A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings…

We all understand the butterfly effect; the littlest thing halfway around the world can change wind patterns in New York. What if that butterfly was something in your past? I spend a lot of time contemplating the paths I’ve taken. Every now and then, I remember a moment that seemed insignificant at the time, but now I wonder if it was indeed a sign from the universe. I wonder how much has affected me due to my inclination to listen or to let the “sign” slide.

Here’s one thing I recently recalled….

The scene: AP US History class, junior year of high school. One of our school’s guidance counselors has stopped by to talk about talking more AP classes during our senior year. I’m already in the process of looking into Running Start, a collaborative program allowing high school students to enroll in community college classes for both high school and college credit–for free. At some point, the counselor states that “it looks better to have AP credits” on your transcript as opposed to community college credits. I freak out. I challenge that, asking him wildly if that means I’m realistically going to be denied admission to a university because I chose to take a program that essentially guaranteed me a jump-start on the college environment and credits. I remember him saying something about how Ivy League schools would want to see AP credits versus Running Start. He moved on after providing me that answer, leaving me flustered and agitated.

Two things that bothered me about the situation: (a) I was only looking at public universities out of necessity; and (b) he was trying to tell us to spend an entire year learning a subject, and after that, we would have to pay almost $100 to take a test to prove we knew enough to maybe grant us college credit (and it was dependent on your university!).

What none of us could have known was this: (c) someday I would eventually grow up to be the young lady that wanted to stand up for community colleges, public education, and opportunities that make sense for the “common” student.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that situation was a catalyst. If anything, it was a nudge in the direction the universe was hoping for.

Now, I am an individual that could–if she truly wanted–probably make it into elite institutions. I hate saying things like that, but I can’t really hide the fact that I’ve always been involved, insightful, academically successful, and so forth and so on. It just happens that I’m some sort of middle class genius, raised by a father who spent his educational career in the public ranks.

My dad taught me that it doesn’t take elite institutions to cultivate the smartest or most successful students.

(Then what does it take?)

Genuine interest in the world. Interest in a broad selection of activities and passions. Time to contemplate, and time to act. Giving back to your community. Good friends. Valuing yourself. Valuing your family.

Who cares if I don’t have a degree from Harvard or Stanford on my wall? I’m proud to see the words “Western Washington University” on my diploma, proud to call myself a Viking.

What does it matter that my Master’s is from a land-grant (and sea-, space-, and sun-grant) institution? I’m proud to be an Oregon State University Beaver, the place where I learned to cut my teeth (no pun intended–okay, pun intended) as a student affairs professional.

And it’s worth it to dig up the extra transcript from my senior year of high school–the one that says “Wenatchee Valley College” to show that I took the initiative to attend college as a 17-year-old, to learn from classmates with experiences more diverse than I could conjure up, to immerse myself in a place where learning happens yet students and the community seem to take no pride.

Of course, given the economy, I will not be able to limit myself to only public institutions. I know that if I find myself at a private institution how I will be able to shift my energy, and that I will be able to support students that could–as I probably would have–feel as if they didn’t belong.

Maybe if my school counselor hadn’t stopped by, I still would have enrolled in Running Start. I probably would have been content, but I wonder if that agitation instilled a sentiment that was roughly around the lines of, “This educational opportunity matters, and I’ll be damned if people continue to discount it.” What if I had gone through Running Start, simply content with my decision to get free credits? Would I have been as inclined to take in the diversity of my classes? Would I have let the experience affect me the same way?

Who knows?

The most I can say right now is that this story is still writing itself. And every day, until the end of time, I know I will encounter beautiful butterflies–even if they’re in disguise.

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