Every once in awhile I still have the old nightmare–the one where I wake up and realize that I am late for the final…in a class I forgot about all semester. Up until a few semesters ago, I thought that could only be a nightmare, and then a student e-mailed me the last week of class and told me he totally forgot about the class. He was hoping he could get caught up.
I know that students can have some really terrible circumstances in their lives. They have unexpected illnesses (one semester a student got a cancer diagnosis), children get sick (another student had a child hospitalized at PCH), family members die. I’ve had students kicked out of their homes, in the middle of horrid divorces, etc.
And yet many of these students persevere through it all. Some even earn As and Bs in my class. What makes them different from the students who have a hard week at work and simply throw in the towel, never to be heard from again?
I can’t speak for all of my amazing students, but I can speak for myself. The second semester of my sophomore year at NAU was probably one of my most difficult. I got married the Saturday after the Fall semester ended. At the beginning of the Spring semester, I went to the ER for severe pain that continued off and on for months. Right before Spring Break, my dad had a massive heart attack at 49 and passed away. After another visit to the ER in April, the doctors finally diagnosed a kidney stone, and I was rushed into surgery. In the meantime, my husband and I were supposed to be moving out of our apartment, so my family had to step in and help get us moved. And yet…and yet. I earned all As that semester (I was taking 18 or 21 hours–don’t remember which)–except for one B in the second semester of Organic Chemistry. How did I do that? I was focused on my goals. I did what I had to do.
I like to tell my students this story at the beginning of the semester to help them stay focused: Imagine that you are at the top of a highrise building. There is a 2×4 balanced between the building you are on and another one across the street. A ice storm is swirling around you. You can feel the building swaying in the wind and icy snow falls in sheets. Would you cross that icy 2×4 for $1,000? $10,000? $1,000,000? Now…imagine that your two year old is clinging for dear life to that board just outside that other building.
There will always be hard things. If we don’t have a strong enough reason for being where we are, those hard things will stop us. But if our reason is big enough, we can conquer anything. For many students, having a clear vision for the future can help them keep going when the going gets tough.