One Friday night during my freshman year, my friends from my New Student Orientation group and I decided to go bowling. We called an UberXL, and all five of us climbed into the large three-row black van outside the front gates. After driving for about 20 minutes, the driver exited the highway and we pulled into a high-security entrance gate, complete with two armed guards in military uniforms. As the Uber driver rolled down the window, the two guards gazed into the big van to find five confused college students. My friend in the front seat informed them, with the confidence and ignorance that only a freshman can have, that we came to bowl. When we were told we could not enter, my friend politely explained that we had a reservation. The guards looked at each other and waved us through. This explanation failed to convince the second set of guards, and we were sternly and forcefully turned away. We later discovered we were at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington. We had tried to go bowling on a national military base.
I took a lot of metaphorical vans to unknown places throughout my years at Georgetown University. Sometimes I thought I knew where I was going but ended up in a completely different place. Other times, I had no idea where I was going but forged ahead anyway. I started on the School of Foreign Service van, ready to make the world a better place through diplomacy. Not fully satisfied with that ride, I began to explore other options during my sophomore year. Through an on-campus job at the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, I became interested in the impact of technology in the government. A few friends and I embarked on a particularly bumpy path when we unsuccessfully — and then later successfully — started a support group for students grieving the loss of loved ones. In the spring of sophomore year I joined the club rock climbing team, and I quite literally rode vans to the climbing gym every week. These van rides would become some of my favorite memories at Georgetown. During my junior year, I hopped off the SFS humanities-heavy core and joined the computer science van, where I sped recklessly into a curriculum composed entirely of math and computer science courses.
Over time, I felt inspired to forge my own path. When I didn’t find a Georgetown-approved study abroad program that fit my goals, I proposed a different program in Montevideo, Uruguay, where I was one of three American students at my university. During this time of immense inspiration and relaxation, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school for computer science after Georgetown. I took the GRE, wrote my personal statement and asked for recommendations from faculty members. But one day in late October, I slammed the graduate school van to a halt and decided I needed a break from school. As scary as that decision was, I was able to make a slow U-turn and began searching for jobs that allowed me to combine my interests in international affairs and computer science.
Looking back on my Georgetown undergraduate experience, I realize I was all over the place. And I am not alone in this. After working at the Cawley Career Education Center for a year, I can confirm that Georgetown students make significant changes to their preplanned paths all the time. After all, college is a time for exploration. Generally, as students, we feel an intense desire to frame experiences in a linear and logical way that leads to a clear outcome. While that may be true for some, it certainly was not and is not the case for me. Instead, I created a winding, crisscrossing, scribble-like path, adapting to my newfound interests. People often talk about navigating college, but that implies you know where you want to end up. It’s challenging to navigate when your destination keeps changing.
Over the last two months, all of us — the senior class especially — have been thrust into a particularly wild and unpredictable van. Many of our destinations have changed or simply disappeared in the chaos. We find ourselves facing the ultimate challenge — graduating in the middle of a pandemic, far away from the places and people we have come to know and love in the last four years. But while there are fundamental factors out of our control right now, Georgetown has prepared us to adapt to the unknown. Throughout the last four years, we have boarded vans with unclear destinations. We have tried to get into vans that wouldn’t accept us, and we have been turned away. We have made U-turns, detours and occasionally we’ve crashed. These journeys have made us wise, capable and resilient. I have confidence that we will adapt to this crazy van that we are in right now. And, somehow, it will weave into the larger road map that is our lives.
Caroline Schauder is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.