Wednesday, May 1, 2019

All of Them Are Mine

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

College students always look like they’re having a lot of fun.  It might be the way they’re dressed, especially in spring, when everyone rushes into shorts and tank tops with wild abandon.  It might be the backpacks, which are very practical, but end up making the user look either like a tall elementary school student or a wannabe hobbit.  Either way, when videos pop up on my news feed showing life on a college campus, I just can’t help but think, boy, that looks like a pretty great time.

That wasn’t the case earlier this week, when all the backpacked, shorts-wearing students on the video were trotting across campus at a faster pace than usual, with about half of them holding their hands up.  This was the University of North Carolina Charlotte, where a gunman opened fire, killing 2, and injuring 4.  Any active shooter drills the campus had completed didn’t reduce the worry of any of the students in the video, who seemed lost, confused, and uncertain what to do.  They didn’t look like elementary school students in this video.  In this video, they looked like they were four.

That’s how school counselors see students at times like this. Sure, they earn phenomenal test scores, begin start-ups at age fourteen, understand the intricacies of global trade, and have social media followings the size of Montana.  But let their heart break a week before prom, let a dream college fail to meet their demonstrated financial need, or have them fall prey to a petty Tweetstorm, and all you want to do is make things better for them, even when you know that, in the long run, the best thing is to help them make things better for themselves. They are past bandages and ice cream cones being the comprehensive answer.  These hurts call for the true healing only they can supply.

We don’t just feel that way about the kids we know, especially when the student’s hurt makes the headlines.  When a college shooting occurs, people wonder, do any of our students go there?  And the thing is, for as often as this has happened, they wouldn’t understand my answer. “Today, they’re all mine.”

It’s possible they wouldn’t understand my answer, because they don’t understand my profession.  We work with lots of kids for an intense period of time, getting to know both them and their quirks, how they see themselves, how they see the world, and what they see as next in their lives.  We do our best to show them the options for life after high school that best fit what a seventeen-year-old knows to be right for them, as much as they can know that—and then we hope for the best.  When things go so badly that it makes the evening news, we can’t help but think of all the students and all their counselors, all doing their best to make sure things go well—and suddenly, we are all one, and all ours to care for.

How exactly do we do that?  We double our efforts to make sure the students we’re working with now are heading to good, safe places.  We write the elected officials who, we hope, are looking for tangible ways to bring their thoughts and prayers to life.  And sometimes, we have to make the call to the house of the parent that trusted us, and ask if that child was involved in any of what was going on at the campus they went to, the one we told them was safe. We could just hide in our offices and hope.  Then again, if that happened, the shooters would win.

That’s also the reason we all move forward.  It was College Signing Day this week, and nearly everyone who had planned festivities decided to hold them, keeping the memory of those who were lost in thought, but knowing—or hoping—they too would want us to keep going, keeping them close to us along the way.  It may not be a perfect answer, but nearly perfect answers are sometimes the closest we can get to taking care of every student.  And all of them are mine.

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