Noodle Expert Meredith Graham discusses the importance of seeing America, what she learned from failing an organic chemistry exam, and why saying (and hearing) "no" can help us in the long run.
Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?
This is a really hard question for me — I have a lot of interests, so I seem to want to learn everything from everyone. Since I have to pick just one, though, I'd go with my grandfather as my teacher. When he was alive, I wasn't interested in gardening, so I never really paid attention to the tips and tricks he shared about growing things (especially his tomatoes — wow!). Now, I wish I'd listened more. He was a wonderful gardener and he loved it so much!
What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?
Oddly enough, it's the advice, "No is an answer, too." Sometimes, the "no" is in the form of deciding not to do something, like ruling out a college major or an elective class, or quitting a hobby that isn't enjoyable anymore. And sometimes I'm on the receiving end of that "no" — from a job or college application, or an audition for a role in a show. Learning to say, recognize, and accept "no" as a valid answer is really hard, but it's a useful life skill. It's rarely comfortable in the moment (especially when I'm on the receiving end), but once I move beyond the sting, I find that there are other opportunities that are just as good — if not better — than the one that was the source of the "no."
Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?
I think that traveling within the U.S. is underrated, quite frankly, so I'd send a student to a region of the country she's never visited before. I've lived in eight states (as well as in three of the four quadrants of Ohio) and it's often shocking how much difference there is a few hours down the road, let alone across the country! I think many of us have (mis)perceptions of different parts of the country, and it's good to challenge our own assumptions. I can't tell you how surprised I was at just how much I liked Tulsa, Huntsville, and Kansas City. And how NYC really doesn't do much for me. (Sorry, NYC, you're just not a good fit for me.)
When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?
My first F on a college exam (in second semester organic chemistry) was pretty devastating, but I still insisted on finishing the class without help. Sure, I studied with friends, but I refused to get a tutor. I needed a C-minus in the class for my major, and I just barely eked that out. The next year when I struggled in physics, I "caved" and got a tutor. In some ways, that was harder — I remember feeling like suddenly it was a PUBLIC failure, and that tutors were for other people but I was "too smart" for that. I was incredibly embarrassed about it. But it helped me so much! I had a much harder time with physics than I had with organic chemistry, but once I started with the tutor, my grades crept up and I ended up passing the class without much fear at the end of the semester. I finally realized that asking for help when you need it is a sign of far greater strength than pretending you don't need help at all, and I shared that advice loudly and repeatedly with many of my advisees at Purdue.
Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?
My first job in college was in the admissions office at Wooster, and I loved pretty much everything about it. My supervisor, Kate, taught me so very much and grew to trust me with lots of different responsibilities. Even then, I still somehow thought that working in college admissions was something you did until you could find a "real job." (Sorry, Kate.) It wasn't until late in my senior year that I realized admissions and student affairs were real, legitimate career paths that I was interested in pursuing. And it was another decade (and a brief detour through corporate R&D) before I realized that I am most passionate about helping students and families with issues and questions surrounding college choices. The place it differs most from my expectations is how constant the "college process" fear is for families these days. It's definitely a challenge to help families listen past the drumbeat of fear and help them through own their process with confidence and joy. Even on days when it's tiring, though, I love every little victory of sanity over dread.