Monday, August 5, 2013

Choices Considered

Do you remember a choice made -- maybe years ago, maybe yesterday -- that turned out to be so life-changing, so miraculously right, that you're filled with wonder every time you think about it?

Fifty years ago this month, I was preparing to make a life change that had consequences more far-reaching than I ever could have imagined: I was getting ready to leave my parents' home in Los Angeles to go to college -- sight unseen -- at Northwestern University near Chicago.

Looking back, I'm grateful to my 18-year-old self for overcoming the fear of traveling by myself to a place I had never seen, to a place where I knew no one, to a university well-known for its excellent academics, especially in journalism, and for its competitiveness. That was quite a step for a shy teenager who had never traveled, never flown before, never gone anywhere alone.

I'm also grateful to the university, not only for a great education, but also for generous financial aid and work study opportunities.

And I'm grateful to my parents for letting me go. My father was unemployed and they couldn't afford to pay for my college education but they encouraged me to find a way to go nevertheless. Their preference would have been UCLA, my father's and Aunt Molly's alma mater, that was less than an hour from our house. But they trusted me to know what I wanted and needed at that stage of my life. Despite the emotional toll on both in terms of worry, they sent me off with kisses and good wishes.

And what a difference that made in my life: to feel the emotional support from home and to enjoy the mentoring, lessons in academics and in life and wonderful friendships I found at Northwestern.

But for all its benefits, this wasn't a choice lightly made. Late in my senior year of high school -- holding acceptances from Northwestern, UCLA and Stanford (at my high school, we were only allowed three college applications) -- I had brainstormed with Sister Ramona about my choices. Northwestern was my first choice, but I worried about the expense and that I would end up taking out student loans before I was through. Sister Ramona smiled and said "So you take out student loans and you pay them back. No one can take away the education and the experiences you'll have there."

She was so right. It took ten years of lifestyle sacrifices after college and graduate school to pay the loans back, but I never minded. The wisdom of that choice -- to leave home, to live someplace besides California, to put considerable mileage between myself and all that was familiar, to reach toward the school offering the biggest challenge both personally and professionally -- resonates to this day.

It resonates in the writing career I might never have had if I hadn't made the choice to go there. It resonates in memories of lessons learned and a sense of belonging, then and now. It resonates in some of the most treasured relationships of my life.

And so I make donations to the Northwestern scholarship fund on a regular basis to help students with dreams but few resources have the advantage of such a wonderful education. And during my 45th class reunion there last fall, I decided to give back a bit in a different way -- by making a promotional video for Northwestern. This video, just posted a month ago, has brought an unexpected blessing. 

This morning I got an email from another Northwestern journalism alum named Karen Page, class of 1983, whom I have never met. Her name was familiar and I suddenly realized why when I checked her website: She is the two-time James Beard Award-winning author of Becoming a Chef, Culinary Artistry, Dining Out, Chef's Night Out, The New American Chef, What to Drink With What You Eat, The Flavor Bible, The Food Lovers Guide to Wine and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

Karen felt moved to write after watching the above video and let me know that, many years ago, I unknowingly influenced her college choice. So she wrote:

"I'm about to attend my first Northwestern reunion (my 30th) this fall, and you are key to my having ended up there:  I admired your writing in 'TEEN magazine back in the 1970s, and learning that you had studied journalism at Northwestern first put it on my map of awareness.

You have my heartfelt thanks for writing so engagingly that it captured my attention, for attending the country's #1 undergraduate journalism school, and for inspiring me to do the same through your example.

It was also one of the best decisions I ever made!"

I was deeply moved.

And I wondered how often we all influence the life of another -- a stranger or a loved one -- without ever knowing.

I felt so grateful to Karen, a busy and accomplished professional, for remembering and for taking the time to reach out and to let me know that one of my very best choices in life was also her own.


  1. I think that last paragraph is the biggie -- we don't know the outcomes of the decisions we make at the time and often they are life changing for good or ill. But we also never know how we will change the life of others, hopefully for good as you did for Karen. And we should try to live each day as well as possible, hoping that maybe something we do will stick somewhere!

    I listened to every word -- it was wonderful to see you talking "in person"(sort of!) To hear your lovely voice with that familiar face made me smile indeed!

