Yesterday afternoon, I went to USC campus for a meeting with the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund of which I am a Governing Board Member. To avoid evening traffic, I arrived on campus a bit early for my meeting. My daughter, Patience, was involved in activities so I settled into a chair in the library to read away my time. I found out, however, that Patience did have time to see me for a few minutes so I set out to walk across campus to meet her.
While walking and texting in this unseasonably warm twilight, I encountered a girl who exuded this tremendous energy. She approached me, "Did you go to school here? Were you here in the last year or two? Did you cut your hair?" She had the warmest smile on her face and the most sparkling glimmer in her eyes. I was a little taken back but quickly reminded of the many times this has happened to me while I walked across this campus. I scanned her being and her beautiful face while searching the files in my memory for a match. There are many people that I spent plenty of time with but still more who's life intersected with mine for but a moment, a minute, an hour. And, it was clear to me now, that she was one of these remarkable beings.
Here, she had on an 'SC sweatshirt and she was on her bike and we were gravitating toward Tommy Trojan. I confirmed her suspicions as a smile swept up inside me. Her energy grew stronger and her smile grew wider as she informed me, "Girl! I need to give you hug. I know you don't know who I am. But I told myself I would find you one day. If it took me ten years, I would find you and I would thank you for what you did for me."
These exacts moments are what its all about for me. Its that moment when I realize that something I've said to someone -- it could be something very very small -- something I've relayed about my own educational experience has connected with someone enough to give them what they need to pursue their own educational dream. Whether it is just letting them know that it is possible, that they have it within themselves, that despite all the roadblocks and walls they have encountered, or demons within themselves, that they can achieve their degree.
She said, "You are why I am here."
"You are why I am here." I don't know if people understand what a statement like this does to your...your sense of worth. It is such a powerful statement and could be taken so many ways. But I feel compelled to share this moment, compelled to share how these statements affect me.
She reminded me of something that I told her that set her on her path when she was unsure that a place like USC would ever take her. I offered her strategic advice, something simple, to read the school's (whichever school you are applying to) Mission Statement. I told her to see what it is that they were saying about themselves, then to find the parallels between their intentions for their student body and her intentions in being a part of that student body. I told her to spell it out to them that choosing her for their institution would not only be good for her but would also be good for USC. And this is what she did. But, beyond the tools and strategy, what I did was to share my personal story. And not in the "Oh, its all about me" way, but in the "I thought I wasn't worth it and I thought I couldn't do it until someone believed in me" way and "I'm here to tell you I believe in you and so should you. You should believe in you."
I know it sounds all sticky sweet and over the top. And, I don't apologize for that because where I am coming from is sincere. Where I am coming from is a place of experience where I heard "You never really wanted to go to college, did ya?" from the very person who should have demanded that I did so. I come from a place where I dabbled with college three times before someone recognized my ability and encouraged me to move forward. He encouraged me by blazing the path for himself and along the way just giving me little nudges, little suggestions, like tools. He handed me the tools to blaze my own path. And I find it almost impossible not to share the same with most anyone I encounter who has not yet been able to pursue their educational dreams. Education, for me, has been just that liberating. I am compelled to share the liberation.
And, its not me holding anybody's hand. I can tell you a million times how worthy and capable you are, and I can hand you a trillion tools, but if you don't believe it for yourself, its not going to happen for you. This is for anything in life. But there are some people out there who have been wandering around with the desire for education who simply need to hear it from one little person that they are capable of taking this on themselves. Here, here is one little tool. Now take what you know and rock it! And this girl did! She explained to me her process and her doubts and fears, and she showed me the fruits of her endeavor by standing there with her smiling gleeming self all clad in USC gear in the heart of campus.
What was interesting is that (aside from the fact that it had been two years since I had seen her, and that I almost didn't make that walk to see my daughter) I was on campus for the meeting with the Governing Board of the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund because we are amidst our annual Freshman selection process for the scholarship. So, I was already gearing up for that very state of mind wherein opportunity lurks for more inspiration and more tools to be handed out to those who are capable and those who are worthy and those who have it already within themselves to embark on such a scary yet fulfilling path toward their educational dreams. I was here to pick-up my portion of the applications to evaluate for consideration. And she was reminding me why I signed-up for such an important position.
This girl revealed to me that, although she looks like a girl, she is a woman just a few years my younger. She is married with children of her own. And, the way I see it, between she and I stands only one thing - that degree. She wants to know what it is like on the other side. I told her it is wonderful here. She is clearly on her path to get here but, in my mind, she has already arrived.
Thank you, Debbie, for reminding me that I am worthy and capable. I see it in you. And you, Miss Debbie, are why I am here.