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Of Games and Gods
Opening illustration
by Dana Bigda
If you've ever been privy to a game of Chutes and Ladders or Candyland, you'll probably get a kick out of "Diplomaville," our attempt at capturing the craziness and excitement of the days leading up to Commencement at Hopkins. We've used a familiar formula--moving your game piece progressively along a path in hopes of successfully reaching an ultimate goal. I've gotten to thinking lately about how this formula often mirrors life during college.

After all, the path during those four years is pretty clearly laid out: You've made the dean's list, advance three spaces. The Zeta Zeta Sigmas have asked you to join, move five more. You've landed a summer internship with the non-profit of your dreams, earned an A+ on your calculus final, captured "honors" on your senior thesis--move ahead, ahead, ahead. As a college student you're allowed, encouraged even, to be gloriously self-centered in terms of what you pursue. That's how it should be.

The sobering news for this spring's graduates: This may be the last time your path is so clearly laid out, the last time your goals are so clear-cut, so incontrovertible. In part because there are so many opportunities available today to women and men, I'm betting it will become more difficult than ever in the years ahead to untangle your own professional goals and desires from the goals and desires of those you love. For hard-charging, career-minded college students graduating in 2001, the route to the "goal" post has never been so murky.

Suppose, for instance, you set out to be a shining star in academia, a highly laudable goal that generations of Hopkins graduates have pursued. These days, chances are good that you'll meet your special someone in graduate school, and either tie the knot or make some other kind of long-term commitment. So far, so good. But what happens when you and your significant other hit the job hunt, vying with hundreds of others for a handful of sought-after positions? Are you willing to accept promising posts that will have you living on opposite sides of the country? Put your own career aspirations on hold, follow your spouse, and scrape together an adjunct teaching slate among local community colleges? Play hardball, and demand that the university wooing you also create/find a position for your other half?

Or perhaps it's medicine where you've discovered your calling. Whether you're a female resident or a male resident married to one, you may well find yourself wondering: Where will a baby fit in? With 90-plus hour work weeks, finding time even to get pregnant is the first obstacle to overcome. Once the little bundle finally arrives, the true juggling act begins. The equation seems impossible: two parents times 36-hour days equals what? Better, then, to put off having kids until after the training years are over; by that point, though, you'll be in your mid- to late 30s, an age for women--the headlines constantly remind us--when infertility and birth defects increase.

Of course, these two examples may seem like extremes. But I'd posit you'll face similar dilemmas whether you opt for a career in law, or business, journalism, or engineering. Add an aging infirm parent to the mix, or a child with special needs, and the balancing act becomes exponentially more complex.

Now the heartening news: People do find a way to make it work. For evidence, just dip into this magazine's alumni notes section. Typical entries: "I've taken a year off from my pediatrics residency to spend with our new baby--we've all never been happier!" or, "After living for five years in California for Joanne's job, we've now moved the family to New Haven so that I can start graduate school; the adjustment wasn't easy at first, but now we're all starting to settle in."

Don't fool yourself into thinking any of these "solutions" were easily come by. Chances are they were preceded by months, if not years, of soul-searching, arguments, blind alleys, and even anguish--of goals deferred, rethought, abandoned. Your own road to the goal post won't be easy, but it will probably be worth it. So put your cap and gown in mothballs, and roll up your sleeves.

The hard work has just begun.

Special thanks to the quartet of alumni who "gamely" agreed to stand in as game pieces for "Diplomaville." Older alums may recognize "'40s Fred," the "seasoned veteran who attended college on the GI Bill," as Brent Mathews '49. And if "'50s Phil" looks familiar, that's because he's really Harry Silverwood Jr. '56. Cool-cat "'70s Seth" is Michael Hill '72, in his trademark hat; and outré-preppy "'80s Eileen" is actually Margery Berg Daniels '81.

-Sue De Pasquale

Return to June 2001 Table of Contents

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