June 2, 2015

What Now?

The world being presented to those just entering the workforce is vastly different from the one given to those who graduated just four years ago, and exponentially different from the one of a generation ago. Assistant editor Stephen Chavez recently interviewed four young adults about the concerns and challenges they face as they look toward the future, as well as the influences that helped shape their lives to this point.

What words would you use to describe yourself?

AZIZ: Dedicated and determined. I like to think I am someone who puts others before myself.

DEVER: I’ve been hearing this word a lot to describe me: vibrant. I would also say passionate, outspoken, caring, and hardworking.

OLIVER: I’m driven, passionate, but still laid-back. It’s an interesting combination, but I make it work.

POIRIER: I’m definitely a people person. I’m usually happy and cheerful. I’m pretty easygoing and laid-back. I like to do my best, so I’m pretty determined when I have a task in front of me.

What do you see as your biggest current challenge?

I’m transitioning right now. I’ve worked at three Adventist academies, boarding schools, and I’ve been a dean at each. I have felt that this is my passion, this is my calling, I love doing this. . . . But totally out of the blue, I was told I would not be rehired next year.

Right now I’m finishing a thesis, and that’s certainly my most immediate challenge. . . . I’m looking forward to applying the knowledge I’ve obtained over the past two years—over the past six years, including my undergrad work.

I’m looking for a job working in developing communities, consulting for water and sanitation programs, primarily in other countries, even while I realize that there are issues with water and sanitation here in the [United] States.

Right now my biggest challenge is all the questions and unknowns about the future and graduation. The only thing I’m sure of is the graduation process. I’m definitely graduating. But I’m still job hunting. I don’t know where I’m going to end up yet.

Over the past couple months I’ve felt that there are more obstacles coming my way. But I just have to pray through them, work through them, believe that everything’s going to be OK and that God is going to make sure of that.

How do you see yourself fitting into your career field?

I’m mostly focusing on developing countries, water and sanitation in developing countries. In the world of international aid, a lot of organizations or people just throw money at problems. This village doesn’t have access to water or access to sanitation services, whether it is toilets or removal of waste, so we’re just going to throw money at the problem; we’re not going to understand the context of the solution we are proposing. A lot more needs to be done before you just give money to somebody. You have to understand cultural contexts, and you have to work closely with communities to understand what their needs are.

[Teaching] is a really good fit for me. I’ve learned a lot. I’m doing student teaching right now, and I’m finally able to put everything I’ve learned in my classes into practice. . . . I love music, and I want to instill that in kids. I love seeing how their faces and attitudes change. Some kids may struggle in other subjects; they may be stressed out with everything. But when they come to music class, they can have fun and express themselves. That’s rewarding for me.

As a future nurse, I’ve found that working one-on-one with patients in a hospital setting has opened my eyes to realize that this is what God planned for me to do. I really enjoy working with people, knowing that I can do something to help someone.

I’m looking for a job, either as a full-time assistant or full-time head dean in an Adventist academy. But I’m not limiting myself to that, because I no longer see it as something I can do for the rest of my life. The burnout rate for deans is two years, and I’ve done it for three already. I want to do it more. I’m trying to expand my horizons. I’ve been told since I was a kid that you’re going to have to reinvent yourself three or four times in your career, so you can’t stick to one job for 50 years, like many in my parents’ generation.

Other than your parents or grandparents, who are your role models?

I think of my sister, Ellen, as a role model. She’s somebody I look up to a lot for many reasons. She’s successful and smart and makes good choices, so I look up to her.

One of my professors here at Southern, Laurie Minner, is in charge of the orchestra and also teaches music. I look up to her because she has a great way of interacting with students, great ideas about music, and she’s really passionate about it. She’s a very strong Christian woman.

Another person I consider a mentor is a former pastor of mine. Shawn Paris has always given me a lot of really good advice. I trust his opinions.

My two older brothers. As I grew up, they both kept an eye out for me. They are not only successful in what they set out to do; they demonstrate their kindness and compassion through their actions and love for friends, family, and God. These are all characteristics I strive for on a daily basis.

My high school English teacher, Myrna Candelaria. . . . She works very hard to have all her students succeed. She’s a great teacher with such strong character. She taught me a lot, both inside and outside the classroom. . . . She’s an amazing Christian, the epitome of a Christian woman.

The head [girls’] dean at Monterey Bay Academy, Elaine Posthumus, is a super-hardworking give-it-your-all sort of person. She’s very organized and has a passion for what she does. She’s someone who jumps out of her comfort zone to follow God and trust Him.

I took a class from Courtney Woods about global health inequalities, and it was a great class. It wasn’t like a professor/student relationship; it was like we were all just talking. We were able to talk about different health disparities around the world and understanding the context behind them. She facilitated that in a great way. She was a great professor.

My advisor, Jackie McDonald-Gibson, was helpful and supportive. If you’re being a mentor, she’s a great example of being kind, gracious, and supportive.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse, story, or character with which you identify?

One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” This verse gives me the assurance and comfort from God that everything will work out, even if things may not seem to be going as planned.

