M: I see. Is the phenomenon of parent and kids studying together at university a rare case?
W: I am afraid not. Changing careers later in life is no longer a rarity, so it is not uncommon for students and their parents to be toying with big decisions at the same time. Class surveys indicate that the majority of Harvard alumni have shifted directions when it comes to their careers. With the financial collapse of 2008, such shifts have become more widespread. Students have seen their family members lose jobs or change them. Gone is the time when you start out at a company and work there for the rest of your life.
M: So your mom started study again just because she wanted to change her career?
W: Yes, she used to be in the real estate industry but now she wants to be a lawyer.
M: Does her experience affect you somewhat?
W: Certainly. Freshman Week, in one of the welcoming speeches, our dean mentioned that many of us might have grown up thinking that "doctor, lawyer, teacher" were our only option. She urged us to stick to our dream. But later I realized talking about passions is one thing--- actually following them is another. By the time I started to think about what professional directions I might want to take, I had heard "The average American changes careers seven times" so often that it was hard not to become numb to its message. The last thing that the enthusiastic Harvard student wants to do is to imagine moving from job to job until she lands somewhere by chance, especially when the economy is so uncertain. My mom can serve as a good example. Even if she graduated from Harvard herself as a brilliant student, she has to make alterations of her career.
M: So, is your mom actually happy studying with younger students?
W: Hard to say. Frustration is routine for older students, you know, who have to learn how to study all over again. Mom once described the experience of taking classes with students half her age after 30 years in the workforce: "What's most challenging is that you come into class knowing how to make a cake--- but you're all there to make omelets."
M: A kind of wasting time?
M: Do you think your mom has played an important role in shaping your idea of what kind of person you want to be?
W: Absolutely. Harvard offers many resources for students who want to figure out where their future lies. Advisers, tutors, and OCS keep their doors open to help undergraduates embark on this kind of discovery. One can't find one's passions in a booklet on summer internships or a list of possible career paths. It's a gradual process that involves sharing thoughts and then coming back to them; a discussion that doesn't always have its end goal in mind. In the course of my time at Harvard, it has been just such a give-and-take --- with professors, with friends, and with my mother --- that has slowly shaped my ideas of who I might want to be. I really cherish the time she spent together with me at university.
M: Well, Maggie. Thank you very much for staying with us today.
W: My pleasure.