Day 60 – Be the person you needed

This week has been a time of deep reflection for me. It happens sometimes, when the universe aligns in a way that demands my attention. And while I tend to keep this blog separate from my work life, sometimes it’s just not possible because so many of the things that I’m passionate about overall–learning, connecting with people, serving and supporting others–are things that I actually get to do as part of my job.

I spend a lot of time wondering how I get to be so lucky.

I know part of the reason I’ve been feeling so nostalgic lately is because Stevie and I have been talking about planning a trip back to New York this summer. Yep, that always gets me, thinking about getting to go to the place that will always feel like home.

But there have been other things the past few weeks too:

  • attending a first-gen book reading where memories of my own early college days came flooding back, and receiving a long, lovely email from Dr. Nakhai as I was walking out of the building and back to my car
  • going to a meeting of the First Gen RSO (student club) I serve as an advisor for and having a great conversation with the attendees about why we all chose to go to college and the different ways our families supported our dreams
  • getting my memoir manuscript back from my friend Tammy with her thoughts and notations jotted all over the pages that smell like campfire smoke from all of the late nights spent reading–the story of my adoption and reunion and the years I spent in college trying to figure out exactly who I was and who I wanted to be

I fell in love with the idea of college in my high school guidance counselor’s office. There were bookshelves filled with college catalogs, and on really slow days when there weren’t a lot of notes to deliver during the period I worked there in the middle of the day, I spent my time thumbing through the books and trying to imagine myself in the pictures taken on beautiful campuses, sitting in the classes that, from the descriptions, sounded a helluva lot more interesting than any classes I’d ever had the chance to take in high school.

I fell in love with college the minute I stepped on campus and walked into my first class. And it wasn’t just because of the class content or the independence of being away from home or the beautiful campus from the bustle and excitement of New York City…it was the people.

I saw a quote floating around that said, “Be who you needed when you were younger.” And it struck me that one of the reasons I love my job so much (working with college students and helping them transition from high school to college, from adolescence to adulthood) is because of the incredible people that I met during this exact time in my own life–the leaders, the mentors, the friends, the people who taught me some of the most difficult lessons in my life, the people who answered my questions and helped me get back up when I stumbled, the people who cared about me and believed in me and pushed me so much farther than I ever thought I could go.

Be who you needed when you were younger.

I was fortunate enough to find all of the people I needed, to still have them in my life today. And one of the reasons that I eventually made my way back to work in higher ed was because I know, without a doubt, I am supposed to take all the love and support I was given and pay it forward. And I feel so incredibly blessed that I get an opportunity to do that every single day.

And I hope you’ll forgive the indulgence because I just have to share…UNL does a really great thing where parents can write in and nominate a faculty or staff member on campus who has made an impact on the lives of their students. I have so many amazing colleagues all across campus who are helping students and changing lives in the way mine was changed and wow, that is such a cool thing! And I was so incredibly humbled to be nominated again this year and to read the comments submitted from the parents.

I can only hope these families know how honored I am to have an opportunity to work with their children and to be the person I needed (and found!) when I was once there too. ❤

 

Day 54 – Love and learning

So this story ran in the New York Times in January: Students Learn From People They Love

I don’t believe it’s just coincidence that this story ran just two days after one of my favorite humans in the world (my mentor and former English Professor Dr. Mandana Nakhai) was honored for her service and her unparalleled dedication as an educator and administrator at Concordia College – New York. I like to think the universe has a way of connecting things like that.

I bookmarked this article. Printed it. And I’ve probably read it at least a half dozen times in the past month. I like the way it makes me think about all of the amazing teachers I’ve had in my life, the way it brings back the memories of what it felt like to sit in their classrooms.

The best teachers don’t charge ahead and clear the path for you, and they don’t take a seat on the sideline and lost sight of you when you stray. The best teachers are the ones who take the journey with you and walk the path alongside you. They are the ones who take the time to explain the unfamiliar road signs and delight in the fact that they get to continue learning something new along the way. And when you come upon a door that leads to a brand new opportunity, the best teachers will squeeze your hands and smile and remind you that you have everything you need to unlock the door and walk on through.

When I think back to all the moments and the choices and the people who got me where I am today, there is no denying that it was the emotional connection that really made all the difference. I couldn’t have learned unless I felt safe and supported in the classroom. I wouldn’t have gone onto college without the elementary and middle and high school teachers that went above and beyond just trying to teach me math equations or analyze the themes in Shakespeare’s plays. And I wouldn’t have graduated from college, gone onto get a Master’s, or pursued a career in higher education if it weren’t for the faculty and staff who invested in me, challenged me, and pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone that I sometimes have a hard time remembering what it feels like to be truly scared of anything.

And while I am so thankful for all the the things they taught me in the classroom, that’s really not even half of the story. I had teachers who helped me earn scholarships, who steered me toward opportunities to participate in prestigious writing programs, who helped me get published. I had teachers who helped me navigate volatile relationships, who pushed me get into therapy, who sat with me in the hospital until they knew that I was okay. I had teachers who helped me craft my first resume and cover letter, who invited me to dine in my very first Michelin-rated restaurant, who took me to my very first art museum and Broadway show. I had teachers who helped me piece together my first professional wardrobe and who (to this day) remain some of my greatest mentors and confidants and friends.

So, if you ask me what really makes the difference in a child’s education, you’re probably not going to hear me talk about the tests or the textbooks or the state-of-the-art facilities. Instead, I’m going to talk about the connections they can make with teachers, because from that love comes learning. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?