What My Mother Taught Me

Having skipped out of high school after my junior year, I arrived at the University of Maryland a newly minted 17-year-old. Accompanied by my parents, we moved my stuff into my dorm room and headed to the armory to register for my freshman classes. This was a decade before class registration was moved online. Together, my parents and I waited in the various lines. Freshman English, check. Math 101, check. Biology, check. Intro to business management, check. And then it was time for electives so off we went to the registration desk for the dance department. “Sorry,” the woman behind the desk said. “You can’t take that class unless you are a dance major.”

“What?” I said. “I can’t take any dance classes unless I’m a dance major?”

“Well, you can take intro to dance movement,” she said. “Oh and ballet level 1.”

“But I’m ballet level 4,” I argued. “And what about jazz? And modern?” The woman behind the registration desk was unmoved.

“Sorry, those classes are only open to dance majors.”

Now, I had no intention of pursuing a career in dance -- I planned to graduate with a degree in business. But throughout high school, I had averaged three hours of dance classes each day after school. It was a hobby but one about which I was passionate and had assumed I would continue into college. In fact, I had chosen the University of Maryland specifically because it boasted both an excellent business school and an extensive dance department.

“You wait right here,” my mother said. And off she went with the purposeful stride that she continues to this day, now in her 80s. She returned 45 minutes later and handed me a slip of paper. “You don’t have to declare as a business major until your junior year so for now, you’re a dance major,” she said. “Take whatever classes you want.”

I have no idea if my mother remembers that day, though I suspect she does. But I’m not sure if she knows how clearly I remember that day or the lessons I learned:

Be willing to fight for the things you want.

Sometimes, the path to what you want is neither straight nor obvious.

Don’t give up.