The weather in Jeromeville for most of October was typically what I could consider perfect. Days were sunny, with afternoon temperatures in the 80s, still warm enough to be outside, but the nights were cool, so the days did not get blisteringly hot like they did in July and August. I was still wearing shorts to class during the third full week of fall quarter, and I had some free time on that Wednesday afternoon, so I sat outside on the Quad. I brought another book with me to campus in addition to my textbooks, and I was looking through this book when I saw Carrie Valentine walking toward me, coming from the direction of the library and headed toward the flagpole. I waved, but she was not looking in my direction, so I quickly put my hand down, not wanting to look awkward. I nervously watched as she approached and waved again when she turned her head toward me. She stepped off the path and walked toward me.
“Hey, Greg,” Carrie said, smiling. She put her bag down and sat on the grass facing me. “Can I hang out here?”
Yes, I thought. Of course you can. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve actually gotten to talk to you, and I’ll never make you fall in love with me if we don’t talk more often. But all I said out loud was, “Sure. What’s up?”
“I’m meeting with my Kairos leader,” Carrie explained. “But I’m early.”
“You’re in Liz’s group, right?”
“We were in the same dorm as freshmen. She was across the hall, one down from me.”
“That’s cool! Whose Bible study are you in this year?”
“Joe Fox and Lydia Tyler. The group is so huge, we usually read the Scripture together and then break up into three smaller groups.”
“How big is it?”
“Usually around twenty-five.”
“Twenty-five! Why so many?”
“Honestly, I think it’s because, with all the Kairos groups, and all the specialized Bible studies for certain groups of people, there was only one group left for all the rest of us.”
“Interesting. You couldn’t be in a Kairos group?”
“The Kairos ministry is for training future leaders. You have to be asked to be in a Kairos group, and they don’t invite seniors. Unless you’re leading a group as a senior and you were in one before, like Liz.”
“I see,” Carrie replied. “Hmm.”
I decided not to share my exact thoughts about Jeromeville Christian Fellowship’s Kairos ministry, since Carrie was part of a Kairos group. As I was thinking about what else to say, Carrie broke the silence and asked, “What are you working on? Is that the course catalog?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I was trying to figure out if it’s possible for me to graduate at the end of this year, what classes I still need to take, stuff like that.”
“That’s exciting! What are you doing after graduation?”
“I’m going to be a teacher.”
“That’s so cool!”
“I’m still trying to figure out if I’ll do my teacher certification through Jeromeville, or Capital State, or somewhere else. I know Jeromeville’s program is one year, and it’s only fall through spring. If I graduate in June, then I’ll be able to do that, but if I don’t graduate until December of ’98, then I’ll either have to wait until the fall of ’99 to start student teaching, or see if anyone has a program where I can start in the winter.”
“I hope you get all that figured out.”
“I got this Graduation Progress Tracker form in the mail last week, I guess they send it to all the seniors. They list all the graduation requirements and what you’ve done and what you still need. And I also have some prerequisites for the teacher certification program that I have to be able to fit in.” I saw a familiar face out of the corner of my eye walk up to the flagpole. “There’s Liz over there,” I said, pointing.
“Oh, yeah,” Carrie replied. “I should go. Good luck figuring that out! Keep me posted.”
“I will! Tell Liz I said hi.” I watched as Carrie got up and walked to the flagpole. She said something to Liz, who then turned in my direction. I waved, and both of them waved back.
My new house on Acacia Drive was a quick three minute walk to church, and in addition to Sunday mornings, I was there every Wednesday night as a volunteer with The Edge, the youth group for junior high school students. Before the students arrived, the leaders met to catch up, go over the events of the upcoming night, and share prayer requests.
“What’s up,” Taylor Santiago said as I approached the group. I had known Taylor the longest of any of the other Edge leaders; he lived on the floor above me freshman year. Taylor was also the one who first suggested I get involved with The Edge.
“Not much,” I said. “I’m just trying to figure out if I can graduate in June.”
“I thought you said you were going to go four years plus one more quarter.”
“I just assumed I had to, with all the math classes I still have to take and the prerequisites for the teacher training program. But I was looking at stuff earlier, and if I understand correctly, I think I will be able to graduate. I wanted to take some more of Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes, but I might have to skip those if I don’t want an extremely full class schedule. They don’t fulfill any requirements at this point.”
“Have you filed your intent to graduate yet?” Noah Snyder asked, having overheard this entire conversation so far. Noah was the youth group intern, being paid part time by the church to lead The Edge.
“Not yet,” I replied, “but I want to do that in the next few days. I just hope I understand everything correctly, and that I don’t get to graduation day and someone tells me that I can’t actually graduate, that I have to take more classes.”
“That won’t happen,” Taylor said. “I’m pretty sure someone will contact you if you file for graduation and you haven’t met the requirements yet.”
“Kathleen Sutton works with the office that handles all that stuff,” Noah added. “You could probably ask her to look over your form.”
