Alumni about their dreams: did they come true?
Having children was not in the cards for her. According to then 23-year-old Marjolijne van der Stoep, now almost forty, people should spend a little more time thinking before deciding to have children. Not everyone, she said, is fit to be a parent – herself included. She thought she’d be a terrible mother, a pushover with no authority.
More than fifteen years later, her world looks very different. “No one knows yet,” she whispers, “but I’m pregnant. Would you like to see?” She proudly shows me an ultrasound picture of her ten-week-old baby. It requires some imagination, but it’s unmistakable: Marjolijne is going to be a mother.
Our interview takes place at the Bio Science Park, an industrial park next to the Leiden University Medical Centre that houses more than a hundred companies specialised in life sciences. She works for Galapagos, a public company with twenty years of relative success in drug development. Why relative? Because despite its long and successful track record (in fact, US big pharma company Gilead recently invested over 4.5 billion euros in Galapagos), the company has yet to bring a drug to market. “It just goes to prove how long and difficult the process is.” She’s the project manager of a process to develop a drug to treat osteoarthritis. It’s an interesting job; no two days are the same. “I manage a large group of people and I’m involved in not only the clinical side of things, but also the legal aspects of the research.”
She never did become a professor of obesity, which was her dream sixteen years ago. “That plan began to fall apart when my father died a week before my graduation ceremony.” He’d been seriously ill for years. What illness did he have? “What illness didn’t he have?” He eventually succumbed to a simple case of pneumonia. “They put him into a medically induced coma to recover, but he never woke up again.” She immediately packed up and left for her father’s house in Rotterdam. “There was a lot to organise and someone had to take care of my now 94-year-old grandma.” Marjolijne sacrificed herself. “It wouldn’t be fair on my mother to say that my grandma was like a second mother to me, but she was very important to me when I was young. I was glad I could do something for her in return.” Marjolijne still visits her every week. When she leaves, her grandmother always gives her a small bag of fruit. “Apparently she still thinks I live like a student and might die of scurvy tomorrow.” When I comment that the choice she made sixteen years ago may not have been the most obvious one – after all, she was extremely ambitious and willing to work fifteen hours per day to achieve her dream – her reply is clear: “I’ve never regretted it, not for a second. I just had to do it.”
It’s who Marjolijne is. In that respect, she hasn’t changed much in all these years: she’s still a straightforward thinker, outspoken and difficult to convince. “But I have become milder, and kinder to myself.” Her desire to have children is the best example of this. “Until a year ago, I was very resolute about this: a child had to be the most important thing to its parent. I thought I couldn’t meet that standard.” But the cliché proved true. “As I approached forty, I started to change my mind.” She wasn’t immediately convinced, though. “I wondered: do I really want to have children, or do I just think I want to because everyone around me does and I’m slowly becoming the exception?” She realises she’ll probably never have a definitive answer to this question. She is, however, certain that having a child will enrich her life. “I’m expecting love, joy and… a lot of sleepless nights.”
Her boyfriend Raoul didn’t need a lot of time to think about it. “We discussed it for a minute and a half, literally.” They’ve known each other for almost ten years. The sparks flew during one of the many Friday-afternoon drinks at the company where they both worked. “The two of us were always the last ones left.” Their relationship is “just very good”. They complement each other. “I like to talk. He doesn’t.” They’re not planning to get married. She was already quite outspoken about this topic years ago: “How can you promise to love someone forever? What if you run into a person you like more?” But in this respect, too, she now sounds milder, although still not very romantic: “If he really wants to get married and he proposes to me, I’ll probably say, ‘OK, sure.’”
Niels van der Laan
Read here the article of 2003
In 2003 we interviewed UM students about their dreams for the future. Now, in 2019, it’s time to check in with them and see where they’re at. They’re about forty years old now; did their dreams come true? We’re using this special year (Observant is celebrating its 40th birthday!) as an opportunity to find out. Former student journalist Niels van der Laan, who wrote the majority of the interview articles in 2003, is writing a fair share of this year’s articles as well. In addition to the previously interviewed alumni, we’re interviewing former Observant student journalists about their fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams.