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The Meaning of (Real) Life

The day I graduated from college was so hot you could have fried an egg on my mortarboard. After the ceremony I frantically sought my parents in the crowd. I needed reassurance--I was a helium balloon, suddenly aloft. But what about phone wires, airplanes, birds of prey? Was I really ready to fly? Thus, when I saw six members of WPI's Class of 2003 on graduation morning this past May, I recognized the mix of pride and dread in their eyes.

I specifically remember dreading The Question: "So, what's next?" What impressive postgraduation plan did I have mapped out? How would I be using my magna cum laude degree to its fullest, most profitable potential?

My friend and I had hatched a grand Kerouac plan: save up our summer job earnings, then drive cross-country and back, living out of a van. "Because, well, you know, not everything important is learned in the classroom," I would say in defense as the querist's gaze narrowed. "Then, after that, I figure, we'll be ready for 'real life.'"

Real life. What is real life? For graduate Scott Martin it is spending the next four years serving his country in the U.S. Marines. For Andy Keefe, real life is a plum job with an energy company. For Katie Gardner, it's the start of a writing career with a multinational pharmaceutical firm. These new alumni have ready answers to The Question. I envied kids like that, with everything just so. (I'm sure my parents did, too.)

Malia Aull '03 returns to WPI this fall to pursue a master's degree in environmental engineering. Find out more about Malia.

Not every WPI graduate has a confident answer to The Question. Some of this year's grads have had tough times finding jobs, others have yet to decide on a particular direction. Those with a defined path impress us. Even for them, life--real life--is full of uncertainty and surprise. How does one prepare for that?

Take Malia Aull. She signed up for the Peace Corps, hoping for an assignment in Asia. With the SARS outbreak and the Corps' offer of a post in Armenia, she shifted gears. A few weeks before graduation, she landed a teaching assistantship at WPI and will stay on at least one more year, pursuing her master's in environmental engineering. How did she handle the uncertainty?

Aull told me, "Going to Puerto Rico for my interactive project gave me confidence in myself. I felt like I could handle anything after that."

The other alumni you will meet in this issue share similar stories. They tell us their WPI education gave them confidence to change course, try new things, succeed in real life--where learning happens every day.

The summer after I graduated I spent four months on the road, seeing America and some of Canada, too. Ready or not, real life was waiting for me when I returned. That trip transformed me from a small-town girl into a confident woman unafraid of the road less traveled. I was more prepared for what lay ahead--because, after all, not everything important is learned in the classroom.

Carol Cambo

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Last modified: Sep 02, 2004, 09:44 EDT
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