Five blank applications sit in front of me. For months, I’ve been telling people the same phrase, symbolizing an entrapping ball and chain, as well as heartbreak: “Because of the situation with my dad, I’m staying close to home.” Never mind that University of Wisconsin – Parkside doesn’t have my majors and Carthage College is too expensive without a full scholarship. I am supposed to do the reasonable, rational thing here.
From the day I set foot in high school, I have been prepped, prodded, and poked to figure out where I would go to college. It should have been fairly simple, considering I knew from the age of nine that I would be a missionary, and soon after I knew that the career I would bring into the mission field was teaching. This is why I entered my freshman year positive that I would be attending Moody Bible Institute.
Moody always seemed like the logical choice. Tuition-paid, focused on ministry, available education majors – it was perfect. It was also a couple hours away, allowing me to come home occasionally on weekends. However, my junior year, Moody was put on the back burner. I was told the college specialized in pastoral training and wouldn’t be a great choice for a missionary in training.
That was the year I was introduced to North Central. I remember going to a college fair where I refused to look at colleges since my heart was still set on Moody. After looking around for the Moody Bible Institute table in vain, I decided to follow a friend around until she stopped at North Central University. After the rep talked to her for a bit, he turned to me.
“And what would you like to do?” His smile was friendly and welcoming, but that didn’t stop me from being rudely dismissive.
“Oh, you wouldn’t have my major. I want to go into mission work.”
“Really? Did you know NCU has the best missions program in the Midwest?”
That’s where it started, where I fell in love with North Central University. I raved about it for months and researched it rigorously. This excitement continued until my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
That day in the hospital, I resigned to attend inexpensive, close-to-home University of Wisconsin – Parkside. Suddenly, it felt like staying with my family was the only option that made sense. The only option I should take.
As my senior year approached, everyone kept asking me the big question: “Where do you plan on attending college?”
I always smiled politely and replied, “Because of the situation with my dad, I’m staying close to home.”
In August, I watched my boyfriend load his car and leave for Liberty University in Virginia, his dream college. As I drove home, I examined my life and everything I was putting on hold “because of the situation with my dad.”
It felt like I was hearing a million different voices:
“Go somewhere inexpensive.”
“Go somewhere close to home.”
“Stay close to your family.”
“Go far away.”
“Get a good education.”
In the days after my boyfriend left, I did a lot of thinking. I thought about Parkside, Carthage, Moody, North Central, and Liberty. I debated what I was expected to do, what I needed to do, and what I wanted to do.
Now five blank applications sit in front of me, and for the first time since my dad’s diagnosis, I am allowing myself to choose.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.