Column: Selecting a major doesn’t always mean picking the path you’ll take

By Beck Diefenbach

I came to the University for Illinois knowing I wanted to become an airline pilot, and yet four years later I am interviewing for photojournalism internships. What do flying and photography have in common you may ask? Nearly nothing.

Don’t ever close yourself off to your major. You can do possibly anything at this school and there is no reason why your reasons for coming here (good facilities, close to home, etc…) should dictate what you actually do here.

I started flying a Cessna 172 – the training-wheels version of an airplane – junior year in high-school. I would drive from home, in San Francisco, down 101 to San Carlos and fly for an hour or two with Homi, my instructor. We would soar over the muddy marshland of the eastern edge of the peninsula, across San Francisco Bay and end up circling over the rolling hills of the East Bay Area to practice maneuvers.

I will definitely miss flying. It offered a sense of freedom which you will never understand unless you try it. It crushed me when I dropped out of my flight instructor course in the Fall of 2006. I remember crying on the phone with my mom, telling here I didn’t want to be pilot any more. Yeah I cried.

I felt as though I had done something truly wrong. I had failed everyone back home who thought I was going to become some hot-shot pilot. I had failed my parents and family who were excited to have a pilot in the Diefenbach clan. One of my high-school graduation gifts from my grandmother, who has since past away, was my grandfather’s flying cap from WWII. I felt an obligation to become a pilot.

Do what you love, and people will support you. It may take time, but your family and your real friends will support you.

I took my first picture with an Single Lens Reflex camera in the Summer of 2004 as a camp counselor at Camp Kochav, a summer program at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Another female counselor brought in her father’s old film SLR to take pictures of the kids for the day. Purely to give myself an excuse to start a conversation with this rather cute fellow camp counselor, I brought in my father’s Minolta SLR film camera the following day. I spent the morning and afternoon shooting pictures of the kids interacting. I loved freezing that moment between the expressions on their faces. The standard observer would digest the occurence as just any other laugh or scream. And yet the simplest fraction of second can hold a facial form or gesture which tells you so much more about this person. I brought that camera to camp every day for the rest of the summer, and I never really talked to that girl.

Photography can be anything you want it to be. I usually use it to tell stories. I love how a good single photo from a newspaper can sometimes hold the entire story in itself.

It didn’t take long for taking pictures to take over my life. I finally deceided last semester that flying was not worth it any more for me. I was much more willing to work late, not sleep or eat so I could spend more time editing a photo story than work on anything else.

Despite a massive change in life plans, my parents didn’t disown me. They completely support me now in my decision. Although they may have initially been disappointed in my choice, all they are really scared about is not knowing exactly what I am doing.

Parents follow your every move through grade school and high school. It can be detrimental to their reality if their son or daughter all of the sudden changes life goals. They don’t know what kind of jobs are in that field. How well do they pay? Where will you live? Just like in high school when you would come home at 2 a.m., instead of midnight like you promised, parents love to freak out when you do something unexpected. Just give them time and they will calm down.

My decision to leave aviation was nearly three years in the making. But I am incredibly happy with what I have done just this past year being a photographer at The Daily Illini.

It’s definitely scary to change your life plans. I just hope that you understand that even if you don’t have the support now, your parents and peers will understand your choice in time. They will see your happiness and understand.