Do adults realize the power they have in terms of influencing an adolescent’s life?
Like how their words can actually make or break a kid’s potential? Their entire future?
I’m watching the Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why right now. It’s based off of one of my favorite books of all time, of the same name. In one of the episodes, (episode 8 I believe), the protagonist Hannah has a chat with her school guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, about her future. Mr. Porter asks Hannah where she wishes to attend for university and she answers “Columbia or NYU”. He talks about her grades, and responds with “You need to make some changes… or maybe think smaller”, before going into detail about what he thinks are more realistic and practical options. The implication of his words are both clear and all too familiar: give up. Your dream is just that – a dream.
I was also in my sophomore year of high school when I had a similar conversation with my then homeroom teacher, Mrs. O. She was an adult I was taught to trust and confide in, although the only basis I had for doing so was because I had been arbitrarily assigned to her class instead of another teacher’s. But I decided to believe in the teaching, even if hesitantly. So during our mandatory one-on-one meeting at the beginning of the school year, when Mrs. O asked me that same question, “where do you want to go for university”, I answered honestly. Like Hannah had.
“Harvard.” I’d been interested in law at the time (and had yet to know the difference between undergraduate and graduate schools).
“Harvard,” she repeated. She phrased it as a statement but the question mark was there, visible in her raised eyebrow. I watched her take her pen and begin to write down the name on her blank notepad. I wondered if she knew I could see exactly what she was writing on it because of how the clipboard was angled from being pressed against her crossed legs.
“Well, it’s good to have dreams.”
I don’t think she had even bothered to look me in the face when she said that. I blinked at her, confused, having thought that teachers were supposed to be supportive and encouraging at all times. She said something about my grades and then began to tell me a story. “You know, my nephew went to Harvard for undergraduate school,” she began proudly. I half-listened to her brag as I watched her pen begin to grow trees out of the capital H on her paper. I watched her doodle over my dreams and show me exactly how much they mattered to her.
I was hurt. I remember feeling distraught even when I arrived home from school later that day. But I was also blessed. I arrived home to where my mother was available to hear me complain. To tell me that Mrs. O had been awful indeed, and to remind me exactly what I was capable of. If my mother believed in me, it didn’t matter what some teacher who barely knew me thought. I could believe in myself again.
Now, I’m not in Harvard Law currently, but I did get into what ended up becoming my first-choice school. But imagine this. Imagine that a year later when I met my own guidance counsellor, I’d taken his encouragement, or lack thereof, seriously. That I’d let his dismissal of my college goals seriously affect me. Would I still be where I am today?
“It’s good to have dreams.”
Yes, it is. So let adolescents have them. Adults, teachers or not: don’t kill their dreams. Don’t be the one to end them. Don’t condemn a possible feat as impossible until it really, truly, undeniably is.
And certainly don’t tell them their sophomore years when everything is still up in the air, that “it’s good to have dreams”, as if the possibility of them getting into their dream school is as unlikely as that of pigs learning to fly. I mean obviously tell them to have safety schools, other options, but don’t just dismiss their goals without a second thought.
My goal had sounded like an impossibility to those that were supposed to guide me, but despite their dismissals of it, I turned it into a reality. I managed, but my heart goes out to all the other kids out there who didn’t, all of those who were told “no” or “you can’t” at some point in their lives or given some other response…that ended up being enough of a reason for them to give up.
Adults, recognize your power and the influence you can have on young folks.
Don’t be the reason that someone’s full potential is never realized.
Let dreamers dream.