I gave the following speech at the graduate reception for Western Illinois University‘s College Student Personnel program graduates. I share it because I think that it applies to all graduates entering the field of student affairs as new professionals, as well as to those more seasoned.
As you may have heard, I decided to take a last minute, early sabbatical this semester (also known as a trip to the hospital). Apparently, I felt the need to do a little more research on the biology of learning. 🙂 I am still in the midst of my research, also known as therapy. It is this most recent research process that I’ve engaged in that has led me to six points that I want to share with new SA pros to consider as they begin their journey into the field.
2. If you are doing your job well, you will be uncomfortable and quite challenged. Going into the field of student affairs means that you get the opportunity to impact every day the lives of the students you interact with in ways that are life altering. This enormous amount of responsibility and privilege should leave you feeling uncomfortable and challenged for many reasons, including that by doing so you are also continuing to grow and develop. (Which, development theory tells us that most of us don’t want to do.) So, breathe deeply, stand tall, and be persistent as you find yourself feeling uneasy, it might just signify that learning is about to happen.
3. Do your best to step back so that you can get a different perspective on the situations you are experiencing. This can mean taking time to quietly reflect while going on a walk and/or it can mean discussing a situation with a trusted friend or mentor in order to help process out your experiences. We tend to focus on those who we interact with the most (which are also those who happen to be like us the most), but remember it is important to be aware of those we don’t spend time with and to consider why that might be. After all, student affairs exists for all students.
4. It is okay to be protective of your environment so that you can be yourself, and perhaps more importantly, so that you can have hope. The interaction between environment and person is very important, and has a profound impact on how a person makes sense of the world. This impacts what they contribute to the world. If you don’t create space for hope to exist within the educational environment, it is far too easy to become negative and cynical, which will then impact the work that you do and the learning that occurs for your students. If you don’t believe me about this, consider times when you’ve been around people who are pessimistic and how easily their negativity caught on and became the thing to do…often without conscious realization of it. Don’t become that person. Instead, create space for hope.
5. Show love to everyone around you. Although it won’t always be easy , it has the ability to transform the world into a kinder place. During my program’s interview days, I remember a prospective students asking me to share what I’ve learned from the students since I had just finished talking about how learning is a collaborative process. Now that some time has passed, the answer to that question seems so clear. I’ve continually learned how to love more unconditionally from the students I teach.
6. Never underestimate the students. This is actually a bit of advice that one of my mentors, Marcia Baxter Magolda, and I find it invaluable. I encourage you to hold onto it. All students have something to contribute, and it is amazing and beautiful to acknowledge and an honor to be a part of that.
The second quote is from a spoken word poet, Shane Koyczan. The specific quote I read starts on 4 minutes, 2 seconds of the clip.
“Shine in the dark places. Lend the world your light.”
Originally posted at sarahschoper.com