Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Remembering Six Students

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

2020 closes out a 31-year career in school counseling that stretches across 36 years. Don’t worry—I’ll continue to work as a college consultant, doing all I can to advance progress in college access, and professional development for college counselors. Thanks to the opportunities I’ve had to write, speak, and teach other counselors, I’m grateful to say my work has touched no less than one million students—and as I move into work in policy development and college access, there are more to come.

I’ve worked with truly wonderful students from all walks of life, and as I say thank you to all of them, six come to mind who hold a special place in my heart. The lives they are leading today can only be described as phenomenal. 

One of them just graduated from high school this spring, after negotiating his way through the path to becoming an Eagle Scout. I’m eager to see where the world of work will take him, but I know he will be the same strong, wonderfully stubborn lad I have known for a long, long time.

The second is a scholar, having earned her Masters degree just last year. If you think the jump from high school to college is stiff, try making the jump from undergrad to graduate school—it’s kind of like going from driving the bus to designing one. She made the switch without batting an eye, and is leading a life that is principle rich, centered on others, and rich with kindness.

One of the other students has a powerful sense of the possible and the genius of a classically educated gentleman—ask him anything, and he’s heard of it, understands it, and analyzes it with keen insight He’s moving up in his company, and he and his wife are making a very nice home out of the cutest little house, one nail at a time.

Another is equally loquacious when coaxed, and has taught himself nearly every musical instrument known on the planet. When his job as a high school accompanist went online, he taught himself how to make choir videos, and in is high demand during this time of choirs on COVID. If you haven’t considered the task of getting 45 separate singing videos to sound like they’re all in the same room, let me urge you to do so while reconsidering the complexities of AP Calculus in comparison.

The remaining two students, of course, are the shoemaker’s children—my two, who chose to go through the college process in bare feet. The older one set the tone; complete the applications in your room, with the door closed, and Dad will leave you be. The lesson was absorbed by the younger, who I swear managed to apply to the only four Common Application schools at the time that required no additional essays. Scholarships greeted both of them; more important, they are living lives of service, are strong, independent thinkers, and see the world for what it can become.

I’m changing jobs in a profession where, sadly, the belief is only expanding that there are four good colleges in the world; that four years of college is a must to success, and that the only way to secure a good life is to secure strong letters of recommendation for those four colleges by learning how to nod, smile, get along, and stare at your shoes. Now that you know about the six students who stand out to me, what you don’t know is where they did—or didn’t—go to college. Imagine that.


  1. Excellent perspective - as always. Thank you, Patrick, for reminding us of what is important.

  2. Best of luck in your transition into another role and career!

  3. Another wonderful article. All the best to you in your new career path!!

  4. Hi Patrick. You probably won't remember me, but I want 1 of 3 School Counselors from the rural areas of the Upper Peninsula the the Dept. of Ed. made all School Counselors have credit in College Counseling a few years back.
    Your class was my first online class I ever took. Luckily my husband knew computer stuff. I would have been sunk before I started.
    You did a great job trying to bring your content down to the level of low income, rural students in Michigan who don't attend Ivy League or other top schools in the country. It's not that many couldn't, more that they wanted to go to schools that were closer to home and more affordable.
    I appreciated you understanding this. I know that Cranbrook has high expections for their graduating seniors, as do their parents.
    I gleaned some great information and have used it. After retiring from Michigan, I found myself working as a School Counselor in another very rural district in Wisconsin. Again, many of the students attend technical colleges, but they know more about their options now, than in the past.
    Thank your for all of your information and patience with us Yoopers.
    Chryss Harrington Veirauch
    Iron Mountain, MI