Growing up

Summer of 1996

A summer to remember April 14, 2024

One of the most influential summers of my life…1996.

It changed my trajectory. 

I went into the summer as a rising senior from Cornell University, bound for a profession in veterinary medicine.  I had no idea that things were about to change. 

Or that it was perfectly okay to make a change.

I came out, eyes wide open, bounding for something else.

But what?

I spent the summer of 1996 in the Midwest as one of a handful of Monsanto interns tasked with visiting dairy farms.  Our job was to collect information and educate farmers about Posilac, the recently approved rBST that Monsanto was selling, to increase milk production in dairy cattle and profitability in the farm business.

So long ago…

I found freedom that summer, jumping into that purple Dodge Intrepid to explore the rural corners of the Midwest. With a Motorola bag phone in hand and a stack of plat maps riding shotgun, there wasn’t anything holding me back.

Except for myself, if I chose…

I had left my boyfriend and the chains that bound me to my school books back in New York.  I was ready to move forward and try something new for a few months.  

With arms wide open, I was embraced by a Cal-Poly, a University of Minnesota, a University of Wisconsin, a Chicago, and a Cornhusker from Nebraska.  We were the crew that would become inseparable that summer, so tight. 

That summer, we were the only people that mattered to us.

Our fearless leader hailed from the University of Illinois. A little ahead of us in age and already forging his own path at Monsanto, he watched over us, joined us, laughed with us, and showed us the ropes of working all day and enjoying good friendship at night. 

We chased a Protiva Cow-Cruiser and ran through the streets of Madison, Stevens Point, and wherever else we all landed randomly together. 

Backing into parking spaces became a standard operating procedure (still to this day), and getting lost happened every day.  Little did I know it would be a training and preparation for all the times in the future—that I didn’t even know about yet, in which I would get lost…from me.  

Using those awful navigation maps, the plat books, I was forced to figure it out no matter how complicated it was or how long it took to piece the map quadrants together, to get back to a familiar main road, and to find the turn I was looking for. 

I went on weekend road trips to South Dakota and to the Field of Dreams in Iowa. I saw the sunset at Mount Rushmore and raced through the Badlands.  I took in the beauty of a fully bloomed field of sunflowers that spanned forever across the horizon. I saw buffalo and donkeys and visited Wall Drug and the famous Corn Palace. I soaked up the fun I had with my intern friends. 

We did so much together.

I became well acquainted with Madison, Wisconsin, and its bars and acquired a taste for beer. I also ate a lot of Sunchips and convenience store donuts, drank Coke, and consumed a lot of chocolate!  (Some things will never change)  

That summer, I learned that I didn’t want to go back. I had a taste of freedom and had won at navigating on my own, mastering those cumbersome old plat maps to get to where I wanted to go. Plat maps, life…similar?

My comrades boosted my confidence. I could go anywhere and succeed.

The internship was my gateway to adulthood, and lifting the latch, I walked right through it that summer.  With the help of my friends, I earned wings of confidence that I have been wearing ever since. 

I certainly made a lot of wrong turns that summer and have made a lot of wrong turns since. And over the years, my wings have sometimes gotten waterlogged, and I have been temporarily grounded while they dried out. But that has been okay; I have needed time on the ground to rest and be reminded.

Freedom. Confidence.

Like a compass, my memories of the summer of 1996 have helped me maintain composure when working through “wrong turns” and weather the storms of uncertainty. They remind me to be strong and confident and always find fun—even when you make a wrong turn…it can be an unexpected adventure.

I will forever be grateful for the summer of 1996.  My friends and the memories we made together in the Midwest sit beside me, riding shotgun, everywhere I go.

With love,

Kate Cilley
Summer Intern, Monsanto, 1996