It had been a very busy morning. After last minute packing for my trip to New York City to volunteer with a local organization, I arrived at SPEA’s Atrium where tables were neatly decorated with floral arrangements and where friendly greeters sporting their SPEA-wear kindly directed me to where I would be stationed for Experience Day events that morning. Experience Day is an annual event organized to give students, trying to make the very difficult decision of where they should spend the next couple of years of their lives, a better idea of what SPEA is all about and what benefits they could expect from deciding to go with our program.
I sat down at one of the tables and waited for students to show up, and it wasn’t long (actually I think it was less than 30 seconds) before I heard a familiar voice.
“Hey, Chris! I thought you were supposed to be in New York already.” It was Scott. He and I had been in the same cohort from the start of our experience at Indiana University, and I couldn’t help but reflecting back to those first days at SPEA. I hadn’t gone to Experience Day myself, so my first experience was during Orientation week. It dawned on me in that moment with those simple two sentences Scott had said just how many connections and rewarding friendships I had formed during those first few weeks of class the year previous and the many others I have made since then.
“I’ll be heading out right after this breakfast event,” I explained to Scott who plopped himself down at my table.
“Well aren’t you the die-hard ambassador.”
“Yeah, I try my best to keep up my image as the model citizen at SPEA,” I mused as we both turned to look at the first few prospective students starting to filter past the registration table. Scott stood up and wandered over to his assigned table, and I waited as a young woman wearing a nametag walked towards my table.
“Hello,” she said with a voice that conveyed a sense of false confidence.
“Hello! Are you considering coming here for school?” I said with perhaps a bit of an overly eager smile on my face.
She said she was and that she lived in the region, so she had been to Bloomington a number of times already. After that she and I chatted pleasantly between pauses to chew on bagels and fresh fruit. Eventually we were joined by another two prospective students with varying stories of travel, past internships and work experience, and aspirations for future professions.
As our plates emptied and when we got the signal that it was time for the prospective students to head downstairs to attend their first large-group meeting of the morning, I said goodbye to the people at my table and wished them well. As I watched the students leave, I was struck by the simplicity of what had just transpired in those last couple of hours. In essence, all that had happened was a few people ate while chatting about their lives. Humans have gone through this kind of ritual for thousands of years. The thing that made the morning’s activities significant was that I had been a part
of these few students’ decision to go to SPEA for graduate school. And that
effort wasn’t motivated by a hope of any reward other than having students be
placed in a rewarding program, since my experience, though it might have had
its ups and downs, has been overwhelming positive.
As I walked the few hundred feet from the Atrium to my exit, I was stopped by a number of friends all wishing me well in New York. Hiring specialists always say that it’s not what you know but who you know that counts. While I think a certain level of knowledge is necessary to pass over the threshold of employability, I think they might be right about that. But the value of an alumni base is not found solely in the number of network connections one might have or in the ease in getting references from classmates: I have found some lasting friendships in my classmates. And although I won’t be able to go back in time to view how my life would have played out differently had I made a difference decision on graduate school programs, I don’t think I really need to because I have found what I was looking for in SPEA.