The Way Things Happen

It’s funny how the universe works sometimes. The places we go. The people we meet. We can make plans, but it doesn’t mean they will always happen in the way we expect, or at all. More often than we would probably like, life throws us curve balls. Sometimes we embrace the change and other times we don’t know if we can recover from life’s challenges. We meet people or go places that impact us in ways we could have never imagined. Call it what you want, whether it be fate, coincidence, or a happy accident.

If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t embrace change very well when it comes to life plans. You pretend that you do, and you want to; it just doesn’t happen. To combat this, a couple of years ago I started going by the motto: “Things happen for a reason.” Believing a phrase as simple as this one allowed me to relinquish control and come to terms with the fact that there are things in life that I just can’t account for or control. Ending up in a tribal college is one of my “things happen for a reason” moments, and it’s been one of the best things to happen to me so far.

In my family, going to college wasn’t talked about. I didn’t think it was even an option. My mother only finished high school before having children and my father only finished the fourth grade and then left school to support his family. So I didn’t have anyone in my family that I knew of who finished a four-year degree. My role in my family was caretaker. I took care of my siblings when my parents were away. I cooked, cleaned, and kept the house in order while they were away working. Other than graduating high school, I didn’t have much of a plan. I knew I wanted to make art and help people in the process, I just didn’t think I had to go to college to do that.

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I started thinking of college. Even though my parents were hesitant and didn’t know how we would afford it, they were fully supportive. Once I knew my parents were on board, I started looking at colleges. I transferred to a small art school my senior year and I didn’t know anyone. I got into seven different colleges. Ultimately, I felt like I would choose the college in Oklahoma so I wouldn’t have to be far from family, but it didn’t feel like the right choice. One week before I had to make my decision, a recruiter from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) came to talk to an art class that I wasn’t supposed to be in. Something felt right about IAIA and I immediately applied. The recruiter was only there because one student showed interest and I knew that if I would have stayed at my old high school, I wouldn’t have heard about this school in New Mexico. A week passed, and I didn’t hear back; the college in Oklahoma needed to hear back about my decision of attending their school. I was about to call the college in Oklahoma to tell them I would accept when the mail came and enclosed in an envelope was my admission letter to IAIA.

Back then I would have called it a coincidence or a happy accident. But now I truly believe that I was meant to end up at IAIA to better serve my community and work on becoming an art therapist. Sometimes trusting life and the places it takes you is a hard thing to do. But when you do, it can lead to something better than you could have ever hoped for.

Scarlett Cortez is a student at IAIA where she studies art therapy.

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