we went along. None of us are slackers -- we volunteered and were active in various groups when we were students -- but we were only 21 and 22 years old.

I'm just so amazed by this generation of students.

I should add, just to keep things honest, that the college students I'm meeting aren't serious 24/7 and don't study all the time. They have parties -- often, very good ones, based on the photos I'm seeing on Facebook and the stories I'm hearing from some of them. They have Beach Week and semi-formals. They're having fun. They're keeping things balanced and in perspective. But they've got an eye on the future and aren't losing sight of their goals. They are willing to give up their summers for an opportunity that will help them later on as they apply for grad school and jobs. They're just so focused.

In short, they know what they want to be when they grow up, which more than a lot of us can say, even now when we supposedly are grownups.

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