“That’s good to know,” I said. Kathleen Sutton was a youth group parent; the Suttons occasionally hosted lunch socials for the church college group at their house. Kathleen’s daughter was in The Edge last year, and she had an older son in high school and a younger son in the preteen youth group. “When I got that Graduation Progress form, it had a number to call. I’m sure between that person and Kathleen Sutton, I can get all of this figured out.”
“Are you going to stay at Jeromeville for your teacher certification?” Noah asked.
“If I can, I’d like to. I know the professor who does math education, and I’d be able to stay here and keep working with The Edge.”
“I’m going to stay in Jeromeville, but commute to Cap State for mine. It’s cheaper, and it just works out better for me. They have a really good program for elementary school teachers. I’m not sure what they’re like for high school teachers, though.”
“If staying in Jeromeville ends up too complicated, I’ll look into Cap State too,” I said. Capital State University was about twenty miles from Jeromeville on the other side of the Drawbridge, and Noah’s mention of their program being cheaper started to give me doubts about my tentative plan. However, Mom always told me not to worry about money, that we would find a way to pay for things. My grandmother had started a college savings account for me when I was very young, and with the academic scholarships I had received, we had hardly had to use that money so far. I would also have to find a way to pay for school if I stayed at UJ for part of a fifth year as an undergraduate, so I would keep that under consideration if any options that did not include graduating in June were still on the table.
When I got home, I went straight to my backpack, in the large bedroom that I shared with my roommate Sean. Sean was sitting at his desk typing a paper on his computer; a cluster of helium balloons, including one that said “Happy Birthday” and another that had the number “22” written on it in black marker, was rising from the floor next to him, anchored by a weight at the end of a ribbon a few feet long.
“It’s your birthday?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Sean replied.
“I didn’t know that. Happy birthday! Did you do anything fun?”
“I went out to dinner with some friends from the wildlife bio major tonight. We just got back a little while ago. And I’m flying home tomorrow to spend the weekend with my family.”
“That’ll be nice,” I said, excited for Sean that he will get to see his family, but also excited that I would have the bedroom to myself all weekend, able to flirt with girls on Internet Relay Chat and not worry about someone looking over my shoulder.
I got out my course catalog and the Graduation Progress form. I had completed my general education requirements and the classes required for everyone regardless of major. The only requirement remaining was for the major itself, and I needed three more upper-division mathematics classes, including 150B, the continuation of my current abstract algebra class. With two quarters left, I had plenty of time to take those. I was limited in which classes I could take, since not all classes were offered every quarter, or even every year. But I was sure I could find three that would work with my schedule. Math 150B was offered every year in the winter, and at this point I did not really care what the other two classes would be.
The tricky part would be preparing for the teacher training program. In my state, universities do not offer education majors; instead, teacher training is a one year graduate program taken after completing a bachelor’s degree. I would have to reapply to UJ by the end of November, this time as a graduate student applying to the School of Education. I was missing three classes for that program’s requirements: Educational Psychology, a lecture class offered by the physical education department called Healthful Living, and one more English class of my choice. I looked up to see which quarters those classes were offered, and I came up with a plan. In the winter, I would take Ed Psych, Math 150B, and some other math class that I could fit into my schedule, and in the spring, I would take Healthful Living, one more math class, and Fiction Writing for the English class. Fiction Writing was a lower-division class, but it sounded the most fun and interesting out of all the English options, and I would still have enough total upper-division units to graduate. Healthful Living was only a two-unit class, so I would need one more class in the spring in order to be a full-time student. I would be able to take one more of Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes after all; he taught Christian Theology in the spring. For the winter, I would have just barely enough units to be a full-time student, so maybe I could look at doing another two-unit internship tutoring at Jeromeville High School, as I had done last spring.
At that moment, something caught my eye at the bottom of the Graduation Progress Tracker. A few lines of small print at the bottom informed me of a number to call if I had questions. Apparently, as fourth-year student, I had been assigned to a specific person, the one who had filled out this form, and that person would process my application to graduate, as well as answer any questions I might have. The lower left corner of the form said, “Completed by,” with a blank for that person to initial, and in that blank were the handwritten initials “KS.” I remembered Noah’s words a few hours earlier, telling me that Kathleen Sutton worked in the office that processed these forms. Could Kathleen Sutton be the “KS” who filled out my form? Did I just happen to get assigned to the one person in that office whom I knew personally? How many of these graduation processing specialists were there, and what were the chances of that? It was probably a coincidence; there were plenty of people in the world with the initials K.S. I had nothing more to do at this point for graduation planning, and I had finished everything I needed to do for tomorrow’s classes, so I went to bed.
I saw the date on Sunday morning’s newspaper; it was my brother Mark’s birthday, sixteen years old now. I reminded myself to call home this afternoon, although I had already sent him a card with a fart joke on it.
