Choosing answers for four years of questions

Editor’s Note: This is Eleanor Van Buren’s final column for the Review. She starts school at Oberlin College on Sept. 4.

I was thrilled to set up my new college email account, complete with a hybrid username of my first and last names and “.edu” address but less thrilled to see the incoming student surveys that filled my inbox. Eleanor Van Buren

One was about substance abuse prevention with a focus on alcohol. My answers (thankfully) were “does not apply.”

Another was sent from incoming seniors on the track and field team at Oberlin College, where I will be attending, asking the team, new members and old members alike, get-to-know-you questions, including what Disney princess we resemble. I was Belle from “The Beauty and the Beast.”

Conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at University of California-Los Angeles, the third (and hopefully final) questionnaire appearing in my inbox was a national survey for incoming college students. My school was asked to participate.For 10 minutes, I clicked on small bubbles that marked my answers to questions relating to my personal self, my political self and my social self. Mostly the survey was aimed at my future self and what I expect and hope a college education will do for me.

Some of my answers were obvious, as I mindlessly clicked away. Then there was a section with rows of scenarios, activities and responsibilities. Above were columns stating the likelihood of my participation in areas of “college involvement.”

For each row, I had to answer whether I believed there was a “very good chance” of my participation or obligation during my time in college or not. The rows ranged from whether I would “get a job to help pay for college expenses” or “have a roommate of a different race/ethnicity.” Other rows asked me whether I thought I could maintain a certain grade point average and would play intercollegiate or intramural sports and participate in student protests or demonstrations.

As I gave my best guess as to what I would do, I thought about what my answers to these questions said about me. Particularly, I wondered what my not knowing meant — and whether I would find the answers in the next four years.

To figure out what I will be doing, I can look to what I have been doing — playing sports and reaching out to the community.

For the past month, I’ve played soccer on Monday nights. I don’t wear cleats. I don’t know which team I am on until I get there. I don’t know if the friends I made last week will be there to greet me this week. I just show up and play. But sometimes playing also means facilitating. My teammates after all are 10 years younger and two feet shorter than me. And the dissimilarities don’t stop there. My teammates are racially and culturally different than me; young girls in hijabs throw around Somali slang. But once the ball gets thrown in play, we become one community.

The games are run by 4 Worlds United Soccer Alliance, a non-profit that gives refugee and immigrant children opportunities in organized soccer. Though I volunteer through Hands On Greater Portland, I am not simply a volunteer. I am a “big person” that the kids have come to know this summer. What the kids don’t know is they’ve added a big dimension to my Mondays. Assisting on one of their goals is pure joy. Seeing the passion with which they play is inspiring. Even my legs forgive the asking of piggyback rides if it means seeing them smile. Sure, it gets hectic. Yes, I’ve tripped multiple times. But I keep coming back.

I heard about 4 Worlds United Soccer Alliance in an email from Hands On Greater Portland. The email wasn’t a survey, but it still entered my inbox. Everything that comes your way will not have a very good chance of becoming important to you if you never open the email, if you never just go for it.

When I arrive on campus this month, I will create opportunity by responding to what surrounds me. Much like facing new adventures in college, volunteering in the community, even writing a column, when the time comes, there is a very good chance I will know what I will be doing. And a very good chance I will go for it.

Eleanor Van Buren graduated from Riverdale High School this year. She wrote a regular column for the Review in the 2012-13 school year and this summer. She would like to thank all of her readers for taking the time to read her column. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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