- Maria Diaz Special to The Palm Beach Post
When I enrolled in Florida International University, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life professionally. I took random classes trying to see if I would find my calling but it didn’t quite happen that way. After seeing some posters up on campus offering jobs to students, I visited the Co-Op office with the intention of earning some extra cash and some real-life experience. The year was 1982 and posters were the primary form of communication. There was no social media or internet, just papers tacked onto bulletin boards and posters taped up onto walls. These posters laid the foundation for my career.
I needed a job a full-time job and after meeting with the person in charge, I was given an appointment for a job interview at a local Social Security office. I did not give the interview or job much thought since all I needed was some money to put me through graduation and I didn’t have ANY interest in Social Security.
I remember arriving for my interview and seeing a lobby filled with people of all ages. I was confused because the only person I knew that received Social Security was my grandmother. I had assumed it was just for old people. Why were there young people at the Social Security office? What was Social Security? In spite of the little I knew about this federal agency, the interview went well and I was told they would call me within two weeks. To my surprise, they called me that same week and asked me to report the following Monday.
Was I in for a surprise! From day one they had me working. At first, I was sitting with employees and filing policy into binders. I had to read the policy as I filed them as a sort of training. Soon, I was on my own and scared since I realized that all who visited the office were there at a critical time. There were manuals, laws, exceptions and changes and I had to keep up with this in order to provide the visitors with correct information. All of this had to be balanced with my full course load. It was demanding but I found it to be rewarding. I enjoyed helping people and the office but I figured I would quit as soon as I graduated.
Upon graduation, I was offered a job as a claims representative with Social Security and I knew immediately that was what was best for me at the time. Again, I did not think it would be a lifelong career but I enjoyed the job and the ability to help people. I thought it would be a stepping stone towards my next job.
That was 35 years ago and the next job never came. Life happened along the way. I married, bought a house, had children and still loved my job. I stayed because I loved what I did. I also really thought I understood how important Social Security was for people but really, I could have never imagined the full extent of it.
In 2009, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I spoke to people every day that had to file for disability due to illness. I helped them with applications all the time, assisting them with filing, explaining benefits and following up. But now it was personal, now it was real. My husband was awarded disability benefits and my minor children would also be awarded a Social Security check on his record.
Less than a year from his diagnosis, he passed away. He always worked full time and his income was needed to cover our household expenses. Social Security was there again for us. Not only did I work for Social Security but now my children received survivors’ benefits. During these difficult times, Social Security helped tremendously with the financial aspects of our life so that we could focus on the most important thing: each other.
Life happens and it is not always as planned but I have learned to enjoy the little things. My daughter, Michelle, is now married and has given me the gift of being a grandmother. Mila is now 18 months and her smile brings me so much happiness. My sons, Alexander and Christian, have graduated from college and are moving on. All of this leads to my decision to retire after more than 35 years with the Social Security Administration. I am finally moving on. Not to another job, as I thought when I was in college, but to another stage in my life.
Retirement (also an important part of Social Security!) is an exciting opportunity for me. I have worked since I was 14 years old and now I am ready to unplug my alarm clock and have nowhere to be. My plans include travel, grandmothering and continuing to work to help those in our community. While I won’t be working for Social Security, I will continue to be involved and to serve others.
It is a much different world today than it was when I first walked into that Co-Op office in 1982. We no longer have to look for flyers or posters on walls to know things. Visit https://www.ssa.gov/people/materials/pdfs/EN-05-10235.pdf to learn how Social Securitywill be there through your life’s journey.