The phone call that changed my entire life

The ringing phone pierced pre-dawn silence. Dripping from a fast shower, I ran to pick up the kitchen receiver before the call woke my parents.

On the line, my best friend from high school, inviting me to attend college. In Nebraska.

The conversation went something like this:

Heather: “I’m working in the recruiting office and we want you to come attend school here. We’ll work out financial aid. The school will pay for your airfare and everything!”

Me: “Wow! When would I have to decide?”

Heather: “Umm, well, you’d have to be here tomorrow because of the census deadline.”

Me: “Tomorrow?”

Heather: “Tomorrow.”

I don’t remember how long it took me to decide. I’m certain that I discussed it with my parents when they woke up. What I do know is that morning I quit my job, signed up for my first credit card and packed up most of my earthly possessions into two suitcases and one ugly duffel bag. In less than 24 hours from that phone call, I was on a plane from Sacramento to Lincoln, Nebraska to start my freshman year of college nearly a month late.



Youngins. A freshman Shawna and Heather, at the banquet, of course.

I told a version of that story week before last during a job interview when someone asked me a “How did you get to academia?” type question and I admitted “I was never planning to go to college.”

Well, I’d loosely planned to, but financial aid fell through at the last minute and I found myself working for just above minimum wage as a financial planner’s secretary. With no real models of what going to college looked like, I resigned myself to menial labor and envied my college-going friends from afar.

So often I’ve asked myself what would have happened if I’d said no. If I wasn’t brave. If I wasn’t a little reckless to quit a job with no notice, to choose an uncertain financial future in a Midwestern state where I knew but one person.

Looking back, I only feel gratitude. Immense gratitude that my dear friend Heather happened to see a book in a shop window that reminded her of me: the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. And I am so lucky that the powers-that-be at Union College took a chance on me. It’s without exaggeration that I say: that phone call changed my entire life.

I had a year away from family turmoil to work out my issues, grow up a bit, learn how to be more self-sufficient… to understand debt and unemployment… to learn about incredible kindness and the value of “found family” and adoptive “other mothers” and “other fathers.”

That year led me to Walla Walla College where I ultimately graduated, which brought me to Adventist Health where I worked and re-met Mr. T, which led to my master’s work at Sac State, which led to the crazy journey that was Ph.D. school, and enabled me all along the way to meet new friends and mentors. I can’t (and I don’t think I want to) imagine what life would have been like without that phone call.

Thanks, HeKampf!


National Blog Posting Month:

Day 14- Cliteracy

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