It's that time of year again, you know, the one of leaves falling and students contemplating their next moves. I have the bittersweet feeling of letting go, preparing myself as students move on to other courses, teachers, paths, just as I have truly begun to know and appreciate their diverse personalities. This time of year, I find myself meandering across campus in the early a.m. light and considering more than what I will cook for dinner later.
Instead, I mull over what to say to my students, especially as the semester approaches its closing with some of them considering withdrawing, perhaps even giving up completely. I can relate to those feelings of frustration and almost resignation. When I was an undergraduate at Mississippi State, I too had those feelings of being in a rat-race of papers, exams, responsibilities, bills, social events, family drama, work schedules. The list goes on. In fact, I withdrew the spring semester of my sophomore year. First of all, I was facing the dilemma of changing my major from Secondary Education to English, but that decision was not even remotely as stressful as knowing that my father was near death in a hospital bed of UAB.
He was 49 and facing a bout of pancreatitis that was so serious that he missed breaking the record of the largest pancreatic cyst in America by only a couple of centimeters. At only 19 or 20, I watched his temples seemingly gray overnight from intense pain, heard of him ripping i.v. cords and nose tubes out in morphine-induced confusion, and witnessed the fear in his voice when he urged me not to withdraw from school just for his sake. It was a tremendously scary time for me due to the realization that the pressure was on me to make my own path and to decide what was best because my parents were truly not in the proper frame of mind to assist.
We have those moments in life when we must make tough decisions.
So, I chose to withdraw, postponing my college career temporarily until my family could see its way out of the medical fog my dad was in. Instead of attending class, I rose some mornings to drive clean laundry to Birmingham and to take my mom to McAlister's across the road from the hospital so that she could have a little normalcy. Through it all, I knew that I could not lose sight of my educational goals if I wanted to pursue my future occupation, which was as a teacher.
Because of my experiences, most importantly, during this season I tell my students not to take their eyes off of the prize, no matter how long it takes them to obtain it. Overall, having a college degree puts a person in such better circumstances that no student should ever become so discouraged as to give up on it. The desire to withdraw or quit comes creeping in particularly as a class becomes difficult to pass, but restarting is perfectly acceptable, especially for developmental students who are trying to make up educational ground.
I try to remind my classes that Hinds is not going anywhere and that a support system exists here for them to seek out advice and expertise. After all, we have all been in the stress and ditch of indecision at some time or another, trying to decide in which direction to go. "To everything there is a season," and students must remember to give themselves the opportunity to breathe and to take care of their priorities without losing sight of their ultimate goals.