Stories of Life

Stories of Life

February 27, 2014
Molly Rossi, '16, tells the story of her SSIR program exploring the ideas and intersections of work, life and fulfillment

By Molly Rossi, '16

King Solomon Academy is unlike any public school I’ve ever been to. The walls along the narrow hallways are covered from floor to ceiling with inspiring quotes, pictures of smiling students, and posters for future chorus concerts and school musicals.

As two other UR sophomores and I were led down a corridor by Year 7 students, we noticed the lines of one quote along the ceiling, broken up every few feet:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.

There was no question that everything about this place was connected by a common purpose. The floor-to-ceiling collage of decoration wasn’t madness — it was part of a mission. Whether we were playing pingpong at recess, or watching a Spanish lesson, every moment of our day at the school felt like a piece of a larger puzzle.

Ten years ago, this image of KSA was unimaginable. All over London, schools were failing, and graduation rates were abysmal. Then Teach First arrived, and things began to change. This teacher-training program places college graduates in the most notorious school districts in London, armed with a mission to serve. As we toured KSA, an almost exclusively Teach First school, over and over again we were told, “You cannot imagine how different this school is from what it was before. We didn’t think this would ever be possible.”

Brett Wigdortz, ’95, would never take credit, but everything that has changed in the last 10 years leads back to his vision. He left his job at McKinsey & Company to create Teach First, a leap of faith that led to the unprecedented success of students in British public schools.

The more I talked to Brett, the more I realized that his success story was far from simple. His path was never certain, but his sense of purpose was unending, leading him from Hawaii to Hong Kong, and finally to London, where he found his calling and made his home.

What amazed me as I walked the halls of KSA was not just that a UR grad had made this vision into a reality, but also, that when he was in my shoes 20 years ago, this future, in this place, working with these people, was unimaginable.

Unexpected twists were a recurring theme in the life of every alum I met in London. Adrian Lovett, ’97, now the European director of the ONE Campaign, was a theater star during his time at the University of Richmond. Pete McDermott, ’06, had recently moved from New York to London to become a senior recruiter for Heyman Associates. The rhetoric and communications major told us he could never have imagined that his journey would lead him to a life in London, but here he was, established, successful, and with a flourishing career.

Their paths were unconventional. The steps did not follow each other logically. Their destinies were diverse. The one thing they had in common was a winning combination of determination and confidence led them to a life of meaningful work. The power of purpose ran itself like a thread through the disorderly tapestry of every story.

For 16 undergrads taking a class about finding purpose, these alumni stories were both inspiring and comforting. As members of the Sophomore Scholars in Residence program, Stories of Work, Life and Fulfillment, I have spent the last six months investigating life’s biggest questions: What are my values? What am I passionate about? What should I do with my life?

In this course, the questions are endless. But no matter what question we asked, the conclusion was the same: there are no right or wrong answers. In fact, there isn’t even one answer — there are many. Moreover, the way we answer these questions now may be entirely different from how we answer them 20 years from now.

So how do we go about answering the unanswerable? Why ask the questions in the first place if they cannot be answered? Over and over again, through interviews, personal stories, scientific articles, and everything in between, our class realized that asking the questions is more important than answering them. Whether or not we come to a conclusion is less important than interrogating our choices, our paths, and our values.

Life does not unfold according to plan. We spend countless hours trying to choose the perfect major, or the perfect job, but in the end, our journeys rarely flow from point A to point B the way we imagined. In order to navigate the unpredictable sea of life, we need a guiding sense of purpose.

No source was better at teaching this lesson than the stories of our fellow Spiders. Our meetings with the UR alumni network in London, in tandem with the alumni interviews we completed first semester, have driven our course toward a powerful conclusion. We cannot always control where the tide will carry us, but in order to find direction, we each have to challenge ourselves to live purposefully.  Life is chaotic, and many questions are unanswerable, but if we choose to live each moment intentionally, we can turn chaos into direction and find our way home, no matter where “home” turns out to be.

See photos from our trip to London