I had the pleasure of manning a booth in recent weeks at first-time college and career fairs at both Rogers High School and Elk River High School.
Each fair was run a little different, but both appeared to be successful on several fronts.
Rogers High School held its fair during the school day and had its sophomore class attend with an assignment to choose three career areas to research from the many that were represented in the high school’s field house. They also had to visit at least two colleges.
The students were engaged, and many asked questions beyond what they were told to ask. Some moved around in packs and let their leaders do most of the talking, but they were exposed to what will be some big decisions in a couple years.
I had some really good conversations with students who were assessing their interests. Thinking of their futures. Asking themselves what would sustain them financially. What would easily rouse themselves from a slumber. One even had spiritual goals in mind in her quest.
Elk River High School held theirs at night and invited high school students of all grades and their parents. There were sessions on financial aid, and students and parents were free to mill around and see what interested them. More than 500 came out for the event.
It was clear some students were on a mission in their selection of booths for careers, vocational pursuits and the appropriate schooling. Some were surprised at the variety of career fields represented and were doing some serious exploration. Others were captured by a branch of the military. It was easy to see some had no clue what they were doing and looked lost. It was good to see all groups represented.
It’s good the schools are putting this type of information before their students. The sooner they begin this process, the more time they will have to learn about themselves, whether it catches them in grade school or middle school, their sophomore year or their senior year.
There was one senior in particular, one of the lost sheep, that I wished I had spoken to a little longer – not to sway him to my chosen profession, but to let him know it was good that he was there and not to worry about his current state of indecisiveness.
This particular senior admitted that he liked to play his favorite sport and sleep and that was about it. I guarantee he’s more dynamic than he publicly credits himself, but at the same time, he has a lot to learn about himself. It’s a good time to start.
Some are lucky and they learn at an early age and go through school with a laser-like focus.
I was not so lucky.
But by the time I was this particular boy’s age, I thought I knew what I wanted. But the fact of the matter is I switched my plans for a major field of study not once but twice by the time I had to declare a major.
Not all students will know at 15, 16 or 17 years of age what they want to do when they’re adults. But what’s important is to be asking questions. What are my interests? What am I good at? What am I passionate about?
Those key questions can lead students to try things out through visits, internships and so forth. They might visit places of business, be it a newspaper, a hospital or a manufacturing plant. It can focus their course selection while in high school and begin the process of ruling in and ruling out.
What I didn’t know at 18 years of age and 19 years of age was what I was passionate about, though. I thought it was business law after a couple of classes from Mr. Hall at Blaine High School. But it was my first business law class at a community college that steered me clear of that.
I would major in business, though I grew weary of college expenses and began to question whether I should transfer to a school of business for a more pointed program of study. But I continued on with my generals.
Then I took a one-credit course called practical experience in journalism. I needed full-time status to draw financial aid, but I didn’t want to shoot past a 12-credit load because I was working full time, too.
That class was working for the student newspaper at the college, which made my heart sink and feel a need to bolt for the door on my first day of class. The instructor, a former television guy and newspaperman, convinced me to stay.
After interviewing subjects and filing my first story with the paper, I was hooked. A few weeks later I got a whole lot more serious about school and started researching where I should earn a journalism degree.
What it took for me was finding something I was passionate about. What I liked about business law was the stories about real people and doing the research to build a case.
That was fun, but it lacked the punch offered by the grind of journalism.
Twenty years of working at the Star News has been a great way to meet people and find out what makes them tick. What do they do in the face of adversity? What’s it like for them to experience the thrill of victory? How about the agony of defeat?
And as I got older, there was another dimension that became important to me: Was the work that I was doing meaningful? Does it matter? Does it make the world a better place? Can I be proud of it at the end of the day? At the end of a career?
I’m blessed to love what I do and to be passionate about what I do. I sleep well at night (most nights) and eagerly wake to greet each new day.
That’s my hope for the students that I spoke to at the college and career fairs and others who missed or hit other fairs. Find your passion and prepare for success.
That might mean more exploration is needed, which can start in elementary school or begin anytime after that.
For high school students, it might mean assessing the merits of taking a vocational route rather than college route.
For high school seniors, it might mean more research is needed to find the right school. It might mean not following the crowd or a boyfriend or girlfriend and starting out at a community college rather than a big state school or university. It might mean moving far away from home.
Action is required, but don’t hit the panic button if you feel a bit indecisive. You’ll find some of the most decisive students will change their minds, anyway.
Good luck. — Jim Boyle, editor