I can’t write this intro without getting emotional: Derek Gutierrez is one of the best people I know. Sure, sure, I’m an overly-positive person, but I can say this one with confidence because I know Derek better than I know most people. I’ve even known him longer than Luke, his twin (Derek’s my oldest baby brother by a full 20 minutes). I could go on and on about how wise and funny he is, but just get to that second-to-last paragraph here and you’ll see what I mean.
I am not a writer. Both my brother and my sister studied English at college; they are well read and have a knack for writing. I, on the other hand, studied biochemistry as an undergraduate. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good book and would consider myself a capable communicator, but those two are addicts to “great literature” while I’m okay with reading The Hunger Games and calling it a day.
I chose to study science because I had some sort of aptitude for it and because I liked it. It is interesting to look at all the little things that make the body work. Proteins, enzymes, chemical mechanisms all working together in a divine, microscopic symphony that ultimately allows my body to write this and yours to read it (not to mention it all helps us breathe, walk, sit, stand, poop, and pee). It took me time to realize that simply liking science was indeed different than being passionate about it. Researching internships and grad schools for science left me feeling empty and unenthused.
As an undergrad I also served as the student director to my school’s orientation program. I hired a staff, worked all summer, and welcomed 1300 new students into the university—and it was such a rush. Little else in this world gave me more joy than working with those students in the first few weeks of their college education.
So here I was, one year from finishing a degree in biochemistry, with no desire to continue on in science and a latent passion for helping college students. The thought never occurred to me that I might not end up pursuing scientific research after college. I mean that’s what I had to do—what else do you do when you’re a biochemistry major who doesn’t want to be a doctor? It took the help of a gracious supervisor to point out that my major didn’t define me, nor did it give me the bearings for my life. With this revolutionary paradigm shift I began to look into what gave me passion: student affairs.
When I say I am working to become a student affairs professional, most people either think I’m having affairs with students, or just look at me with a blank stare of ignorant affirmation. Student affairs is a branch of higher education that focuses on the holistic development of the student. It contains many different functional areas (e.g. orientation, financial aid, residence life, career services, judicial affairs, etc). Holistic development is a lofty way of saying that higher education isn’t simply about learning any specific concept (i.e. your major). This is the very thing I was confronted with in a coffee shop as I discussed my future with my supervisor. Since it was the second half of my junior year it was too late to change majors, so I stuck with biochemistry even though I had no intentions of being a doctor or curing cancer or whatever other crazy thing people asked me when they heard what my major was.
I have a degree in biochemistry and from it I learned two things: 1) I no longer want to study biochemistry, and 2) I am still so glad I did because as a result of it I can now think with a cognitive complexity and learn with an adaptability that no other major could have given me. That’s not to say that everyone should major in biochemistry and then just do whatever the hell they want. The point I mean to make is that people should be aware of where their passions are and use all the things they’ve learned (no matter how unrelated) to achieve those passions for the betterment of society. That is the purpose of higher education. And I think that’s what contentment is regardless of whether or not you go college: finding the place where your deepest passions and the world’s greatest needs intersect.
So now I’m getting my Masters in College Counseling and Student Development. I don’t know where I’ll work when I graduate (assuming I’m charming enough to succeed in a job interview), but I know that as long as I’m working with college students to help them succeed I’ll be content, and not only that, but joyful—and hopefully others can experience that too.