I love science. Whether I’m riding my bike, sweating through a Detroit Lion’s third quarter or enjoying a Detroit Lion’s fourth quarter, I’m probably thinking about science. I’m the type of person that can enjoy watching paint dry because I’d argue it was never wet, to begin with. I can enjoy talking about the nature of tape because it manages to be sticky despite the fact that there is no “sticky force” found in any physics textbook I’ve ever read. What do these anecdotes tell you about me? I like to observe the world not only for its beautiful phenomena but also for the circumstances under which its phenomena are enabled.
With this in mind, I’ve been reflecting on the good fortune that’s come my way over the last few months in the form of graduate school admissions decisions. I’ve been wondering what the circumstances must have been that enabled my current path forward. It can’t be that I had a good GPA because GPA alone does not a valuable scientist make. It can’t be that I’ve worked hard because hard work alone does not ensure that the energy was spent in the proper direction. It’s not that my parents told me I could achieve my dreams and thus enabled my actions toward doing so because support alone is not enough. It can’t be that I’m just smart because I’ve just told you that I’d argue about whether or not paint can be wet.
However, it seems to be some combination of these things that enabled my dreams to become my real future. While I don’t currently have a curve or an equation that describes the circumstances under which somebody can experience positive admissions decisions, I can rest assured that every opportunity in the world was available to me at GVSU. This hasn’t always been my perspective, but as I’ve traveled to numerous institutions and met with faculty and students, I’ve realized how fortunate I was to have GVSU’s resources at my fingertips while the other applicants did not. Not every applicant had mentors who cared as deeply about the wellbeing of their students as they cared about the progress of their students’ projects. Not every applicant had the hands-on experience that is offered at primarily undergraduate institutions. Not every applicant had professors who were so invested in their students that they offered review sessions on Easter Sunday. Not every applicant was able to live in the building where they’d later meet their professors for office hours. Not every applicant was able to be a resident assistant for 2 years, to work in multiple labs, to speak at national conferences, and to experience life as the business head of a startup.
In only three and a half years, GVSU Honors offered me all of these experiences and many, many more.
Anyway, I’ve only recently appreciated the unique and profitable circumstances that exist in Allendale, MI. I was fortunate to attend GVSU, enroll in Honors and benefit from a program whose circumstances (people, support, environment, etc.) enable incredible possibilities for its members. I can only hope that I might have contributed to that environment in some way.
Usually, when I picture somebody staring through a window, I hope that they wonder to themselves why the window is transparent while the wall is opaque. However, I hope that you, while staring through your window and admiring this fine spring day, wonder to yourself what the circumstances must have been to enable your future. Similarly, I hope that you take advantage of the opportunity to contribute to the circumstances that will enable somebody else’s future as well.
Joel Francis is a recent alumnus of Grand Valley State University (’16), where he studied Cell & Molecular Biology and Chemistry. During his time at GVSU, he worked in multiple labs and served as a Resident Assistant in the Honors College. He was born and raised in metro Detroit before moving to Grand Rapids. Joel is an avid Detroit Tigers fan, a cautious Detroit Lions fan, and also enjoys woodworking in his spare time. He will enroll at Stanford University in the Fall to begin working on his Ph.D. in Cell & Molecular Biology.