Should graduates follow their heart or follow the money?

Cody Evans, Staff Writer

The vast network of choices and second guesses that eventually led to my choice of a college major — to say the least — was a rocky road of both self doubt and uncertainty.

At age 13 I began volunteer work at the Micke Grove Zoo in Lodi. From the keepers and education staff there I learned how to properly handle a multitude of different animals — mostly reptiles — red tailed boas, red eared sliders, African leopard tortoises, hissing cockroaches, hedgehogs, and even western screech owls. As a child I often went on day trips there with my grandmother. She’d read me the conservation status of all the animals. Endangered. Critically endangered. Extinct in wild. The nature of these statuses confused me. “How could we humans harm such beautiful creatures?” I thought.

From that point forward I was set on becoming a zoologist when I grew up, but that aspiration would soon be shattered. My mother told me that finding a job with a zoology degree is nearly impossible and the pay would be horrible. That simple sentence was so destructive I decided zoology wasn’t the right path for me.

Nature, animals, and the mechanics of environmental balance have always inspired a sense of ambitious heroism in my mind. I dreamed of being the person who made the world realize just how important a healthy global ecosystem was, but with that dream came a sneaking sense of dismal reality. To become an environmental scientist I needed to learn advanced math, a subject that made me feel absolutely miserable. How could I take pride in a job that made me partially miserable?

As my senior year came to a climax I thought of a way to combine two of my greatest passions: writing and environmental studies. Although an “environmental journalism” major is almost unheard of, there are plenty of ways to combine the two; for example, both National Geographic and Sierra Club hire journalists to write “ecologically based news stories” for their websites. The monetary aspect of having a job has faded.

I have adopted the philosophy that as long as I am attempting to effect positive changes, the amount I am paid to do so doesn’t matter. I’d do it for free if I didn’t starve to death as a result. When I tell people about my life plan they often ask, “What about the money?” I simply reply, “If I wanted to work solely for money I’d be a politician.”

Often students choose majors based on the average income of a professional in that field, but this capitalistic school of thought is flawed. Money can be useful for a wide variety of purposes, but achieving true employment satisfaction is an uncommon phenomenon. I follow my heart rather than my head on the topic of college majors, because I know as long as I’m pursuing the things I love, my head will undoubtedly follow.

Money ensures corruption and greed, and it can drive a corporation to put profit ahead of people, but when people are disregarded, disasters such as Hinkley, Love Canal, and Flint appear. This epidemic of uncaring is directly linked to the “profit over people” phenomenon, so before I selected a major I asked myself, “Would becoming a person in this profession make past versions of myself proud?” Would it have made my 13-year-old self eager to start such a profession? Would my 80-year-old self look back upon that time with a smile? If I know myself as well as I think I do, then the answer to all three of those questions will be an unwavering “yes.”