I come from a family of educators and always appreciate the glimpses into the world of elementary-school teaching that I get from following my nieces on Facebook. One of them, Casey, shared a story, author unknown, about a conversation that takes place in the future: the year 2030, to be exact. A college student tells a parent about learning about the 2020 pandemic in a history class and asks, “What was it like for you?” The parent shares memories of a terribly difficult time, full of stress and uncertainty. The student, however, recalls that year with some fondness. The parent is incredulous. “You were eight years old! What do you even remember?” “Lots of time with our family. Getting enough sleep. Eating meals together. Exploring outside with you. Games. It was pretty great.”
I think about our students who are obviously old enough to recognize the crisis we are in. They are seeing it through their own worried eyes as well as watching family and friends try to salvage jobs, bank accounts, homes. They watch and read and hear as their dreams for this semester, whether it is an athletic endeavor, an internship, a sweet gig in a research lab, and the mother of all events — commencement — are dashed upon the rocks of a virus they had never even heard of just a few weeks ago.
But like the eight-year-old in the above story, they are also witnessing other things. They see and hear your concern as you reach across cyberspace to check in on them. They hear from your campus leaders that every effort is being made to spare them from further loss. They watch as their sometimes-less-than-technically-skilled faculty figure out in a few short days how to put half a semester’s worth of material online, a skillset that usually takes months to learn. They hear from one another that a virtual gathering has been scheduled, prompted by an advisor who knows how close to each other a student organization’s members have become. They get encouragement from a coach to keep up their training as much as possible to be ready for next year. They read a note from a professor of music offering a choir sing-along, just to keep spirits up.
We must make a choice every day either to be consumed by despair and fear, or to rise above it, to see beyond this frightening moment to a day in our future when we can look back and recognize just how much we learned about ourselves and our work. Your students will remember the small kindnesses you offered in a dark time. Those small kindnesses are like seeds you’re dropping into a seedling starter tray, seeds that will sprout into a world very different from the one we have known, but will, nonetheless, sprout and grow. Kindness is, I think, an investment in our future, a deposit of sorts that we make, knowing we will redeem it later, when we finally step back out into the light, embrace one another, and move forward, together.
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