Your Own Captain

My name is Alex Moore and I plan to graduate from Virginia Tech with an undergraduate in English in May 2015. At school, I work two jobs – one in food service and one as a tutor at the Writing Center and spend most of the time I’m not at work or in class either studying or relaxing. Over breaks, I either return home to Springfield, VA or visit my Dad in San Antonio, Texas. My plans after graduation remain unclear, but I know I’d like to find a job where I can focus most of my daily activity on what I do best – reading and writing, while finding a blend of creativity and practicality in my work.

As a senior looking back on my last four years of college, I realize now that my greatest lessons here have not all come in the classroom. I don’t want to say that I haven’t learned anything in class or discourage you from going, but instead I want to point out another lesson. I want to tell you how college has taught me to Captain my own life.
You see, over the last four years, I’ve had to start making decisions. And no, I don’t mean whether or not I should get a chocolate or vanilla ice cream cone at the dining hall (I like vanilla). I mean big decisions. Like ones that will impact me for the rest of my life, ones that will shape the way my brain works, ones that determine who I am, what I (will) do, and where I’ll do it, and often I had to make these decisions in the face of outside pressure. After all, whether it comes from family members, friends, not-friends, or societal forces, every time we make decisions in life we feel these outside forces. Sometimes, we will bend to them, allowing external circumstances to affect our condition or course directly. Others, we will push back against them, letting them affect us indirectly by applying equal and opposite force. However, neither of these reactions really give you power over yourself. They are both direct responses in your decision-making to outside forces, when instead you should look inward if you want to Captain a Happy and Prosperous ship.
Take, for instance, my decisions to attend Virginia Tech and study English there. I still remember my Dad walking into the living room one day after school with a Virginia Military Institute Acceptance package in his hand and a look of pride in his face. I remember him sitting me down and showing me the school’s 90+% post-graduation employment rate and pointing out that the rate was even higher for engineers. I remember visiting the school with him and seeing how the cadets lived: neat, orderly, uniformed, beds rolled up in castle-like dorms. On the second day of our tour, we got to see the class facilities. We walked through the engineering facilities and looked at that program’s course load first; second, we listened to the English program’s seminar in an old, windowless classroom. There, my dad pointed out that for every good book I’d read, I would also read a Madame Bovary (my personal least-favorite from high school) if I chose to study English. I thought to myself: for every problem I solve in an engineering course, I have to do math. It’s not like I was never good at math, no, I was equally adept at both it and the humanities in high school. Difference was the former put me to sleep while the latter drew me in.
So, the next few days after returning home I had to think. After all, it felt really great to have my dad so proud of me and I knew that going to VMI would make him proud. As career army medical officer, he wanted nothing more than to see his son serve the country in his footsteps. I also realized that whether or not I commissioned in the military there, I would probably have a job if I graduated from the school with an engineering degree. However, I also took a look at my bedroom at home. I saw laundry on the floor, a full trashcan, an unmade bed. Then, I realized that I did not want to spend the next four years cleaning my room every day. No, I like a messy space, it makes me comfortable, and that was a luxury I’d have to sacrifice at VMI. I thought about the engineering program and couldn’t see myself doing heavy math every day for the next four years. I thought about the first “rat” semester there, and about getting up at the crack of dawn every day and wearing the same clothes all the time. It just didn’t appeal to me. A week later, I told my family I had decided to attend Virginia Tech, a more normal 4-year institution, and to study International Studies.
From there, it was only an unsatisfying and unsuccessful freshman year until I realized that I should study something I really enjoyed, and what I enjoyed was reading books. Thus, I walked into the English department’s advising office, enrolled in three literature courses for fall of sophomore year, and set my own course.
Since changing majors, I’ve actually enjoyed VT on the whole and found academic success, earning Dean’s List honors three times. I know that my job prospects might not be as strong on paper now compared to what they might have been if I’d pursued engineering, but I know I’m a lot happier with what I’m doing and where I’m doing it than I would have been if I’d let someone else set my course. Therefore, my greatest advice for you is to do what you want, emphasis on you, because only that will make you happy.

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