Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Second Day of School

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

I’ve often said it isn’t hard to go to the first day of school; what’s hard is going to the second day of school.  The energy and excitement of a new start makes that first day something to look forward to, but once the special schedule gives way to a thousand schedule changes, it’s harder to keep the big picture at the forefront of our thoughts.

Stephen Covey insists the best way to move past this challenge is to begin with the end in mind.  To honor that brilliant idea, here’s a reminder of what success looks like, even if it seems miles away right now.
She wasn’t usually this nervous when she came in my office, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. She sat down slowly, and said she hadn’t heard from her top-choice college, and it had been six weeks (she’d applied to a rolling admissions school).

This was back in the days when a counselor could call a college, give the admissions office a student’s Social Security number (don’t even think of doing this today), and get a report on the student’s status. As I called I knew what the college would say, and sure enough, I was told she’d been admitted, and would get her letter in the mail in the next few days (like I said, this was a while ago).

I had a big caseload and a busy day ahead of me, so I turned toward my file—and away from the student—to update her record. “Congratulations,” I said over my shoulder, “you’re in.”

I began writing in her record when I heard the smallest of sounds—the one all counselors know by instinct. I turned to find tears running down her cheeks, and all she could say was “Really?”

That moment stayed with me forever. After that, whenever I was privileged enough to give a student admission news, I looked them in the eye, let them know how wonderful this news was, and offered to let them call their parents (right—no cell phones back then either). If they took me up on the offer, I always left the office. This wasn’t my moment; it was theirs.

I’m rarely the first to know an admissions decision anymore, but the students who come by to give me the news, good or bad, always thank me for everything I’ve done.

That’s the best gift a counselor can receive. You come in early every day, run a college counseling program, see all kinds of students and lots of them, support their college interests in ways they never know about, encourage them, inspire them, scold them, do things for them they should really do for themselves, make notes of what you need to do before you see them again, go home late, and lie awake thinking about what else you can do to make this easier for them.

It’s a lot of work, and while they don’t know everything you do, they have some vague idea it’s more than they realize, so they thank you with a depth that expresses both what they know, and what they don’t know. That isn’t just manners, or the right thing to do; that’s gratitude, a feeling that is too rarely experienced in the teenage years, one that points to a greater purpose to life than gratification and suggests that, while high school was awesome, there really may be something to living an adult life after all.

Their best gift of thanks to us only comes once we give the best gift of growth to them—and giving that gift comes one day at a time.

Here’s to the second day of school.