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Stories from the Edge

Tufts community members reflect on the leaps they’ve taken—and the unexpected rewards

This leap year, Tufts Now asked community members to tell us about a time they took a leap in life. A leap of faith, a leap into the unknown, a leap before you looked. 

From overcoming grief and self-doubt to triumphing over great odds, their stories serve as powerful reminders of the risks and potential rewards of stepping outside your comfort zone.

Bittersweet Baking

“Have you ever considered opening a bakery?” It is a question I heard for years from family and friends every time they enjoyed one of my cookies, cupcakes, or cakes. I would think to myself, maybe someday, while graciously accepting the compliments with a smile.

Through the years, I documented my creations. In August 2020, I was wrapped up in grief following my mother’s passing (Barbara Haroian Solakian, J60) and the uncertainty looming over a return to a hybrid-learning school year for my children. I was exhausted, emotionally drained, and in need of a change. 

I took a leap and challenged myself to open the bakery. Fueled by love and loss, I built and launched a website. Those pictures I collected through the years were dusted off and brought to life online. The first order was followed by a steady stream of orders. I pushed the boundaries of my creativity and carved cakes that resembled Chanel and L.L. Bean tote bags and Nike Air Jordan sneakers. There were cakes and cupcakes adorned with elephants too—Go Jumbos!

Sitting at my kitchen table late at night, I immersed myself in sketching designs for whimsical custom orders. There was a wonderful, almost magical feeling in creating something that I knew would delight others. I'll never forget when a client declared that I was an “artist.” I never considered myself an artist, but I was thrilled to uncover another facet of my identity.

Ultimately, I had to decide whether to scale up the bakery. My leap had run its course. When I look back on that time, in many ways I think of my bakery as a grief project. It helped me to process the sadness of losing my best friend, but it also kept me close to her as I felt my mother’s presence with me during those late hours in the kitchen, surrounded by fondant and buttercream. A tablespoon of joy often mixed with a pinch of sorrow, knowing my mother would have been delighted by my creations. I realize now that Bittersweet Baking Co. holds a deeper significance for me beyond a business name or street address.

—Stephanie Solakian Goldstein, J95

Rhinos, Lab Work, and Road Trips

Spring of junior year for many Tufts students is often synonymous with adventure. It’s the time of year when approximately 45% of Tufts undergraduates scatter around the world to gain a global education. Not me, though. Instead, I was looking for a way to get hands-on experience while completing my biology degree. While my friends embarked on their semester abroad, I set off on my “semester domestic.”

Going into my junior year, I started planning out the remainder of my courses at Tufts, noticing it was possible to graduate a semester early. I began exploring alternate options for my “extra” semester, eventually landing on a co-op program. I threw my perfect vision of eight full-time semesters straight out the window.

Within a month, I accepted a lab position at Adaptive Phage Therapeutics and clicked that terrifying leave-of-absence button. (Thank you, Dean Leathers, for walking me through the process!)

As a Type A person, the ‘road less travelled’ can be an anxiety-ridden place for me, but I am going to graduate in May with seven semesters under my belt and a gap that changed my life. 

By the end of my eight-month co-op, I’d pet a rhino at the zoo, gotten on a first-name basis with the sewage water treatment plant, had 0.5 seconds of screen time in a BBC documentary (still counts!), and had my dream opportunity of gaining hands-on lab experience in the biotech field. 

I also worked as a waitress, took my first solo road trip, bought my first car, was featured in a local commercial, went to concerts, spent extra time with my family, and so much more.

Maybe my passport doesn’t have any new stamps, but I still had a big adventure. My advice? Take the leapit was the best decision I’ve ever made.

—Caitlin Duffy, A24

I Thought I Could Make It

“I jumped.” This was my oft-repeated response to endless inquiries from healthcare professionals and well-meaning strangers. There’s no hiding any combination of a massive aircast boot, wheelchair, crutches, cast, knee scooter, cane, and/or facial expressions ranging from “dulled by meds” to “angry about everything.” 

My most personal struggle was assumed to be what everyone could see: physical trauma. But the hardest part of recovering from the injuries I sustained after deciding it was a good idea to leap from solid ground onto the back deck of a departing pontoon boat wasn’t the three reconstructive surgeries, the pain that far surpassed childbirth, or the monotonous hours of physical therapy. It was spending nights alone on the first floor while my family dreamed upstairs. It was leaving the house, knowing there was an infinite multiverse of scenarios where I or my loved ones could be injured or worse. The biggest price I paid for that split-second decision to jump? Psychological torment. 

Thankfully, just as I received the very best in modern orthopaedic treatment, I also received help from my therapist, who recommended an innovative psychological tool: prolonged exposure therapy. PE is described by the National Center for PTSD as a form of talk therapy that “teaches you to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations that you have been avoiding since your trauma.”

At first, I balked at the idea that I needed or deserved the same level of treatment typically associated with combat veterans. But the insomnia, panic attacks, and disaster ideation needed to be addressed. I wanted the help. So, I took another leap and began the program. 

Actually, I took that original leap hundreds of times … in my imagination. PE combines verbally recounting the traumatic incident and listening to a recording of your narration over and over, with daily homework that requires you to confront triggering tasks and record your level of anxiety. After weeks of intensive work with my therapist, I found measurable relief. I learned to recognize and accept my body and mind’s reactions to thoughts or events that reminded me of my accident. I learned to accept that what I did was not because I was stupid or irresponsible or unathletic. It happened because I jumped. I thought I could make it. And in the end, I did. 

