MOBERLY — Alaina Harrison, 19, of Hannibal, is studying nursing at Moberly Area Community College. She's wanted to be a nurse since third grade, when she saw the difference between the nurses who care and the ones who don't after her great-grandmother entered a nursing home. But it doesn't hurt that nurses "can get a job anywhere," she says.
When I met her, this is what she told me about her childhood view of life and how it is changing:
"I feel like we're taught it (the American Dream) from a very young age. Because what's expected of you is you go to elementary school, you go to middle school, high school, then you go to college, you're supposed to find your future husband, get your degree, you start your life, you have a family. Through movies, books, peers — that's what's expected of you and that is what has become the American Dream — that sequence of events and to be happy in the end. … I think my ultimate goal is to be happy, and I think the timeline of events is kind of silly. I don't agree with it. But I think that's what we're taught, is that is the American Dream. And to be happy you have to do all that."
For her, the American Dream is about family. Her career, more than anything, is a way to make sure she can start her own family close to home and keep it near the family she has. But starting her own family isn't all. She's been trying to grow her extended family, mending relationships with her father's biological parents.
"My dad was adopted, and he found his real parents when I was like 3 or 4. It was good for a couple years, but our whole family just showed up. They had their lives already. He had three other sisters he didn't know about. And things just didn't work out. I haven't seen one of my sets of grandparents since I was about 4.
"In late middle school, it upset me because all my best friends would talk about their grandparents gave them this or they were going to their grandparents for the weekend — and I was like, 'I don't have my grandparents to that with.' It always bothered me and I didn't understand. 'What did I do? Why don't I get to be close to you?' So I decided in high school that it's not going to hurt to try. And it's been good ever since.
"It started my sophomore year with Facebook. Over the last couple of years I've gone and visited her. We connected over Christmas. We stay in contact over email. I'm very happy with the way it's going right now."
Harrison says a nursing career is important to her because it could enable her to live where she wants — wherever her family is, so that her children can grow up near her parents and her brother.
"I've seen where my dad and all of us have gotten hurt because of family relations and I don't want any part of that. I'm doing my best to mend the ones that I can, and I refuse to let my kids grow up not knowing their grandparents or their uncle."
This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.