For as long as I can remember, I have known exactly who I wanted to be: Amy Gardner, founder of the Democratic Women’s Forum on “The West Wing” and my personal feminist hero. Amy, while fictional, was everything I wanted to be: qualified, intelligent and witty, running circles around Republican men with her disarming charm and sharp political mind. Becoming this giant of a woman would not be easy — especially for a second-grader — but I knew it was exactly for me. I spent the coming years building my resume with an internship after AP classes with a glowing recommendation letter until I had traversed the bounds of my high school’s offerings. I did everything in my power to put me on the path towards Amy.
And it worked.
I got into my dream school as a political science major. But the summer after I graduated high school, I opted to take a full-time position at my local JCC preschool over an unpaid courthouse internship. It couldn’t hurt to take a break from being a student over the summer, and a laid-back position like this would guarantee plenty of time for beach trips. It wasn’t more than a week later that I was spending my Friday nights cutting up paper plates and sorting googly eyes. I had never been happier, and that terrified me.
I came home crying from work about as often as I came home bubbling with joy, beaten down by tough kids on their worst days but always full of hope. I grew to love puzzles and community gardens, spent hours researching Reggio Emilia v. Montessori and laid awake at night thinking about lesson plans. This work filled me with hope, joy and excitement, but also broke my heart in a million different ways. I was challenged in a way I had never experienced before and it was exhilarating.
All this time, I thought I knew where I was going. All those years people had advised me to be patient, be more laid back, be open and I ignored them. Everyone advised me to take my time with deciding what I wanted to do with my life, but I thought I knew better.
With a tactful smile and gentle voice, I used to say, “When you know, you know. I have always known.” But now? In my gut, I knew teaching was what I wanted, but I was suddenly so afraid to leap. What would it mean to suddenly change everything I thought I wanted? I had worked so hard to get here, and it was scary to think that I no longer wanted to be on the path I had chosen so many years ago.
Since my tearful goodbye to the Turquoise Room friends and arrival on campus, I have done a complete 180. The senior year version of myself, the girl who dreamed of eating district attorneys for breakfast and camping out in the law library, would not recognize the current me. My bedroom walls are now plastered in children’s drawings from the first classroom I ever called home — and which I now know will not be the last. Where I once saw visions of me girl-bossing my way to the top of an NYC law firm, I can imagine the kids I will teach and support through their most formative years. I can see the difference I will make, not with a major Supreme Court case, but in a thousand little lives I will get to be part of.
Letting go of the Amy Gardner future was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, not because it was what I wanted, but because it meant letting go of a big part of my life. It meant growing up into a version of myself that the people in my life didn’t expect — which is terrifying for somebody who has always lived within the confines of other people’s expectations.
I was used to accolades and approval, and so choosing to major in education seems like such an odd choice to everyone else in my life. I have lived my life by the world’s yardstick of success my entire life: line leader, straight-A student, mock trial captain, United Synagogue Youth board member, Nelson fellow and AP Student.
For the first time in my life, the only person to please is myself. I love law, legalese, debating policy and analyzing current political events. But I feel the most like myself, the most fulfilled and inspired and passionate when I’m in a classroom, trying to figure out why Tyler is suddenly struggling with self-control, and celebrating when Julia finally figures out how to open her lunchbox without assistance.
College is about growing up, about finding out who you are and what you want. And sometimes that means taking a hard look at what you’ve always thought was certain and realizing that you need something completely different. When you meet passionate, educated and determined professionals who make a difference every day in their job, it’s impossible not to want to emulate that. Amy Gardner will always be one of my heroes, but she’s not me. And that’s not only okay, but it’s also exactly as it should be.