Every once in awhile between the half listening slackers and the “I already know this” students you get the kind of student that becomes THE REASON I LOVE WHAT I DO. This semester it was a petite Latina girl in a college sweatshirt with a carefully made up face and waves of black hair. A typical freshman.
She never told me her name but she was attentive and engaged. She waited until class was over and all the students were gone before she asked her questions. She was doing her first college paper on global warming. She was planning to become an engineering major but the College of Engineering doesn’t accept “pre-bac” students (the ones that don’t pass the writing requirement). She was clearly stressed about passing this class. I HAVE TO DO REALLY WELL ON THIS PAPER. And after talking to her for a minute it became clear why.
“I am the first person on either side of my family to go to college. NO ONE at home can help me. My mom is a single mom and my dad was never around. My mom and grandparents came from Mexico and I am the first one.” I could feel the magnitude of her situation in her tone of voice and body language: This is a BFD.
I could feel the weight on her shoulders however, she wasn’t like a typical stressed student. While she was overwhelmed at the enormity of her accomplishments she was still determined to succeed. I could see an inner strength in her that you don’t always see in freshmen or first generation students.
I wanted to give her a hug.
Instead I gave her the most heartfelt advice of my life. I told her everything I wished I had done to take advantage of support programs in college. I told her about my other first generation students and assured her that others did it before her and she could do it too. She didn’t know it but she brought tears to my eyes. She left the classroom with a renewed sense of confidence and told me she would “see me around”.
So thank you for reminding me of why I teach six classes in one day. why I never dread coming into the office. Why I smile even though I have worked more than 10 hours straight. I hope I see her in a cap and gown within the next five years.
Because you, dear student, are a big fucking deal.