Coming Full Circle: A Visit to Harvard University

This past weekend, I visited Harvard University. Seeing it was one of the highlights of my trip! You have to understand a little background. When I was in high school, if anyone asked me where I was going to college, I said I was going to Harvard University. I was going there to study business and psychology, and I was going to become an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist and work as a consultant for businesses.

I explained to people that it may not happen right away, but I was going there! I bought a Harvard sweatshirt, and I would wear it all the time. I often thought of what it would look like there, on a premier, Ivy League campus. I fantasized about being able to say I graduated from Harvard, and where such a grand claim would take me.

When it came time to start applying for colleges, among other places, I, of course, applied to Harvard. You can imagine my thrill when I received a letter back from them saying that hey had received my application, and would like to conduct a phone interview with me! I couldn’t believe it! My dream was coming true! I was going to be able to say I went to Harvard!

The day of the phone interview came, and to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember what they asked me or what was said. That was over 25 years ago! But I do know that later, another letter came, and it said something about that I didn’t get any scholarships or grants to attend, but if I still wanted to attend I could pay the million or so dollar annual tuition (not really, but it seemed like it to me at the time) to make my dreams come true.

I chickened out. I didn’t want to pay that much (rather, for my parents to have to figure out how to pay that much!), and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there right away anyway. Perhaps for graduate school in business or something once I finished my undergrad. So I postponed that dream.

I chose a very small, private, liberal arts university to attend near home. After a year of studying anatomy, physiology, math, science, and other things scientific, as a psychology degree requires, I decided that really wasn’t for me. My second year, I spent studying abroad at a even smaller college near London (because I wanted to explore the world!), and ended up changing my major from psychology to business. After a few months of accounting and macroeconomics, I decided that wasn’t for me either. I then changed my major to music education, a passion that I had repressed in the background for a long time, after all, there’s no money in music!). At the end of my second year of college, I moved back to the U.S., and continued my education at the university where I started until I graduated with a degree in music education. I got a job, life happened, I completed a masters degree at another wonderful small college, and then one day I woke up, decided I was destined for more really great things, and applied to a doctoral program in music education.

Boston University’s College of Fine Arts accepted my application, and now nine years later, I just graduated as a Doctor of Musical Arts; thus the purpose of my weekend trip to Boston (Yay me!). So after the graduation festivities were over, and the morning before I flew back home, I jumped on a subway train, and headed to Harvard. Because it was right there. And I wanted to see it.

The visit to this campus of which I had dreamt so many years ago was really a “coming full circle” for me. As I strolled along Harvard Yard, gazed at the brick buildings and iron gates, and saw a few young graduates donning their regalia (it was graduation weekend there as well), I thought about the dreams I had set for myself as a teenager. I did say I would go to Harvard someday. And there I was. Not in the capacity of a student, but in the capacity of a DOCTOR, having received my degree from another university, and OWNING IT!

So here are the thoughts that made me tell you all of this: We MUST set out with big dreams. And yet somewhere along the way, as our dreams change, evolve, and grow, we change, evolve, and grow with them. And sometimes the end result is BIGGER than what we ever even imagined it could be. As I stood in front of the Harvard College of Arts and Sciences building, I was somewhat overcome with emotion as I realized this could have been where I would have spent much of my university time, had I attended. But my life has taken some crazy, exciting, and unexpected twists and turns that instead had me standing there, not knowing what the inside of that building looked like, having become someone completely different than what I set out to be.

Had someone said to me years ago, ok Denisse, you have two choices: #1, you can attend Harvard University for four years, get a degree in psychology and work with businesses as you had wished, or #2, you can follow this other path, go to smaller schools, work with really cool young people and teach them how to play instruments, eventually get a doctorate and plan new things that will change the education world (I’m working on some stuff, ya’ll), I would have probably laughed in their face about choice #2. Teaching kids music? Yeah right. No way do I have patience for that. Plus, I want to work in the business world! I want to make lots of money! I want to make an impact on this world! (Are you laughing out loud? Because I get the irony, as teachers make more of an impact on the world than anybody else! But that’s a discussion for another time).

As I stood there reflecting, I realized more than ever that we must embrace the life journey because along the way to our dreams there may be detours, there may be struggles, there may be derailments. But all of those changes in plans will lead to other things, perhaps even greater things than we ever imagined! And when we get there and look back, we will see that each of those detours and derailments were just leading us to our destiny!

I urge you to follow your dreams, let them lead you, embrace the detours, stop fighting the derailments, and enjoy the ride! You will end up exactly where you’re supposed to be.

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