When I left my church job, oh, over seven years ago, my next job was at a bank.
It’s a great bank. In fact, I recommend it. It has community spirit, a proud place in the city of Ann Arbor, has won several banking awards, and continues to post some of the most creative advertising, particularly for a bank, that I’ve ever seen. If you know me, you’ll understand that creativity ranks highly in my book.
Yes, Bank of Ann Arbor and its world-class employees were an excellent transition away from a 13-year career serving the Lord and his children. Until I missed students.
Maybe it’s because so many adults I meet think we’re finished. Our old days were the best. We’re set in our beliefs and values. I’ll be having a conversation with someone in their forties, fifties, or older, and I realize that they’re concretely complete; they don’t think they have anything to learn and they’re not all that interested in anyone else’s story, either. Their thoughts are frozen solid, a closed play book.
This is not so with students. Students quest. They strive. They struggle daily in the trenches. I was recently a student and the whiplash of going back to the role of “learner” hit me hard.
If you look at the etymology of student,
you will find this:
It’s true. To be a student, one has to apply oneself. It is a painstaking application of study, acquisition, and assimilation.
Practically skipping with happiness, I went back to work with students at the University of Michigan. I work with students (almost daily) and for students (daily). Here’s what I want you to know.
If you are calling them “snowflakes,” if you think they are nothing but indoctrinated liberals enslaved to the institution, if you think they only think shallow “hipster” thoughts, you are missing out. Indeed, you are missing them entirely.
The first students I met were already employees of the program and they basically trained me. They cheerfully supported the changes I made at the front desk without demur. Later, I learned from Amanda that I had completely ripped out the previous system. Yet, to a student, they supported me with no complaint.
I work annually with resident advisors (RAs). This is a job like none other. Parents send freshman off to dorms without compunction. Dorms. In the fall. With Rush. And football. And roommate drama. RAs earn free room and board for the delight of not only mentoring your students, but often cleaning up after them, literally, while planning trips to see a movie, go skating, and take in a game with dozens of your little darlings. And they do it with conversational and group-building skills that will serve them well in the “adult” corporate world.
I meet students that write theses on topics I can’t even spell. They talk to me, discussing labs and research. No idea, though I do a really good head-nod.
Students stay on campus to be peer mentors to your students during Orientation, a process that exudes stress. Every student faces first-year challenges, but every day the questions are the same. Will I get all the classes I want? (Maybe, but you might have one on Friday morning at 8:30a.) Will I be able to graduate on time? (Yes, most likely.) What is the ROI on my degree? (Basically, what you put into it.) Does anyone here care about me? They do.
They are knights-errant: sleep-deprived, physically and figuratively hungry, impassioned, sometimes homesick, creative, smart, and caring.
They care deeply about the country, the planet, and about their fellow humans. I am a course creator for #honoline, an 8-module summer series on digital citizenship. In the two years this course has been offered, the dialogue surrounding extremely controversial topics has been respectful, considerate and well-informed. How’s your personal Facebook or Twitter feed going?
The students I meet go on to do crazy, barrier-breaking things. I can’t count the number of students I know in medical, dental, PA, pharmaceutical, and ophthalmology programs. I know Chemistry PhD candidates (a class I failed abysmally, so it’s my definition of impossible). I know a PhD student studying the effects of police presence in school systems. I know an Elle writer and contributor. And a daytime Emmy winner who worked for Dr. Oz while completing his medical degree and studying at a culinary institute in NYC. There are so many, I can’t do them all justice; Daniel, you travel-crazy thing, working for Hand-in-Hand; Alex, you Fulbright winner; Colin, good luck working in Rwanda; Gabe, keep mapping – you’ll be an amazing professor. Jesse, if ever we needed an environmental economist, it’s now. Heather, have a great second year with Teach for America in Detroit. And there are several lawyers, including Mallory and Lauren, if you need a good one.
Oh, and they’re out there, on the street, with more major student debt than any one of us ever imagined with interest rates that rival crappy credit cards. That our country has allowed the government to administer the postsecondary loans and grants program, when it is cannot balance its own budget, is yet another hurdle that they willingly leap to achieve their goals.
I’m geared up for Kickoff. I’m tired of reading posts about the “good old days,” when we were recovering from wars (aren’t we always?), hiding from Soviet missiles under desks, building cold war shelters, hanging black men for looking at white women, and impeaching President Nixon. These are the good old days and these people are on the field, ready to kick off. They are our bright future. No, they’re not perfect, but neither were we. Can I get a wave?
Pictured: One of the first students I met and with whom I worked, Mary, who is now learning German and studying as an History MA candidate in Berlin.