The story of how I ended up in grad school

July 19, 2013

I was sitting by the window on a full flight to New York, casually reading a moderately interesting book on social media marketing.

I like window seats on airplanes and I like reading books when I travel — window seats because I like looking at clouds, and reading because it saves me from awkward small talk with the stranger sitting beside me. I’m THAT person who wears a polite smile and a pair of earphones pretty much during the entire flight, even if I’m not listening to anything. I’m not trying to be rude, not at all. I just really like peace, quiet, and not having to rack my brain for interesting ways to start a conversation, because I usually just draw a blank anyway (and all the introverts said, “Amen!”). In my defense, if someone talks to me first, I will always respond and switch to conversation mode.

That’s what happened in May 2010. I was on my way to New York from Los Angeles to visit some relatives and friends, and our plane had just taken off. It happened during that window of time where electronics weren’t allowed to be used, so my earphones were still out of sight. I was staring out the window to take in the view when the guy next to me asked me if the book I was reading was any good. He looked like he was in his early 40s, and he was a little fidgety, like an extrovert who needed someone to talk to. I explained that I got the book for free at a conference, and since I had a background in marketing and I also blogged a lot (back then), it seemed like a good subject to read on. We went on to the customary discussion of backgrounds — he was a literature professor at a graduate school in Pennsylvania and I was a freelancer who spent time writing, teaching, event planning, and consulting, all the while wondering where this journey was going. He asked me if I went to grad school. I said no.

Over the next five or so hours, he took it upon himself to convince me that I should consider going to grad school. He said some stuff about how it would be a good fit for me and my style of thinking, and how it would be a reasonable option if I’m still trying to figure out the direction I want to go in life. He explained the process of securing financial aid and how to find the right school for me. I told him I didn’t know of any program that I was interested in. He told me to just check out schools, ask questions about programs, and then in the process, I would “just know” which school is the right one.

Toward the end of the flight, he said, “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be pushy. I just feel like I’m supposed to convince you to go to grad school!”

I laughed. If he only knew that I had been praying for direction for months. I replied, “It’s okay, my mom would be so happy. She’s been trying to convince me to go to grad school for the longest time.” True story.

I took that conversation as a sign. He made a good point: I just needed to take one step at a time. So I did. I flew back to California before going home to the Philippines and made appointments to visit several schools. If I was going to go back to school, I wanted to find one that was in Orange County because I fell in love with the place when I first went there a couple of weeks prior to attend the Catalyst Conference at Mariners Church in Irvine.

It’s quite a long story, but let me tell you the highlights:

I found the perfect program (Leadership Studies) in the perfect school for me (Vanguard University, a small/not-at-all-overwhelming university that has excellent professors who genuinely care for — and invest in — each student…and the added bonus of having great food in the cafeteria).


I joined an amazing cohort of men and women that I now consider to be my friends for life. Though we only saw each other for three weeks in a year over the course of two years, they made the program truly special. I couldn’t have asked to be placed in a better group.

our cohort

While I didn’t think I would completely uproot my life and move to California — almost all of our school assignments were done online — that’s what I ended up doing. And I loved it. It’s hard not to love Orange County.

Laguna Beach
Newport Beach
Irvine Sunset
Balboa Island

Six months from the day I moved to Irvine, I got a job at Mariners Church (where it all began!) and joined another awesome group of men and women. Words cannot describe how thankful I was for my season at Mariners. I already miss these people so much.

experience team

MC staff camp

And while there were many times that I cried and felt like pulling out every single strand of hair on my head (that’s what happens when you miss your family and friends, you juggle work and school, and you’re working on multiple grueling assignments each week), this day finally arrived:

My classmates, my brothers: Josh, Jack, Dave, Al, Brent, and Dan – we were missing some people from our cohort on this day…

I can’t believe it’s finally over and the only conversations I’ll be having with these guys will be on Facebook from now on (although we can always hope for a reunion one day). I can’t believe that all those deadlines and days of thinking “What in the world did I get myself into???” now seem like a blur. A big, beautiful, special blur.

Many times over the past two years, I’ve tried to write on this blog. Most of the time, I failed. I just felt that words couldn’t adequately describe everything that I was going through. So instead, I waited it out, and today I managed to write this not-so-short story.

The reason why I felt like I had to write about this is because over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be going through my papers and my journals to share with you some of the things I’ve learned during my stay in California. Expect to read reflections on leadership, teamwork, cultural differences, and more random stuff…because in spite of all the changes, I’m still random like that. :-)

By Liz

Writer, blogger, strategist, communications specialist, doodler, traveler, adventurer, author/illustrator of Art to Feed the Heart, founder of, doer of random stuff.

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