A few weeks ago, I was speaking with one of my students after class about school. We were discussing the unseasonably (at the time) cool weather, family life, the economy and other issues. He is an older nontraditional student who returned to school after dropping out decades earlier. One of the discussions we had was about how disappointed his youngest daughter was that she did not get into the college of her choice. I thought to myself, I have heard this story many times before.
Yes, yes, yes, this is the season of relief and despair as well as happiness and sadness. It is the time of year where colleges send out their acceptance and rejection letters to millions of students all across the nation. To those who were victorious in landing a spot to their first choice or institution, feelings of pride, content and an indescribable level of euphoria are probably still brimming within their veins. For a number of these students, there is no doubt that such emotions of elation are well deserved. While for others, it as a combination of pure luck, fate, pedigree, diversity, wealth, religious affiliation, geographic region and/or a combination of all these factors. Whatever the reason, congratulations! Continue the celebration!
For some (not all) who weren’t as fortunate, feelings of resentment and despair are probably commonplace. Indeed, for a demonstrably small percentage, suicidal feelings may be commonplace. For most individuals, such a level of dramatic emotion is usually short lived. Feelings of mild sorrow and, in some cases, sporadic degrees of brief and quickly fleeting depression are usually the norm.
While there is often a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction for students who manage to get into the institution of their first choice, the reality is that, for all those who do not succeed on this front, it does not mean that life’s all downhill from there. The fact is that:
n There is no one pathway to success.
n A student’s first-choice school may not necessarily be the best one for them.
n Many people who eventually are successful often fail along the journey.
n Things tend to have a way of working out.
The fact is that not everyone is cut out for or even should pursue a traditional path toward earning a college degree. The adage “no one size fits all” is certainly true in regards to higher education. Vocational education, apprenticeships, internships, etc., are just a number of paths that some students can (and in some cases) should pursue.
While it certainly can be a blow to one’s ego and psychologically demoralizing to fall short of one’s intended goals, the fact is that just because a person “hit the jackpot” so to speak on their first try does not mean that everything is smooth sailing afterward. There are many people who, after feeling an immense level of satisfaction in their initial achievement, in some cases, quickly or gradually realize that their initial decision was not as sagacious as they thought initially.
Joan Collins, star of the 1980s’ mega hit soap opera “Dynasty” made the comment in her 1984 national bestseller “Past Imperfect” that the person who has never made a mistake has not accomplished too much. This is one of the most accurate statements I have heard. Bill Gates, J.K Rowling, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Dave Chappelle, Jon Hamm to name a few are all very successful people who faced a number of missteps and setbacks along the way. The same can be said for numerous other entertainers, politicians and athletes and not so famous people as well.
The fact is that dealing with adversity early in life (I certainly did) can often be positive in the sense that it can often make a person stronger and more resilient. People who have been knocked down in life early on are often much better able to cope with the occasional roadblocks and curve balls that will undoubtedly come their way as they get older.
In fact, it is the people for whom life has been nothing but a smooth pathway devoid of any pitfalls that are often unable to cope when faced with challenges. They often respond to such situations with a vehement level of shock, and for some (not all) life begins to make a rapid and unrelenting U-turn. Some people in this category sometimes never recover.
This was the advice that I gave to my older student, and I suggested that he share it with his daughter. I certainly hope he does.
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Could training in implicit bias be helpful at your institution?