I had not yet turned in my application to graduate. I was nervous. What if I was not ready to graduate? I would apparently have my requirements done by the end of the school year, but what if I was misinterpreting the requirements? And was I really ready to finish my undergraduate time and move on to the next phase? A few weeks ago, when I thought I would need another quarter or two to graduate, I was looking forward to staying in Jeromeville longer. Jeromeville was my home now. I had a community here. Advanced mathematics was getting weird and abstract, I did not enjoy it as much as I used to, and I was ready to be done with school. But filing for graduation would bring closer the inevitable day when I would leave Jeromeville and go out into the world.
All of this was still on my mind when I got to church that morning. The worship team played a fast song to begin the service, and when they played a slow song later, I sat and prayed about these things. I asked God to give me peace about my plan to graduate at the end of the year and do my student teaching through UJ. Send me a sign that this is your will for my life, I asked silently.
God often speaks to me through odd coincidences. Some people have told me that I pay too much attention to this sort of thing, but God knows that it will get my attention. The sign that I prayed for came quickly, as I was wandering aimlessly on the patio after church mingling with others. I saw Kathleen Sutton ahead of me in the direction I was walking; she turned and looked at me, and I waved. “Hello,” I said.
“Greg,” Kathleen replied. “I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”
“What do you mean?”
“I work in the office that processes graduation applications. We were doing this year’s Graduation Progress Trackers, and I recognized your name on one of the forms I filled out.”
“Oh, wow,” I said. Kathleen Sutton was “KS” after all.
“I saw your transcript,” Kathleen continued. “A 3.9 grade point average, and all As in all those hard math and science classes. You have a pretty impressive academic record.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
“What are you planning to do after you graduate?”
“I’m going to be a teacher. I didn’t think about being a teacher until just last year, but I was planning out the rest of my year this year, and I’ll be able to do all the requirements for the teacher certification program before the end of the year.”
“Good for you! We definitely need good teachers who know their subject matter. I’m sure you’ll do great.”
“Thanks. Oh, by the way, if I’m misunderstanding something, and I file for graduation but I don’t actually have all the right classes, will someone let me know?”
“Definitely. But I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
When I got home, I changed into an old pair of shorts and went to the small shed in the backyard. Our house only had a covered carport, not a locked garage, so I typically left Schuyler, my bicycle, in the shed. I had a long ride I would occasionally do around the entire perimeter of the city of Jeromeville, and with the October days getting shorter, I wanted to do my long ride again before it got too cold and gray. I had sat down once with a ruler and a map and estimated the ride at fifteen miles, and the fastest I had ever completed the ride was just a few seconds short of an hour. I rode west on Coventry Boulevard across Highway 117, worked my way through the neighborhoods of West Jeromeville, then headed back east on Fifth Street along the row of walnut trees that separated the city of Jeromeville to my left from the university’s agricultural research fields to my right. After crossing back to the east side of 117, I cut through campus, past the North Residential Area and the Rec Pavilion, and emerging into downtown Jeromeville next to the Death Star building on Third Street. Although I was trying for record time, pedaling as fast as I could, I slowed down a little bit through downtown, with its many cars, bicycles, and people. I worked my way to the Cornell Boulevard underpass, still too narrow for its traffic volume, southeast past Murder Burger and across Highway 100.
I had learned quickly as a freshman that I would feel a bit out of place in a university town like Jeromeville with its hippies and extreme politics. But now, as a senior, I was on a timeline to graduate eight short months from now, and I did not want to leave. Jeromeville had grown on me. It was the place where I found friends, and the place where I found Jesus. I had gotten involved with youth ministry at church and built meaningful connections beyond the campus bubble. Jeromeville, in all its quirkiness, was home.
I continued along the southernmost neighborhoods of Jeromeville, through the neighborhood where Eddie, John, Xander, and Lars had lived when I first met them sophomore year, and into a section of the Greenbelts where those guys had held the Man of Steel disc golf competition. I continued east all the way to Bruce Boulevard, the easternmost of Jeromeville’s north-south thoroughfares, and turned to the north. About a mile north, I crossed back over Highway 100, where a new neighborhood was under construction, rare in a city like Jeromeville where suburban sprawl is so hated. I turned west on Coventry Boulevard and rode for almost three miles, then turned into the Greenbelts of north Jeromeville, emerging on Maple Drive about half a mile north of my house. I looked at my watch when I got home: 58 minutes, 57 seconds, a new record for me.
Time moves forward. Children grow up and become university students, who then go out into the real world and have children of their own. But, although time was definitely moving forward, maybe I did not have to leave Jeromeville yet. I would still have one more year at UJ in the teacher training program, so I would be a registered student through June of 1999. If I did not get into UJ’s program, Jeromeville was close enough to commute to Capital State. After that, there were plenty of high schools in commuting distance from Jeromeville where I could work; maybe I could even teach at Jeromeville High. If I did leave Jeromeville eventually, as I would do in 2001, it would happen when the time was right, when I felt ready to move on.
Readers: Did your education and career end up happening according to your plan or projected timeline? Did you even plan these things in advance? Tell me about it in the comments.