Looking Back to Move Forward: Reflections from Melanie

Early last spring, I was in Tucson, Arizona, to spend time with my stepmother and sister and sort through papers and mementos that my parents, both now deceased, had saved. One of these papers was a certificate from my fifth-grade teacher voting me most likely to “be the first lady in the class to run a company.” This remnant of my past took me completely by surprise. I had no memory of a childhood ambition to run a company or be an entrepreneur. At university I studied literature and languages. As I grew older, my focus was on teaching, writing and editing—and travel.

The summer before my senior year of college, I saved every penny from my caddying and waitressing jobs and flew to London for a six-week solo backpacking trip. I would travel through the UK, Ireland and France before starting a semester at the Université de Montpellier. My father, normally so even-tempered, protested vehemently. My mother had died the year before, and our family was still hurting badly. I did not want to cause Dad more pain, and I understood his worries. But this was something I had to do.

After that trip, I just kept travelling. After graduation, I was teaching with AmeriCorps and had a chance to be a trip leader for a group of high school students on a summer volunteer program in mainland France and Corsica. That was a baptism by fire! Other trips were equally formative. As a field agent for a hospitality consultancy, I did undercover quality control on Viking river cruises in Europe and luxury resorts in Korea, mingling with travellers during the day before going back to my room for all-nighters spent writing up my findings and observations. As a French-language guide, I delighted passengers by driving the tour van from the top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill down Mason Street (at a 21.3% grade, not nearly the city’s steepest but an undoubted thrill nonetheless). During almost three years as a financial editor in New Delhi, I soaked up the capital’s culture scene and journeyed from the Himalayas to the trip of Kerala.

Perhaps the most life-changing of these trips was the one that led me to Ann Kirkland, Classical Pursuits’ founder. I had planned a long weekend in Toronto to visit friends, eager to escape foggy San Francisco for sultry summer nights. A mutual connection who led trips for Classical Pursuits suggested that since I would be in Toronto anyway, I should meet Ann. At this point in my life, I valued the richness and variety of my work and travel experiences, but was not sure where my sometimes circuitous path would lead. As I started working with Ann, I realized it could lead to Classical Pursuits. I got more involved in the community and undertook a second baptism by fire, leading a seminar at Toronto Pursuits and over time learning all I could about our programs, Shared Inquiry, management, sales, marketing, accounting. This process continues; every day is a chance to learn and improve.

What did my teacher see in me that made her think I would someday run a company? Whatever it was, as I looked at that piece of paper from thirty years ago, I felt I had come full circle. I’m grateful to my father, who always knew I would find my path, and wish he could be here to share this moment. I’m grateful to Ann, who brightens the life of everyone who knows her, for entrusting me with the community and business she has given so much of herself to. And I’m grateful to all of you for your loyal support of Classical Pursuits, and all your encouragement and advice. Here’s to many more years of reading, travelling and learning together.


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