I love teaching Psychology at a large urban community college. Somehow, the best college students in the city manage to get registered for my classes. It's uncanny. I have been amazed by the trauma and drama that they encounter in their complicated lives. And yet, they manage to work around weekend incarcerations, eight hour waits in Emergency Rooms, restraining order violations, pregnancy complications, car thefts, sudden deaths in the family, relationship break-ups, cancer diagnoses, and house fires - to hand in that two-page paper on time on Monday morning. Truly, I have been amazed by their resilience and determination. Sometimes I wonder if they have had so much chaos in their lives, that they have become accustomed to crisis being the norm. They seem to take it in stride with such casual acceptance.
I will never forget the phone call from one of my students who had just missed her morning class. We exchanged pleasantries at first and then she matter of factly asked if she might be allowed to hand in her paper later today. I asked what had caused her to miss class. She calmly explained that the SWAT team had surrounded her apartment complex, and in fact, she is still on lock down and can't leave until the all clear is given. Apparently, the shooter is still in the area, and everyone is advised to lock their doors and stay close to their phones. So obviously, the thing to do is to call your Psychology instructor and see if you can hand in your paper a bit late after this pesky little incident gets resolved. Coincidently, I had watched this incident unfold on Breaking News that morning, so I knew this was not just a creative excuse to miss class. She got an A on that paper.
I remember being a college student, though I attended a midwestern four-year residential college in the early 70's. I know how Life can conspire to make some semesters more emotionally difficult than others. The most I ever had to deal with was probably the occasional relationship break-up. But this is a different time and a different place and a whole different demographic. I am humbled by the adversity that my students overcome in order to achieve their dreams.
Just over a year ago, I turned on the morning news to recognize one of my recent former students being interviewed in front of the smoldering ruins of her burned out apartment building. It was February, during that awful two week freeze that much of the country endured. She and many others escaped with just the clothes on their backs. She was now homeless; she lost everything in the fire. About a week later, I ran into her in the hallway at school. Astounded, I asked, "Are you still in school this semester? I saw you on TV." She smiled and cheerfully exclaimed, "Of course! I need to finish my program; I graduate in May!" Apparently, the Red Cross had placed her in another apartment building and no, she didn't want to ask her adult kids for help; she would be just fine.
No doubt. With that attitude, she will accomplish whatever she wants. I just know that I want to be like her when I grow up.
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