Opportunities Abound If You Know Where to Look

Pamela London

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Photo by Annabelle Marcovici

When my mom picked me up after my first semester at Whitman College, she asked me, “Are you sad that you only have seven semesters left?”

At the time, I knew the answer: definitively yes. I was a varsity soccer player and English major-to-be living in Jewett Hall and the best section ever (3-West, for those of you who are wondering.) I had a great roommate and was making friends all across campus. I was a sports writer for The Pioneer. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world and was looking forward to relishing every second I had left on campus.

When I was applying to college, I only looked at one other school besides Whitman, but not that seriously. I applied early decision and accepted straight away. In my mind, I had a path all mapped out, and by the end of my first semester I was making strides down that path. Everything was falling into place.

People joke about the “Whitman bubble,” but it’s real. Even though downtown Walla Walla is less than a mile down Boyer Street, it’s easy to just stay on campus. I never thought I would feel trapped by the bubble: I was always supposed to come to a school like Whitman and love living on a small campus where I know everybody and everybody knows me. I was supposed to be on this path, nowhere else.

Take that question from my mom and flash-forward almost exactly 12 months: this time, my answer was different. Sure I was sad that I only had five semesters left at Whitman, but I was starting to question the path that I had been so sure of for so long. On the outside, things looked good: I was still playing soccer, I still had great friends and I was still writing for the newspaper. But I started to want more. Gradually, the routine that I spent so much time crafting did not seem to make as much sense. Why was I struggling in English classes? Why did I feel like I was losing connections with people?

Why did I feel stuck?

Suddenly the Whitman bubble, which used to make me feel safe, felt like it was getting smaller. But it wasn’t Whitman that was confining me, forcing me down the path; that was all my doing. When I was a first-year, everything fit. But less than a year later, I found myself questioning not just my academics, but also choices I had been making that led to this moment.

During first-year orientation, I asked my pre-major adviser for help choosing a fourth class, and he suggested I try history. In high school I had always liked social studies, but I was always supposed to study English. So I chose a history class that fit in my schedule, not quite randomly but without the depth of consideration I give to other choices.

That first week of classes I found myself sitting in History 218, Africa to 1885 with Professor Woodfork. And in May 2012, just weeks before the end of my sophomore year, I declared a history major. This was the first step toward a new path, one that was not clearly defined yet, but one I knew I would want to continue on. Whitman challenged me to not only take that first step but also to want to take it in the first place. I didn’t know I wanted to deviate from the plan, but Whitman showed me that I did.

Whitman challenged me to want to study abroad, and spring of my junior year I spent four months in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews, where I saw more of the world than I thought possible and met some of the most amazing people in my life. I didn’t know I wanted all that, but Whitman showed me that I did.

Whitman challenged me to want a new persona, something all my own. I thought I wanted to be the “soccer girl,” someone I had been my whole life and the mold I was so sure I wanted to fill while at Whitman. I continued to play but I didn’t let being a soccer player define me. I didn’t know I wanted to be something, someone, else but Whitman showed me that I did.

I don’t know if I have a new plan, but I know what I do have: a new path. Whitman has taught me, pushed me, questioned me and challenged me in more directions than I thought possible for myself. I always thought I knew what I wanted, but being a Whittie has made me rethink things. I set that path rife with expectations, and I can be the one to change it, even leave it entirely. I can want more. And that’s okay.

That question from my mom seems like forever ago. I’m sad that I only have days left, instead of seven semesters. But if I still had seven semesters, I would not have learned the things, had the experiences or been challenged in the ways that have made me into a person who is––finally––ready to be a college graduate. I think I now understand what my dad means when he says, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘no.'”

I want to ask. I want to want more. And I’m ready to do those things because I am (almost) a Whitman College graduate.

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