Although I work in the marketing department of a small private school, sometimes I find myself teaching. One example of this is my new(er) role as the yearbook advisor for the high school students. I couldn’t be more thrilled or excited. They all have editorial roles, and each student is simply bursting with creative ideas and articles. One of our Friday meetings was cancelled due to a snow day, and the kids took the initiative to work on a few of the pages and interviews during their lunch hour throughout the week. They completely surprised me with it last Friday, and honestly, I nearly cried.
Kids are awesome.
The truth is, over the last few weeks, I’ve become a friend to these kids. And they’ve started to look up to me as a teacher—not just the girl in the marketing office, running around making copies of flyers and spreadsheets. They’ve been saying goodbye to me at the end of every school day and making sure to include me in classroom discussions.
“What about Emily? We need to meet for yearbook!”
“Can we have a 2nd yearbook class this week?”
(My hair is big enough, let alone the swelling of my head they are encouraging.)
Last Friday, the students were so caught up in their articles and photoshop workshops, that some of them missed the first 15 minutes of their lunch hour. I made an announcement, but they just kept working! After most of the kids left for lunch, there was one kid that stayed behind from the others.
He said, “If you don’t mind, Emily, I’m not really that hungry. I’d really rather finish writing my article on the guinea pig farm.”
To give some context, the private school offers remedial support for students with learning disabilities, health problems, or otherwise need support the public, cyber or charter schools cannot provide. Some of the kids go to cyber school, but need in-class instruction to supplement their programs. It’s a melting pot of specialized educational programs and individual circumstances.
The student that stayed behind is a teenager that has been attending the school for years. He also has high-functioning autism. When he first came to the school, he wouldn’t make eye contact or speak to anyone. To be honest, I didn’t know this much about him before last Friday, and I didn’t suspect the severity of his autism because he is so talkative in our yearbook class.
Nonetheless, he stayed behind and continued reviewing the notes he took from an interview he gave earlier in the workshop. And then he paused.
“Emily, if you don’t mind, I have a few questions for you,” he said. “You know Sally is so determined about making this yearbook so good. She wants it to be perfect. And, Suzy is so determined about finishing her book and raising a lot of money for her cousin. But, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be determined about.”
I think my jaw hit the conference table.
“Well, Billy, do you mean you don’t know what to be determined about for the yearbook? Or, life in general?” I asked.
“Well, I want to do a good job for the yearbook because it’s a school activity. But, I’m not sure what I should be determined about in general,” he said.
Can you believe the conversation I’m having with this student? Not really a teacher, only advising the yearbook class for about a month and a half… I was dumbstruck for exactly three seconds. Maybe four.
“Billy, I want to tell you something. You don’t have to know that right now. It is great that you’re concerned about it, but you don’t have to have all of the answers right now,” I started.
His eye contact was unwavering.
“I’m going to tell you about me. When I first moved to Pittsburgh after high school, I was so determined to be a writer for a big newspaper. I had all of these great plans. But, then I got a great job at a newspaper—And I didn’t like it,” I continued.
He looked surprised.
“I didn’t like working at a newspaper at all. So, you know what? I had to change my plans. I had to find out what I was going to be determined about again. Life is like that. Life changes your plans, and you have to start all over again. I’m still figuring out what I’m most determined about, but I think I’m getting close. You don’t have to have all the answers right now. You see?” I asked.
“Yeah, I do. Thanks for sharing your story with me,” he said with a small smile.
We continued to talk about me moving to Pittsburgh, school and plans. He never ran out of questions or curiosity, but decided that he was kind of hungry after all. As he excused himself to eat his lunch (while still scribbling away in his notepad), he said that he really enjoys yearbook and thinks I do a great job.
I’ve tossed around about a million ideas and dreams for my future, and I still do. Late at night, when the sound of silence is deafening and your eyelids become curtains for the play of your future life. I’ve thought about being a reporter, a novelist, a singer, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a therapist, and on and on. Today, I’m in an MBA program at the University of Pittsburgh, and I am exploring the pathway of a career in marketing and strategy.
I’m not exactly sure what I’m determined to be. At first, I thought that was an odd way to word his question. I wanted to correct him. But, the more I think about it, the more fitting I find the word. Determined. What gets my blood pumping? What keeps me up at night—in a good way? What gets me out of bed in the morning?
I don’t know quite yet. And, that’s okay.
I have quite a few things that I’m great at. I’m good at a lot of things, too. I love certain projects. I like doing others. But, what am I determined to be?
What are you determined to be?