What could be geekier than three aid professionals, sitting around a poolside restaurant which overlooks the Atlantic ocean, contemplating not the beauty of the natural splendors unfolding beneath them but the merits of 150% direct loan subsidy limits? Well, I’ll tell you: three aid professionals, sitting around a poolside restaurant which overlooks the Atlantic ocean, contemplating not the beauty of the natural splendors unfolding beneath them but the merits of British and American poetry. This unabashed display of geekery was how I spent part of an evening at the EASFAA conference, with an old friend and a new friend, talking about our favorite Shakespearean plays and sonnets, analyzing John Donne’s “The Flea”, and reciting lines from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.
As my fellow literary geek reminded me, the final stanza of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” goes like this:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I can’t help but to think back fondly on this conversation and frame it in the context of being a financial aid professional. I believe that we aid professionals have, by and large, done the same as Frost’s speaker; we took the road less traveled by. How many colleagues do you know who stumbled their way into a career in financial aid? Did you find yourself here without really expecting to? I certainly did! When I hear the stories of my colleagues, seemingly few of them set out to end up where we’re all going, sometimes kicking and screaming, yet steadfastly, together. Maybe we set out on another road entirely, but we find ourselves wandering our way down this road because of dumb luck or happy coincidence or sincere cluelessness. And if we’re crazy enough, we persevere on our paths, and even learn to love the trip.
During one of the conference’s general sessions, we learned all about policy agenda from NASFAA’s president Justin Draeger. Justin asked us to raise our hands if we have been in the profession for more than five years. My hand was among the many to shoot into the air. Justin then broke the news to all of us hand wagglers: those of us who have been in aid for five to seven years are likely to remain in aid for the rest of our working lives (and, in the case of some retirees I know, for a chunk of our retired lives as well). For whatever reason, once we reach that five year threshold, we rarely seem to turn back or diverge from our paths.
Justin confirmed what I always suspected to be true: once we find ourselves in this profession, we tend to stick around. Young aid professionals have so many established leaders surrounding and mentoring them. NASFAA honored one of the long-time hikers of the financial aid road during the conference. Past EASFAA president Barbara Miller from Stevenson University was awarded a regional leadership award for all that she has done through the years to serve the financial aid community. In her acceptance speech, Barbara quoted Jack Benny. She said, “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either”.
I am home now from the conference, trying to readjust to this fickle Mid-Atlantic weather after a week of Caribbean sunshine. I left my EASFAA friends behind, as I always do, with a bit of sadness; I relish the brief time we spend together. Aside from genuinely enjoying their company, I am continually energized by my colleagues’ dedication to and passion for our profession. And I am sure I will be on this road for quite a while. I am grateful that the road I chose to travel by has brought me to them, and that has made all of the difference.