Well, How Did I Get Here?

Why do we end up where we do in life? Is it fate where we end up, or do we genuinely choose the outcome? When I look back on the wild ride that I took to get where I am, I truly wonder about the answer to this question. I look back to where I started on this journey thirty-something years ago, and I question, “How did I get here?” and did the choices I made help perpetuate that. Let me give you a summary of what I’m talking about.

In 1989 I was a senior in high school, struggling to graduate. It was not because I wasn’t smart enough to complete my classes, but instead because I just absolutely hated that place. It was like living in a John Hughes movie, and I was one of the at-risk outsider kids, always getting in trouble and looking for a fight. The rest of my school seemed to be rich preppy kids from Pretty in Pink. My only saving grace in high school was art class. I filled up my schedule with as many art classes as possible, which made my time there bearable. I had no goals past high school. All I knew was I wanted out of school.

Education past high school was not a mandatory thing in my home, and getting a steady job was more important. I come from a family where I am a second-generation American. Since they arrived in America, my grandparents worked hard, and my parents did the same. None of them went to college, so I didn’t see the need to go either, but I knew I didn’t want to work a laborious job. Throughout the summer after graduation, I took on many positions from mowing lawns, cleaning dishes at a bakery, pumping gas, and even a part-time custodian job at a local junior high school. I worked as much as I could to find something I may want to do. I realized that I would need to go to college to get anywhere in life, especially if I wanted to do something with art.

Somehow in the Fall of 1989, I was accepted into the local community college, where I continued classes in art, and I started taking courses in art history. I enjoyed creating art, and it was the only class where I didn’t have to remember a bunch of stupid dates or how to multiply or edit my writing. On the other hand, art history had a lot of memorization, but I loved the information I was learning. Understanding where it came from and how it evolved helped answer many of my questions about why Modern art was so ugly to me. I was assigned to take a field trip to New York City to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, amongst other museums.

Taking these classes worked well for me for the two years of college until I received a phone call from the New York City Police Department. The nice man on the phone offered me a job making what I thought was a lot of money and health benefits. Two things that I was told I needed. So, I put college on hold and began a career in law enforcement.

Over the next twenty-eight years, I would jump in and out of schooling between moving 1000 miles from my childhood home, finding numerous jobs, getting married, and raising a couple of children. I achieved an M.Ed. and taught in a middle school within those years. I quickly realized that I wanted to teach in higher education and would need to earn a Master’s degree. By the time I decided to apply for a Ph.D. program, I had worked part-time at a local two-year college. I taught as many as seven classes a semester and got nowhere towards a full-time position. When I entered the Ph.D. program at Union Institute & University, I was informed of a new graduate certificate offered in Museum Studies. Since attending community college, the inside of museums had become my happy place, so getting a graduate certificate made total sense. I already planned on taking courses focused on history, and the certificate requirements were perfect to fit. By the time I finished defending my dissertation, I had looked at the M.S. certificate as an asset along the journey.   

When I answer my original question, “Why do we end up where we do in life?” I believe that several things perpetuated my path to where I am today. Those things were my teachers. The right teachers were at those critical points where I needed them. My elementary school art teacher saw that I was bored with the usual assignments and would have me copy prints from the Old Masters. My junior high school art teacher taught me how to paint in all the mediums and introduced me to all the different ways of creating art. My high school art teacher allowed me to create what interested me, not what the district expected. My professor at community college assigned the class to visit the Met and the MoMA. This made me see that it was better to see art in person instead of in a book.

Elementary Art Teacher
Junior High School Art Teacher
High School Art Teacher

Those people introduced me to the great joy of art and its history. I wish I could find each of them and thank them for all they have given me. One of those educators I can thank is Dr. Anu Mitra. As one of the first people I had contact with at UI&U, Dr. Mitra saw the path I had traveled. My experience was like a tapestry woven over time rather than a hodge-podge series of events. Her constant encouragement and the friends I made in my cohort allowed me to trudge through the hours of reading and writing (and rewriting) to get where I’m today.

Dr. Anu Mitra

The experience of receiving my Ph.D. and the Museum Studies certificate I hold is the most important educational experience. There are numerous other certificates and programs that I didn’t mention in this article. My goal here isn’t to promote the university or the Museum Studies certificate but to enlighten and encourage. I didn’t have a traditional education, and if I visited my 18-year-old self and told him what I had done to get to the point I am at, I would probably get hit for wasting time. But that would be okay. My experiences have made me the understanding, eccentric, animated professor I am today. 

Bruce Maggi is a Teaching Associate at Coastal Carolina University where he teaches courses in art history and Indigenous cultures of North America.

Published by Dr. Bruce Maggi

Follow me on Instagram @ TheyCallMeDrMaggi

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