Once you've worked in Student Affairs for a while, you've probably
accumulated many stories of former students, and found it particularly
gratifying to see what some of your former students have done. Living
vicariously is one of the benefits of working in higher education. We
revel in our student's successes, and as they grow up and move on, we
follow some of their lives and careers, and do our best to maintain our
connections. It's one of the great sources of joy that help make up
for low pay, long hours, and endless bureaucracies on the flip side of
this particular job-coin.
Working in student affairs isn't all
rewards and relationships, though. It can also be heart-wrenching, when
things don't work out according to the usual plan. But these moments
also teach us about the honor of serving students, the responsibilities
we accept along with our jobs, and the trust that our students, parents
and institutions place in us. I've found that this is especially true
for me when dealing with situations where students aren't able to
continue with their schooling, due to accidents, emotional and
psychological issues, severe illness and death (of a close friend or
family member, or of the student.)
These sorts of stories
won't particularly be the feel-good pull-out-of-your-memory-box
moments, or the funny stories that you tell friends or relatives at a
dinner party. They may be the moments you do your best to push aside,
because they tear at you and make you wonder if you can really handle
all the drama of college life. You may hide them away, because they
leave scars and hurts that aren't easily healed. They may be the
moments you never forgive yourself for being a part of. But don't.
Don't do this to yourself, or to your colleagues, or to the profession.
It's easy to celebrate moments of success, and to revel in them.
But some of the most valuable lessons you are likely to learn about
life, about students, and about yourself can be drawn from the well of
disappointment, failure and even tragedy. If celebrating student
successes is a great benefit of working in this field, then these
moments of harder learning are the dues we pay for membership.
In recent posts to my personal blog I have been dwelling on life, death and
purpose. I thought I was done for a
while. Then, last Thursday night, I learned from one of my coordinators
(Bryan Koval, who also writes for this blog) that one of his RAs, who had just finished two years with us, and was
due to go on Study Abroad this fall, was killed in a car accident. She
was a beautiful, kind and sweet girl who really had a great impact on
Bryan asked me if there was anything else he
should be doing to assist his staff. It was then that my administrative
side kicked in and I started going through protocols in my head, so I
could make the proper notifications to the VP's office, the main Res
Life office, etc. The impersonal nature of such necessities really hits
home when you know the student well. It feels cold, and requires
setting aside personal feelings for some other time.
feeling hits you, hold it up to the light, examine it, and understand
it for what it really is. Taking care of business doesn't make you
inhuman, or unfeeling, or cold. It just means that you accept your
responsibility in the process, and understand that your duty to care,
and to take care of people, includes taking care of details, setting
aside your personal feelings, and being there for others. It's not
easy, but it's worth it. It teaches you humility, shows you your
mettle, and reveals the finer details of your character.
when you think back on the highlights of your career, and reflect on
the experiences that molded you, look back not only on tales of
success, and students who went on to do great things. Some of the most
telling tales will likely be found when reflecting on what you learned
from "the ones that got away."