The story of Ruth and Boaz. [A Week of Prayer speaker] was talking about how Boaz is like Jesus, like God, and every one of us is Ruth. And God wants to marry us. He wants to know us. . . . That was kind of an epiphany. I’ve really clung to that. In the past couple days I’ve said, “That’s so great; He cares, and in the end that’s all that matters.”

The Bible is a huge source of inspiration. [Jesus] is our most important role model. . . . When you see how Christians are sometimes portrayed in the media, it’s less about the life of Jesus, how He walked on earth and the way He lived His life, and more about some of the small details that might not be so important. But if we follow the way Jesus lived His life, we’ll be better off.

My favorite Bible text is 2 Corinthians 4. I actually love the entire chapter, but my favorite verses are 16-18. They mean a lot to me because they talk about not losing heart, and though it seems like we may have a lot of troubles, they’re only temporary. . . . I’ve always enjoyed the story of Moses in Exodus. There are a lot of stories within that story of Moses. It’s been interesting to see how it works out.

Do you have a favorite song that you keep going back to?

There’s one by Coldplay called “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall.” One of the lines is “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop.” I just love that line because so often we get comfortable, and we just nestle into life and don’t really challenge ourselves or get out of our comfort zones and think of others as often as we should.

Music in general grounds me. I always go back to fusion, because there are a lot of great melodies mixed with complexities.

“Smile,” by Chris Rice. It’s been out for years, but it’s always at the top of my list. I love that song; the music and lyrics are really great.

I love all types of music; it really depends on my mood. One song I often return to is “How He Loves,” by the David Crowder Band.

How does money feature in your career plans?

My goal for a career is doing something I can receive fulfillment from, something that allows me to feel I’m helping others in some way, making a difference in some way, no matter how small. As long as I’m able to do that, and live comfortably, that’s enough for me.

I’m heading into the teaching profession, and I know that the salaries of teachers aren’t always the best or the highest. So I know I’m not going to be the richest person. But that’s OK, because I know that what I will be doing will actually make a lot of difference in children’s lives. And for me, that means more than money.

When it came to choosing a job, I never really stressed about money or the financial aspects of it. I focused on what I would enjoy as a person and having a job I would enjoy waking up to every day. Knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life is far greater than the value of a dollar.

I don’t want to be rich. I want to do what I love to do, but be secure. I want to have enough money not to worry, I want to have enough money to raise several children and support them in college and those sorts of things. Being rich is not something I want; I want to be secure and frugal.

What recent events have brought your world into sharper focus?

The biggest thing is the whole concept of the future, and not knowing what’s going to happen. Especially with times getting worse, and getting closer to the end of time, everything is even more uncertain about how things are going to be, and everything is so unexpected. That unknown future is kind of hard to deal with.

[Recently getting engaged] has opened my eyes to a lot of things. It has taught me that long-distance relationships take a lot of work. But it’s worthwhile when you can share your life and love for God with your best friend. It has also taught me how to be open to new circumstances and accept new situations.

The growing racial tension, the underlying racial tension in our country coming to the surface, has very much impacted me. It’s something that is close to home. . . . I identify with it, and I think I could do more to effect a positive change.

The killing of unarmed citizens by the police. . . . Also, I’m in the School of Public Health, so the Ebola crisis, seeing the way it was handled, and is being handled, was interesting. Thinking about how it could have been handled better, how ministries of health and health departments around the world could be better prepared to handle those types of situations.

What part does spirituality play in your plans for the future?

My life revolves around my spiritual connection with God, and putting all my faith and hope in Him. I know that God has the best plans for me. Whatever that is, I hope that my life will revolve around that.

It’s a huge part of my professional future. I’m constantly asking God what He wants me to do, and what decisions He wants me to make. At every step of my trajectory I’ve always asked God what He thought was best, prayed for guidance. It’s been helpful. I am where I am because of that connection.

It’s the number one thing for me, especially during the times of having all these questions about where I’m headed. That’s when faith has to come out the strongest. Because that’s all I have to go on: that God will lead me there. . . . God is my strength; He gets me through. [Spirituality] is a big part of my life.

I interviewed for two head dean jobs last summer. I had just finished my second year of task force work as assistant dean in the girls’ dorm at a fairly large school. And I had two schools wanting to interview me.

Both these schools flew me out and asked me tons of questions. Neither of them offered me a job. I was ready to believe I could do it, but neither of them were interested. It was a shock to my confidence, but I had been praying that God would open the doors that needed to be opened, and close the doors that needed to be closed.

The only offer left on the table was from North Dakota. It was for a “full-time” assistant dean. I didn’t want to go—because it was North Dakota. But God did what I asked. He closed the other doors and opened this one. But I was so impressed, because we’ve had a lot of major, major difficulties in our dorm this year; large, complex issues that I had no experience when I was interviewed for those other jobs.

God knew what He was doing. He prepared me here, so much more, so much better, than I was a year ago. God taught me many things, stuff I had no knowledge of when I interviewed for those other jobs.

God knew what He was preparing me for. Now I’m that much better, that much stronger, to face the next challenge. . . . God has my back. He prepared a way for me before, He will do it again, and all I have to do is trust Him. He will open the doors that have to be opened and close the doors that have to be closed. It makes my life pretty easy when I think of it like that.