If a year and a half ago someone had told me I would soon be in Divinity School, I would have thought two things: 1. “Here is someone who doesn’t understand that you can do something with a Religious Studies major besides become ordained” and 2. “That is not in my plan.”
Because I had a plan. Inspired by the inordinate number of professors in my family, and by the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship I participated in, I was going to go straight from college into a PhD in religion, continuing to build on the ethnography I did for my senior thesis. I wasn’t going to linger in that PhD either—I was driven, excited, and motivated to take classes, do my research (preferably abroad), write my dissertation, and move on to becoming a professor and living the perks of academia. From watching my mom, I knew that being an academic is a lot of hard work, but I also knew that if you were studying what you loved, it could be one of the best jobs out there.
Eventually, decisions started coming in, and I realized how difficult it is to get accepted into PhD programs without a Master’s degree, no matter how driven you might be. This was a hard thing to come to terms with, since my entire plan hinged on starting a doctoral program immediately. As the rejections rolled in, I started making other life plans, ones that included no school at all, such as opening a catering company or continuing nannying. And then I got my decision from HDS, one of the only yesses, and I allowed myself to think about a different plan.
This new plan involved taking a wide variety of classes, not just the ones that pertained to a narrow field of study. It encouraged exploring my own spirituality as well as diving deeper into the world of interfaith dialogue. It was meeting new people, people who were interested in religion and wanted to talk about it and knew that even with a degree from a divinity school, you didn’t have to become a priest—people who knew that religion was fascinating and important and relevant. This plan was HDS.
I came to the HDS Open House for Admitted Students and met an amazing group of people, people who had interesting things to say about my honors thesis and posed questions I hadn’t even thought about. People who wanted to do religion-related things with their lives. People who told me I had to be sure to read specific authors because their work was relevant to what I was interested in. People who made me think as I got back on the plane, “These are my kind of people.” In my head and in my heart, HDS felt like the right place, a place where I could grow and change and learn and be myself.
In the end, I chose HDS over the one PhD program I was accepted into. When I came to the HDS Open House, it gave me a glimpse into a program that would allow me to explore all my interests. I realized that HDS would really broaden my horizons, both intellectually and personally, and that even if I stayed on the PhD track, my experiences here would be meaningful in ways both within and outside of my academic life. I realized that attending HDS is about more than getting a degree; it is about growing and learning both inside and outside of the classroom, about learning more about yourself in the context of a wonderful community. The PhD option will always be there, but the community at HDS was what I needed at this point in my life, before making long-term commitments and limiting my interests academically.
After a semester at HDS, I know I made the right choice. My new plans are wide open: I might start a bookstore/café/interfaith retreat center with my sister, or work at a local non-profit that serves breakfast and lunch to women every day, or any of a number of other options I haven’t even encountered yet. Or maybe, just maybe, my original plan is just on hold, and I’ll one day find myself with a PhD in religion and a drive to be a professor. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I do know that whatever I do will be shaped by my time at HDS, and I count my blessings every day to have ended up here.