  2. Bravo! What a moving and absolutely meaningful piece. Congratulations to you for so profoundly touching lives (and for reaching into an incredibly deep well of bravery when you were 18) and kudos to Karen to expressing her gratitude.

  3. It was very nice to hear you speak! You have a lovely presence on camera and you're a great ambassador for your alma mater. University was a life-changing experience for me also, but in a different way - socially. I'm not sure that's a recommended reason for spending that much money, but it did have a huge impact on who I am today; I outgrew much of my shyness and met so many people from different places and backgrounds ... things that would not have happened in my little village. It's still an education, I suppose, just a different kind :)

  4. That was so nice.
    I was looking forward to moving on with my life after High School.
    I thought it was a very exciting time for me as I ventured into a world that knew so much more than I did.
    It's nice to be able to touch lives and do nice things for people.

  5. Glad you shared this video with us! I'm sure that your conversational mode did wonders for new recruits. Yes, indeed, we never know whom we touch.

  6. I'm afraid I'm on a poor internet connection and can't watch the video, Kathy, but I loved this post and think you're so right about the importance of our choices. That was a very brave decision of your younger self and I'm glad that your writing about it made a life-changing difference to another person. These links are wonderful.

  7. I hardly know how to respond to this post. I think my thoughts are so private that I will send you an email.

    I loved the video. It was so nice to hear your voice, see your smile, and actually hear your story. Bravo.

  8. It was wonderful watching this video. I am so happy that I did not miss this post because I would of missed your video.
    Seeing you and hearing your voice has made my day. lol
    So glad that a fellow alumni took the time to write you and let you know what an influence you were in her life.
    Your such an inspiration to all of us.

  9. PS
    I wanted to thank you so much for coming by and leaving such a nice comment about my family. Kaci and Bailey seem to make such a impression on me every time I am lucky enough to spend time with them but hearing from you makes me really proud.
    I know the experience with their Dad was horrific for them but thank goodness they held it together. Something I am sure when I was their age I might not have done.
    Their parents spend lots of quality time with them and it is showing thank goodness in their day to day experiences.
    As always I loved spending time here on your site. Doing so always brings me joy.

  10. Thank you for that video. After reading you, it was wonderful hearing you as well.

  11. It was lovely to see you and hear you speak. Reading blogs gives one a perception of the author that may or may not be accurate. Your poise and ease in speaking on camera are wonderful, I'm sure your alma mater was thrilled to have someone of your caliber give such a presentation. As well, it gave me, a reader, a glimpse of you live, thank you for that.

  12. Dear Kathy, I so enjoyed listening to you and watching you on the video. I've always learned from your postings, which make me ponder my own life and my relationships. And so I've felt close to you in spirit. But when you wrote that wonderfully compassionate and generous posting in July about relationships that become, for some reason, dysfunctional, you won my deep affection. And so seeing you "in person" on this video and hearing your voice is a gift--you seem even more present in my life. Thank you.

    And I'm sure Northwestern University is also grateful to you for this video. I've always heard such good things about Northwestern, especially its journalism program, and you certainly are, as the saying goes--"the proof that is in the pudding." (Is that right? I'm not sure I quoted that correctly!!!!)


  13. Dear Kathy, I’m thrilled to bits to see the ‘real you' and hear your voice. You come across as a really warm and sensitive person and I love the way you talk about your alma mater. It sounds totally genuine.

    Now I know who it is who writes these sincere and wise posts.

  14. Hi Kathy, What an awesome post... You wrote it on my 71st birthday!!!!!! I'm just now catching up! Love the video--makes me feel much closer to you, and I feel as if I know a real celebrity... Congrats for such a wonderful life you have had..

    Choices, huh????? I made some good ones--and like most of us, I also made some not so good ones.. BUT--my best choice ever was when I left Texas (left my kids/grands down there) --and came to Tennessee. That's when I met George Adams. WOW---what a great choice!!!!!!

    That was nice of Karen Page ... We never know who WE have influenced during our lives, do we?

    I took some classes at Garrett Evangelical when I was working on my master's degree. That's as close as I have gotten to Northwestern...

  15. Watching you Kathy, was like old times. You are so much the same. Lots of Love,