Last month, I was provided the unique and wonderful pleasure to witness the graduation of many of my students, who exited with the same style and grace exuded them when they arrived at college four years ago. As expected a host of family, friends, a collection of loved ones were all in attendance to see their students walk across the stage and partake in the festivities associated with commencement.
As their primary advisor for the better part of their four-year journey, I, much like their families sat in the audience overwhelmed by a range of emotions, which only heightened my appreciation and the purity of each moment. Years ago, the idea of me participating in such an event seemed far-fetched and simply out of reach. As a first-generation college graduate that was conditionally admitted into college, never in my wildest of dreams would I have ever imagined playing a key role in a person graduating, let alone taking the next step to attend graduate or professional school.
Like me, many of my students were now the first in their families to attend and graduate college and with this latest accomplishment came a host of even greater expectations that only few would understand. Yet there I sat, student after student, name after name, applause after applause reflecting on their journey and all they’ve achieved these past four years.
And that’s when it hit me. Their journey for all its twists and turns was very much a part of my own. Because of the uniqueness of my role where I am asked to provide career and academic coaching, I have gotten the chance to know and support my students beyond the role of a traditional academic advisor which has afforded me the opportunity to see them on a personal level.
Like them, I have experienced my share of transitions over the course of four years (relocation and marriage immediately to mind), and through each event, I’ve managed to grow personally, and to a greater extent, professionally. Summarizing this growth and my students’ impact can be a challenge to convey in words. Nevertheless, I’ve identified some of the areas where my students have impacted my personal and professional growth.
Driven by goals
As a pre-health advisor, it’s no secret that most of the students I serve are very goal oriented and driven by their aspirations to attend graduate and professional (i.e. medical, dental, pharmacy, etc) schools. Because of this, our institution attracts many high-achieving students who come to college with a laser focus and ready to set the world ablaze.
On the flip side, there are instances where a student’s post-graduate goals, visions, aspirations are not in alignment with their academic performance which can result in them calling their dreams or in extreme cases their identity into question. Seeing these scenarios play out over the course of four years have had a lasting effect in the way that I view goals and the force that drives them.
For many of my students, the idea of becoming a physician was a seed first planted by family, loved ones, or teachers who recognized their unique gifts and academic abilities early on. Recognition of their gifts and abilities combined with voices of encouragement have led my students to pursue dreams that were not often times theirs which caused them to adopt goals they had no desire in achieving.
Because of this many were resistant to the idea of change or exploration of other career pathways due in large part to fear. As I would later discover, these instances of fear would vary from fear of failure, fear of success, and most recently fear of the unknown. Each instance of fear combined with internal and external pressure would often time put my students on edge resulting in enormous amounts of stress and anguish.
Seeing my students persevere and thrive during these challenging times provided me with a renewed perspective of not only their goals but also my own.
In our four years together, my appetite for growth has led me to contemplate my own future and aspirations, specifically the desire to continue my education at the doctoral level. Given the number of high-achieving students I’ve had the pleasure of serving over the years, it’s only fitting that their lofty goals and aspirations would have an effect on me, and for this, I am beyond grateful.
Among the many things I most admired about my students was their willingness to step beyond their comfort zone and partake in an adventure. From excursions aboard to internships at renowned research facilities, many of my students made it their priority to take advantage of every opportunity given to them simply because there was no guarantee it would be there again.
While the vast majority of them had intentions in completing their degrees in four years or less, other students focused on making their time count rather than counting the time, which in turn resulted in greater risks taken and fewer questions asked. In these moments it became apparent to me how precious and short life can be and from this, I’ve examined areas where I can also take necessary risks.
Like my students, I’ve learned to assess each risk with its potential reward. But unlike my students, there have been moments in my life where I have been hesitant to throw caution (or fear) into the wind.
Observing my students seek and accept risks while also adapting to each situation they were placed only heightened my admiration for them and all they hoped to accomplish.
The price of success
With all that my students set out to accomplish over the course of four years, some of their success would come at a steep price. A story that immediately comes to mind is one told by my student Priscilla (pseudonym) during her senior Capstone presentation.
In her story, Priscilla revealed the disappointment she met with when she decided to pursue a career in business rather than the medical route her family expected her to follow. Despite the shift of Priscilla and her family’s relationship, she had every intention of pursuing her passion even if it came at the expense of reduced or discontinued communication.
While she never intended to be estranged from her family, Priscilla’s unwavering belief in her vision and dedication to her goals drove her to make unpopular sacrifices only few would be willing to make. The positive outcome of her sacrifice came in the form of a well-paying job that was offered to her prior to graduation and the support of her family cheering her on at commencement.
This story resonates with me on my many levels based on the decisions and dilemmas I’ve been faced with since entering the professional arena. Similar to Priscilla, my personal sacrifices have come at the expense of time away from family and strained relationships with friends. Yet there are moments where nothing matters to me but the highest level of success.
From this, I have learned that success can often time be a double-edged sword capable of both positive and non-positive results.
Appreciation & Humility
Putting each lesson into perspective has been a humbling experience, to say the least. While my role as an advisor required me to serve and support each student during their various times of need, I too walked away with valuable lessons and assorted nuggets of wisdom, specifically in the area of humility.
With this humility, I’ve become a student of my students which has renewed my interest in goal setting and the things I desire most in life. Further, I recognize that inspiration can be received in many forms even when it’s your “job” to inspire.
This said, it is with great honor and even greater humility that I present the class of 2017. May you be a blessing to others as you have each been a blessing to me.
Humbly and authentically yours,