—Sibyl Kaufman, director of communications and marketing, Tufts University School of Medicine

A Leap into Faith

I recently took a leap by accepting an offer by my diocese to become the half-time campus minister at Boston College for Episcopal students. This meant leaving my post as a parish priest to take on a second position in higher education chaplaincy (alongside my work at Tufts as the Protestant Chaplain, where I have had the pleasure of working for nearly eight years now). While it wasn’t exactly a leap into the unknown since I am now an experienced college chaplain, there have been the unknowns of navigating a different institution and finding my place on a new campus. 

The biggest leap, however, has been stepping away from Sunday morning church ministry. (Not surprisingly, many college students prefer evening worship services.) While I miss my congregational work, I have welcomed having more free time during the weekend and the opportunity to visit local churches, sometimes followed by Sunday brunch! There is no way I could have taken this leap without all the support of my friends, family, and wonderful colleagues at Tufts who encouraged me every step of the way.

—Reverend Daniel Bell, Potestant Chaplain, Tufts University Chaplaincy

From Desk Drawer to Bookstore

I have always loved words. They are musical notes to me, intriguing on their own but with infinite potential, given the right context. Perhaps that is why I write poetry. I want to see which words can serve as inspiration.

For years, I didn’t feel the need to show my poems to other people. I related to the story of the two writers who meet on the street: One asks the other how his novel is going. The other replies that it is finished. The first asks which publishing house has it. The second replies, “None. It is in a drawer in my office. I wrote it to organize my world, and it has done its job.”

One night at dinner with a good friend, I mentioned that I had written some poems. She asked to see them. I trusted her to be gentle in her assessment, so the next time we met, I brought some of my poems to share. I knew she would be kind, but she was remarkably effusive in her enthusiasm for what I had written. She planted the idea that my poems were worth trying to publish.

I proceeded to go through all the usual self-doubts. Did I have anything worth saying? Does the world need another book of poetry? How would I go about getting it published? Where would I start?

The next day, I received an email blast from our local chamber of commerce. It included a list of recommended businesses in the area. One was for getting help in publishing a book. I wrote an email to the owner describing my situation. We eventually met in person, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. She walked me through the entire process from editing to final proof to artwork to marketing.

A few weeks later, my book Gratitude: Two Hundred Short Poems was published to glowing reviews. I was thrilled. I took a leap of faith and was rewarded.

—Alfred Morris, A72

Was It a Huge Mistake?

By Summer 2005, I had been six years into a dead-end job. No degrees, no prospects for moving up, not really going anywhere in life. I decided to take some night classes. Once those went well, I wanted to take classes that were only offered during the day. I asked about changing my job from full-time to part-time. My company balked: “So what are you going to do … go get a better job?” I responded, “Well … yeah?” They said no.

In Summer 2006, I quit my job. An hour later, I worried that I had made a huge mistake and drove back to beg my boss for my job back. He said no. At the time, it was a crushing blow.

However, I went back to school full time and earned two degrees in Technology Management. That led to working at the college where I was studying (hello, 2008 recession), and I eventually worked my way into the IT department there. From there, I moved into networking, which led me to Tufts, where I plan to stay.

It was very much against my nature and upbringing to make such a leap, but I learned a few keys to success:

  • Make sure you have a support system at home that will see you through until the end.
  • Picture yourself where you want to be, and make sure that makes you feel good.
  • Make a main plan (and about seven backup plans!) and hope you never need to tap into them.

The company I initially left folded in November 2008. Had I stayed, I would have been stuck in an industry I did not like, with no degrees and no prospects.

Sometimes it is just worth taking the leap.

—Jim Govoni, senior network engineer, Tufts Technology Services

The New Path

After leaving my first full-time job as a college graduate, I headed from my home city of Boston to Washington, D.C., on a whim. I was 23 years old, without much of a plan, searching for something.

As a cautious person, I was surprisingly nonchalant, with no job, sharing an apartment three miles from the Pentagon—and not because I had money to spare. (I didn’t. But I had saved up enough over the summer to get by that first month.)

Three weeks after I arrived in D.C., four passenger jets were hijacked, with murderous intent and tragic outcome. My roommate and I cried as our bodies shook with fear and grief over every horrid new update. 

Those first couple weeks after 9/11, I didn’t leave my apartment much. I was scared to go to the grocery store. I barely left my couch.

I read newspapers and watched the TV news. But as I took in those reports, I started to see journalism not only as a means of helping me make sense of what had happened, but as a career path. Like so many others, I wanted to contribute in a meaningful way. 

Along with part-time jobs to pay my bills, I took an internship at a news agency, which confirmed my desire to follow this road.

I applied to graduate programs in two cities: Boston and D.C. 

I now realize my greatest leap in this journey was my choice to stay in the nation’s capital. My heart was pulling me hard toward the comforts of home, but my gut was telling me not to leave because life there was unknown, and undefined. Those were, in fact, the reasons to stay.

Katie McLeod Strollo, director of digital experiences, University Communications and Marketing

The President Asked Me

[Former Tufts] President Jean Mayer called me into his office. “I want you to go to Talloires, France, to become the first full-time director of the European Center,” he said. I already had a great position as assistant dean of the Fletcher School, so his request would mark a risk with unknown rewards. 

Eight years and many milestones later, I could honestly say that his faith in me resulted in my lifelong connection to France and to the hundreds of students, faculty, and staff who joined together in Talloires each year. Decades later, the European Center continues, each year inviting our Tufts community to enjoy its many pleasures.

—Mary Harris, F70