Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sara Harrison- Blind Faith and [Unnecessary] Guilt

I am a first generation college student, and I am currently pursuing my Masters in Education in Higher Education Administration at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.  My roots are in rural Northwest Indiana where I was raised in a blue collar family.

There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to go to college.  When I was merely six-years-old, I decided that I was going to grow up and go to Valparaiso University (Valpo), a small, private, Lutheran university in a nearby city.  Why I never had a doubt and why I decided on Valpo with such conviction at such a young age, I’ve never really been sure of.  Perhaps it was because I started reading at an early age and fell in love with literature.  We’d drive past Valpo’s campus fairly regularly when we’d go to town for groceries.  I was always in awe of the magnificent Chapel of the Resurrection and the air of higher education.  I think part of me always knew that Valpo was where I belonged. 

But, my parents never went to college.  And, I wasn’t Lutheran.  Regardless, I was in love.  Completely and blindly in love.  As I grew up, I did everything I could to be more involved and to better prep myself for college.  My parents never stopped supporting my endeavors.  When they would express concern for the number of activities I was involved in or how late I had to stay at school sometimes for a variety of meetings or theatre rehearsals, I would gently remind them that these were the things that would help get me into Valpo and that these were the things that would help get me scholarships so I could afford to go to Valpo.  Sometimes they’d roll their eyes at me, but they still laughed and continued to support my over-achieving lifestyle.

Even though I never once entertained the thought of not going to college—and frequently laughed in people’s faces if they suggested such—I was still aware enough that my family would not be able to afford to send me to college, let alone to a prestigious, private institution.  I knew that if I wanted to go to college, paying for it was going to be my responsibility.  So I worked hard and never gave up faith that my collegiate was going to happen how it was supposed to happen.

The fact that paying for college was going to be my responsibility became even more evident when I was in about the 8th grade.  My dad had worked in construction for over thirty years.  He drove to Chicago every day (about an hour and a half drive one-way) to work for a job that he loved.  He didn’t always love the commute or the city, but he loved the work that he did.  Suddenly, Dad got hurt at work, and the doctors forced him to retire.  It was devastating for him and for our family, too, but I didn’t really understand what all of that meant other than the fact that Dad couldn’t go to work anymore.  It meant so much more than that.  Dad’s work was his passion (besides his family).  It was also what kept a roof over our heads and food on the table.  Sure, there was still some money coming in from the Union and when his social security finally kicked in, but things were stretched pretty thin. 

This is where my mom comes in.  Before I came along, Mom was a waitress with her mom and sisters.  Then I showed up, and Mom became a fulltime stay-at-home-mom for me and my little brother (who was born two years later).  When Dad retired, Mom started her own business—a nursery, with flowers, produce, et cetera—to have another source of income for the family.  We started working for the nursery immediately: helping around the greenhouses and in the fields and going to farmer’s markets to sell our products and produce.  This was our lives from that moment on, in Small Town, USA.  I still never doubted that I was going to go to college, but as I grew older, I began to feel guiltier about leaving the family business. 

I applied to four universities (to be safe and because I’m excessive) my senior year and got into all of them.  I was awarded a fair amount of scholarships to each one, but good ol’ Valpo proved to be the best choice on a variety of levels.  The following fall, I packed up, and my family helped me make the big move to Valpo—a whole eight miles away from home.  I roomed with one of my best friends from high school, against the advice of many people around us.  That didn’t stop us from getting involved in our own things.  I was on House Council while she pursued mock trial.  We lived across the hall from our RA (who would become another of my best friends), and we both became RAs for the rest of our time at Valpo.  

Much like many of the individuals in Student Affairs, this is where I started to find my belonging.  The community that I was a part of was like its own small town, especially as I became more and more involved and developed connections with more people.  I fell in love with the idea of working with college students for the rest of my life.  There were so many different stories to hear and so many different lives to be a part of.  When I decided that I wanted to pursue a degree in Student Affairs and Higher Education, I received an abundance amount support and guidance from everyone I worked with—from our professional staff members to our upper-level administrators.  It took some explaining to my parents what exactly I was doing and why I didn’t want to go into the FBI anymore.  The moment the phrase, “I could be president of a university someday,” came out of my mouth, they were sold.  Their support has never ceased, even though I’m not exactly on the path to take over the family business. 

Sometimes I feel guilty that I’ve moved away and am pursuing another degree.  Even more so now that I’m not ten minutes away to be able to run home and help out with something or run uptown to the market to see Mom while she’s out selling.  These feelings come from a multitude of places.  There are many days when I miss being barefoot in a field, planting vegetables, or digging trenches to save our valuable plants from floods.  I miss helping my family and doing manual labor.  That’s where I’m from and a huge part of who I am.  The work ethic that my parents instilled in me is still one of my driving forces.  I love the work that I’m doing, the field that I am, and the path that I’m on (as unknown as that may actually be).  I know that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing, and I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  

So, should I feel guilty?  Probably not.  My parents worked hard to get to where they are and so that I could be in a position to go to college and follow my dreams.  They have worked hard to be supportive of the decisions that I have made, even if that meant that I decided to move 1,200 miles away from home to go to graduate school.  I have worked hard to get to where I am, and I will continue working hard.  I’m incredibly thankful for the amount of support that I have continued to receive my entire life.  While I am now a 23-year-old woman, making my parents (and several other important figures in my life) proud will always be of importance to me.  Feeling guilty will only hinder my ability to do good and to do well.  These thoughts remind me of one of my favorite quotes: 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
-Nelson Mandela 

As different as the job that I’m doing is from what my family is doing, there is still overlap in the values.  Hard work.  Passion.  Serving others.  This is how we make a difference in the world, one person at a time.  #iSAbecause I want to help students recognize and unlock the potential and passion that each of them have. Regardless of where they come from or where they’re going. 

Blind faith really is sometimes a part of finding that passion.  Let go, and let God.  Work hard towards what you want in life.  While there will inevitably be obstacles, road blocks, and detours, faith and the ability to be critical thinkers will help us prevail.  Discover your passion and unlock your potential, no matter what generation student you are, what your background is, or what your goals are.  You are worth it, and together, we can make a difference.  

In faith, 

Sara Hazel Harrison


  1. I'm glad you didn't give up on your dream of going to Valpo, Sara. It's a better place because of you and your commitment to the community, and it's been a pleasure to watch your career take off from that first year in Lankenau.

    1. Stacy! Thank you. I'm glad to know you and see everything that you've done and are doing! I love being Valpo friends and miss GLACUHO! :)

  2. I'm also glad! Glad I get the chance to work with you now and hopefully for the rest of our careers!

    1. I'm so thankful for you! I love (and think it's crazy) how our paths almost crossed at Valpo, then OPE, and now we're here. #GunsUp!

  3. I have been waiting all week to read this so I could give it my full attention. Amazing. I am so lucky to call you my friend and a future colleague in the field when I start next year! You are the real deal and an incredible woman! Keep up the great work. Love you!

    1. Angie! You're so sweet. I'm so excited to call you my friend and to welcome you back into the field!! You are going to do fantastic things, and I can't wait to hear all of your adventures and hopefully see you soon, too! Love you!

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