There is always another plan

Happy September, friends! Can you believe it’s already that time, when school starts up and the shopping for notebooks and pencils commences? First-day-of-school pictures are taken and those lengthy lists of classroom needs surface among a new backpack full of permission slips and such.

The nostalgia hit me pretty hard these past few weeks, as I myself began a new academic journey: graduate school. Standing in the aisle of Walmart, debating if I should get solid-colored or patterned-covered notebooks, I felt almost like a child again. Ironic, considering this will be the most adult degree I will be working to earn to date. But leave it to notebooks to put me back in my place. 

That being said, I began my program in College Student Personnel Administration at James Madison University nearly four weeks ago. I moved down to Virginia, started my assistantship in Academic Student Services working with and for students who are in academic probation/suspension status, and unbelievably, I just completed my second week of classes. Time truly is flying. In that time the opportunities have already been countless and my gratefulness is evident in the way I look at campus as I walk around in awe: my eyes are wide and I still can’t believe I’ve been given this opportunity. 

It’s especially meaningful because for some time now, JMU has been a beacon on my radar, the perpetual blip of academia that never fades or falters for just one second. Having my godmother as a staff member at JMU has aided in that, and for many years I have been exposed to the campus, driving through it, walking around it, and gazing at how the institution seems to captivate its surrounding town of Harrisonburg. But JMU was just too big for me when I looked at undergraduate schools. I loved my time at Bishop Stang High School and was looking, in a way, to replicate that experience. So I looked at small, private/Catholic, schools with a similarity in mission and a broad range of degree offerings. Ultimately, I settled on Stonehill College, and though I enjoyed my time there, I was a nontraditional student in many respects. 

That stereotypical image of college was just not something I found college to actually be and around graduation time I decided that I wanted to work in student affairs and make a difference in the area that I did connect with at Stonehill. Though I tried to find work first, the job market is ever-so stingy, and after about a year-and-a-half of working part-time outside of that field and many informational interviews, I found myself filling out graduate school applications and saying a silent prayer that this was what I was supposed to be doing. 

In the spring I received acceptance letters from JMU and URI, and with JMU’s program including a guaranteed two years of assistantships the choice was obvious and humbling. They liked me, they really liked me! Excited and apprehensive, I began working at the end of August and felt I was in that weird place of limbo. There were no students on campus yet, my classes hadn’t begun, and I began to question what things would be like when the normality of campus life started back up. I’ve not been known to be the greatest transition-er, so there were quiet moments of panic as I booted up my computer in the morning and long walks through the neighborhood where I thought hard about what it meant to be a graduate student. But things did begin, as they inevitably do, and there I was not panicking so much anymore. 

I have a great cohort of people that I am learning alongside, our discussions in class are great, and I feel as if I’m finding out that my desire to be in higher education is exactly what I thought it was and exactly why I’m here. The days are long and there’s a lot of processing and reflection to be done in regards to course materials and experiences, but through that, I can’t forget something very important: Back when I was filling out those applications, I knew the competition and that the reality of getting accepted into graduate programs comprised of cohorts of 12-17 students was going to be difficult. I also knew that if I didn’t get in, it was because that was part of someone else’s plan for me and not my own.

There are times when our plan makes the most sense and then it gets snatched away and we are rerouted. I knew that if I was rerouted, it would be because I had to be, because graduate school just wasn’t meant for me at that moment. At the end of the day, it was. 

For a brief moment, my plan for myself and the plan that has been laid for me all along synced up. And as I walk through campus, gazing up at buildings I wasn’t sure I’d have the opportunity to stand among, I make sure I thank God for the opportunity that He provided. Because there will be days when my plans get derailed and I get detoured and I won’t know why. And in those moments I will remind myself that there is a purpose and there is always another plan.

Anchor columnist Renee Bernier is a graduate student at James Madison University.

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