Guest Blogger: Peter Wagner

Meet Peter Wagner

Peter Wagner arrived to Ann Arbor, along with his cactus Hal, in the fall of 2011. As a transferring undergraduate, Peter couldn't wait for the scenic change and communal presence Ann Arbor offered as a contrast to his previous school's town of Saginaw, Michigan. Boy did the town deliver. If it wasn't for the enticing post-grad opportunities he's received, Peter would have no problem living the next decade within this vibrant city.

But the road to get here wasn't a straight shot. Going from Saginaw, where Peter was on the nation's top collegiate bowling team (yes, you read that right: bowling) and had a career with economics at its center, to Ann Arbor, where he switched from economics to creative writing and didn't bowl a serious game in two years, it's safe to say this Peter, fittingly, is as different as the two cities he's last called home.

Peter soaked in all of Ann Arbor before graduation, which meant visiting museums, going for long runs in the Arb, getting last-minute words of wisdom from professors, and working…a lot. Three jobs, actually. All to help give a little monetary cushion for the post-graduation leap.

The first was a student's dream job: to work at a computing site on campus and basically get paid for doing homework. While the overnight shift, from Tuesday at 11:30PM to Wednesday at 7:30AM gave his body reason to hate him, it allowed him to power through his mounds of homework.

Second was a data entry position for a pharmaceutical marketing firm in California, which he got through a housemate's connection. It was as glorious as it sounded, but paid well and the hours were very flexible.

The last, and by far most enjoyable, was as the workshops intern at the superb tutoring center known as 826michigan. He's run workshops there for this past year, and, because of that, now couldn't imagine a life without 826 and the wonderful children which come through its doors.

And what will these jobs help Peter do after graduation? Read his next post to find out!

What Will Peter Do?

Every day for the past two school years I've walked across a campus of 45,000 students, and each time I play a game with them: whose walk has the Graduation Funk? Those who have it are easy to spot. They'll have sunken heads, quick and sporadic steps, and a face more empty than blank. They vector from place to place, have been for years, and are beyond scared for that finale vector which leads past Ann Arbor's city limits, out into the unknown. It's where, we soon-to-be alumni have been told, real life awaits.

The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor doesn't offer "Real Life 101: Baby Steps in a Big World". But somehow classes like "Bongo Drumming", "Aliens: Do They Exist?", and "The Literature of Basketball" all have  made the cut.  Could this be the Graduation Funk's source: Ill-preparing on the university's part for readying its hard-working students, graduation leaving some adrift?  Such are the thoughts had when walking across campus, playing this little game.

By some small miracle, the Funk has yet to get me. Part of the immunity's due to my nature: I've always been a laid back guy, and can remember the three times I've actually, really been mad at something. It also has something to do with what I have that these sunken-headed classmates may not: A Plan. One that spans four years and starts this upcoming September, allowing me to look forward, head up.

The first part of the plan was secured by being one of eight lucky recipients of a scholarship given by a small but well-run volunteering company in Vermont, Volunteers for Peace. They offer hundreds of trips to over eighty countries, lengths ranging from two weeks to two years, all with the same, small registration fee of $500.00 to cover housing, food, and items necessary for the project. Through them I went to Iceland two years ago, and with them I'll be going to the southern part of Thailand to teach English and tend an organic farm when the school year's over. The trip promises adventure, but the fact it's actually happening won't really hit me until classes end. By then I'll be in the real world, not the one of university.

Once that year is up, the Peace Corps will take me wherever they feel the need for teaching English is highest. Because of the way their application process works, before you've cleared medical, dental, and all the interviews before those, the only sway an applicant has for preferred country placement is to check whatever continent is preferred on the application. Single countries aren't an option, and you're not given your assignment's location until you've accepted, without knowing where, the twenty-seven month commitment to "the toughest job you'll ever love." Everyone who has ever done it has gotten some sort of nasty virus, intense bouts of loneliness, had a well-meaning project fall on its face. There's both positive experiences mixed with bad. On my application, I checked every continent for potential placement. Doesn't the world seems too big and varied to not open yourself to all it offers?

Should I make it through, my next step will be in a place not all that different from the one I'll soon be leaving. The Peace Corps is partnered with many top-tier universities across the country, offering discounted (sometimes even the full waiving of) tuition, granting living stipends, and job placement once the school's program complete. While I do love Michigan's big block M, the Big Apple, where there's a tempting program at Columbia University, seems the perfect balancing atmosphere to what my VFP and Peace Corps locations have in store.

All will offer different glimpses of this real life to me and some odd-7,000 fellow Wolverines I've walked across the stage with, and I know how lucky I am to have a set path replace what is others' scared confusion. But I need to make clear how indebted I am to the people who've created these opportunities I'll partake in, who try to better the world by offering affordable exposure to it, through giving education where it's most lacking, and offering programs which forge bonds on the deepest level we're capable of : the human level.

And leveled thus, all I'm trying to do is pay in part what I can't in full to those who've helped me get before this graduation stage. I'm looking to pay here and there, help wherever I can. It requires a lot of vigilance and effort from many, but I do know one trick that helps an immense amount when doing this type of thing: keeping your head up, not down. It sure makes seeing people and Wolverines a whole lot easier.

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