Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A Fall Commencement Address: Thank You, Gene

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

The ink isn’t even dry on all those schedule changes, so graduation is probably the last thing on any counselor’s mind. Still, as we begin another school year, it is time for us to recognize someone who’s achieved something pretty wonderful, as they move on to new opportunities.

I met Gene Kalb via email in 2010. I came across High School Counselor Week through the recommendation of several colleagues, whose praise for what Gene had created knew no bounds. Gene understood the need for counselors to stay current in the field, but he also knew our time is at a premium. HSCW met our need to be informed in a timely way like nothing else, a simple, brilliant solution.

Gene and I spent about a year tossing around the idea of my writing a column for HSCW, and the first column came to print in 2011, a gem of a piece about students and social media that still has some relevance today. From there, Gene gave me free rein to talk about everything from Websites that helped counselors work with students, to the need for improved counselor training programs, to the essentials of good writing in a college application, and more. I was initially disappointed at the lack of comments that were added to a column, but Gene reminded me that the reason HSCW existed was because counselors were busy people—too busy to write comments, but not too busy to appreciate the column.

Thanks to Gene’s offer to do this work, I can honestly say HSCW has made a difference in our profession. One piece was published the day after Michelle Obama announced her campaign to increase college attainment in the United States—it was my response to her remarks. Within a day, the piece was spread across the Internet, and was picked up by The Washington Post. As a result, the topic of improved counselor training in college counseling became a key element of the ReachHigher convenings held in 2014. While much remains to be done in this area, many counselor training programs are seeing college counseling in a new light, all thanks to Gene.

It’s always nice when your writing makes a national impact, but the real success of the column, and HSCW, are the changes that quietly occur in counseling offices throughout the country. In raising issues of concern, Gene was able to give counselors a heads up on issues they may not have considered. This gave them the opportunity to respond accordingly, developing programming and communication with their students to make sure counseling services were timely, updated, and comprehensive. There was never a single story in HSCW about how Gene’s work improved the lives of our students, but it did, and it made us all better professionals as a result.

Gene has handed the reins of HSCW over to new leadership this fall, after a successful merger that makes sure some 60,000 counselors have access to the latest news in our field. It’s hard to see Gene go, since his easygoing manner and patience with missed deadlines made him such a joy to work with, and such a wonderful person to know. But if anyone should be thrilled to see someone move on to new chapters, it’s a counselor—that’s what we do. Gene, as you head on to whatever’s next for you, you take the gratitude of a profession changed for the better with you, as well as the thanks of a counselor whose writing has found a home it never would have known without you.

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