"So, what is it that you do?"
As a server, and particularly as a server dressed like a firefighter, I would get this question a lot. "Surely," they were really saying, "that red shirt and black suspenders couldn't represent every one of your current ambitions."
"I'm in school," I would respond, with my bright server-smile and nod.
"Oh, wonderful," they would reply, with an even bigger smile.
(I never understood why people were so enthusiastic about my being in school. As far as I knew, it was just what people did when they were my age.)
"What are you going to school for?"
"I'm a Humanities major."
"Oh." And then came that face they all made every time: the smile was still there, but I could always see right through it to the confusion or even skepticism. The slight squint of the eyes is what usually gave them away.
"What will you do with that?" I think they asked this for their own sake more than for mine. They wouldn't be able to sleep that night if they knew there was a young person out there paying money (borrowing, even) for a degree in Humanities and no brilliant idea as to how they would earn that money back.
"I guess I'll teach. Either that or be a very educated homeless person," and we would both laugh as I ran off to get them their sweet tea.
How is someone who has majored in Humanities (yes, in general) supposed to get a job?
This was a funny thing we martyrs of the universities laughed about with each other and I even used as a boilerplate server joke (I apologize to anyone holding onto the idea that their server makes up those jokes just for them).
To be honest, I was never really worried about finding a job while I was in college. That could have something to do with being surrounded by so many others in the same boat. We were like lemmings: surely this wasn't any kind of suicide - there were so many in front of me and behind me.
In the fall of my senior year, I heard of this wonderful program called Teach for America. Program. What a lovely word, especially for a college student who, despite all of the quests for independence, would really like nothing more than for someone to tell them what to do.
As soon as I heard about it, I was sold. I submitted my application in January and by February I had passed my phone interview and was preparing for my day-long interview in Knoxville - writing a lesson for high school students about the social commentary in Oliver Twist.
I chose this topic because I had written an essay on it during my semester in Oxford. That's right, Oxford. These interviewers had no idea what they were in for. I had this. I knew I had this. This was clearly where my life was going. I needed the program and the program needed me. I would teach underprivileged children for two years all while earning a graduate degree, loan forgiveness and, gasp, a salary!
The day on which I was to receive the email containing my school-assignment (where I would teach for two years), I was spring breaking on a large boat in the middle of the ocean, with no internet access that I cared to pay for. I spent the whole week enjoying myself and wondering at the new life I would begin in only a couple of short months.
As soon as the boat docked in Florida, I turned my phone on and called my mom. I had given her my email account login information so that she could check the assignment for me.
"Hi Mom, we're back in Florida. Where are they sending me?" I had no time for small talk about islands and sunburns. I could barely speak through my smile! She didn't answer right away and my mind went wild with thoughts of the possibilities: Boston, San Diego, or even North Carolina. Sure, it was less exciting, but at least I'd be near my family.
She still didn't answer me. It had only been a few seconds, but I was impatient.
"Mom? Where did they offer me a position?" I put my finger in my other ear, in case I just wasn't hearing her.
Fast forward two months.
Location: A restaurant near my (parents') house, North Carolina
"Would you like toast or an English muffin with your omelet?"
"Oh, toast is fine. So, are you in school?"
"Well, I just graduated a couple of weeks ago."
"What did you study?"
"Oh. That's nice. What will you do with that?"
"You're looking at it."
We both laugh.