Finding Purpose in College: A Journey of Meaning Making

I chose this title for my alumni profile because this was not what my undergraduate experience was about. I did well academically, socially and left Castleton with full scholarship offers to a number of prestigious universities. I had training to work in the field of social work, but no desire to do so. I had no meaning or purpose to drive my life. In retrospect, I wish there had been more opportunities to make meaning. This is not a criticism of Castleton, more of the time. The era.

If developing meaning and purpose was part of the mission, it was never articulated to me in that way. So, as an alumnus, I want to say a few things. Yes, college is about preparing you for a career, but it should be about so much more. Growing up in a working class blue collar family as a first generation college student there was no other reason to go to college. It was to make sure you got a good job later in life. In the eyes of my relatives, there was no other reason to go to college.

But college should be a time we develop a life plan for ourselves where we examine beliefs and what’s important to us. It is also a place where we should be encouraged to explore spirituality whether we are atheists or devout believers in a God or Gods. As an undergraduate in the early “go-go 80’s,” goals were materialistic. What seemed to be important was getting an MBA, a condo, BMW, expense account and frequent flyer miles so one could jet set around the globe.

Two decades later today’s undergraduates see the emptiness in this lifestyle and are demanding more. There has been a growing push for opportunities to explore ones spirituality, which is a different thing than faith. There is also recognition of a quarter life crisis, detailed by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Winter in the national best seller Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties.

College is also a place where we need to learn to be cosmopolitan global citizens. We need to learn to think critically, reflectively and analytically. The post Sept. 11 world is a very different place than the world I graduated into. No longer can anyone afford to be religiously illiterate. To be a globally educated citizen we must understand the major narratives of all the worlds’ religions and how to discuss hot contentious topics if we are to live in a peaceable world.

College should be and needs to be a period of time where you learn this information and these skills.

At 42, I believe strongly that we each need a philosophy of meaning to drive our lives. As an undergraduate, I never planned on becoming an educational philosopher, but that is what I’ve come to be. A philosopher, a teacher, a lover of wisdom, teaching and students, I followed my bliss and couldn’t be happier. I gave up income, prestige and status. None of that matters to me because at heart, I know who I am and what my purpose in life is. It is to teach and help students develop their own meaning.

President Wolk often describes the College as “The Small College with a Big Heart.” These are the words I spoke to him when we met prior to his departure from the Vermont Department of Education for Castleton. He is a wonderful educational leader and apparently very happy at Castleton. This is easy to understand. Castleton is like a family you become part of that you never leave. As an undergraduate I received from my professors, students affairs staff and friends what my family wasn’t able to give me, a sense of belonging while being the right place for me at that stage of my intellectual development. So while you enjoy all the wonderful things about Castleton, I challenge and urge members of the college community to explore how opportunities for meaning making, spiritual growth and discussing contentious subjects can be taught in an interdisciplinary manner across curriculum, student services and co-educational and extra curricular activities. I believe everyone is going to need these skills.

I wish you well on your journey and would welcome email from anyone that wishes to contact me regarding this profile at

Andrea Silva McManus is a part time faculty member in the Division of Education and Human Studies at Champlain College teaching The Ethics of Human Services and an educational leader at the New England Culinary Institute.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous post Sounding Off
Next post SAAB goes for broke to bring in Guster