First day of school #29…a little snakey

Last night, I couldn’t sleep because I was anxious and excited about the first day of school. This was my 29th first day of school. I’m not teaching this year, but none-the-less, I love the hustle and bustle the first day brings. I don’t worry (as much) about what I am going to wear on the first day of school, who is going to talk to me (some days less is more), or where I am going to eat lunch (probably at my desk). I will admit, I miss shopping for a backpack, Trapper Keeper (do they even make those things anymore?), and a lunchbox. I loved getting all my supplies organized and ready back when I was a student. There is something special about the smell of a clean building and new textbooks. I love the first day of classes on a college campus because there is a wind of change blowing through peoples’ lives when they arrive on campus. Some feel the breeze and others haven’t even noticed yet. Students arrive optimistic and eager to fulfill a dream or craft their passion. For some it’s their first attempt at college. For others, it is an attempt to get it right…this time. Hope permeates through the campus on the first day of class. That’s why I love my profession.

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was the weather-rain was inevitable. I thought about students trying to juggle a schedule, backpack, and an umbrella while finding their class on this dreary, wet day. Those that know me well know I am not a big logo polo-wearing gal. I have never been uniform (in more ways than one) but on a day where students have lots of questions and are looking for assistance…the polo was the thing to wear. So, I took the casual polo, capri pant, and sandals look….tactic to look approachable for students. Luckily, we got the first batch of early bird 8:00 AM students to class before the skies opened up.

This morning, as I walked out the door to leave the house, I thought to myself “Stacy, today really isn’t a day for sandals.” It looked like it was going to pour buckets of rain…and well, it did. But more importantly, I was dressed, matched, my toddler was dressed and ready, bags were packed, we were on time…forget turning back to find a pair of matching shoes in my closet on this Monday morning. Press onward! Later in the morning after students were settled in class, I found myself sitting at my desk, cussing myself for not changing shoes before I left the house. My feet were damp and cold. The boss man came into my office to touch base on some projects. I saw him glancing at the floor near my desk…then I saw the look in his eyes. It wasn’t the excitement of the first day of class!  “There is a what in my office?” There was a snake stuck in the sticky bug trap by my desk! I have been told it is everything from a Copperhead to a Midland Water snake. Frankly, it’s a snake!!!!!!!!!!!!! Other than the fact that one variety could kill me…they are all equal grossness. As an office suite, we squealed, we near vomited, and we “disposed” of the snake. The office suite has that creepy crawly feeling. Needless to say, it was not the first day of class I expected.

A new variety of student

As my grandmother used to say… “write that in your book”  and that I did. This goes down in my book as they worst first day of school in 29 years. As a student, I have had bad hair days, wardrobe malfunctions, teachers I didn’t want, and bad seat assignments on the first day of school. As a teacher, I have had pesky students, a student who had a seizure, and students who were in the wrong class on the first day. But today, this tops the list of worst day of first days!

A snake, really? Is this an omen? I even checked the Chinese calendar…it’s the year of the dragoon! A cruel joke?  Was it planted? And sandals… I wore sandals! It could have been crawling around by my toes. What if there are more? Did this snake have friends? Are they hiding in my files? Let’s just say, my feet were propped up on a clear plastic container most of the day. My mind played tricks on me, too. Electrical cords now look like snakes, the carpet pattern…snakes. I feel surrounded! Will I ever be able to wear sandals again? I am scared to see what the rest of this semester brings!

Today my spoon is full hope that no more slimy creatures are hanging out in my office and that all of the students had a great (snake-free) first day.

Pomp and what is the circumstance?

Tis the season of graduation…caps, tassels, gowns, speeches-all in full effect. Working in higher education, I always find myself at an emotional crossroads this time of year.  I am elated for those that have accomplished their goals. I am excited for what the next step has in store for each of them. Yet, I am saddened for those that did not make it to the point of graduating.

High School Graduation 1996. That’s me on the right. My dreams for the future were as big as my hair! The caution cone in the picture is a bit symbolic don’t ya think?

This month I have attended three graduations…two ceremonies for my cousins’ graduating from high school; plus, I attended the graduation of the institution where I work. There is nothing I love more than seeing everyone dressed in their regalia and students’ faces beaming with a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Hopes, dreams, and excitement fill the air. I get a kick out of the bedazzled mortar boards that say “class of 2012” or “hi mom.”  I get chills each semester when I hear the thunderous applause and the shouts from the audience from proud parents, grandparents, and friends. At my institution’s graduation, the thing I love most is hearing a tiny voice interrupt the graduation service saying “that’s my mommy” or “yeahhh daddy” as their parent walks across the stage to get their diploma.  What a lesson that parent has taught their child!

No matter if it is a high school or college graduation, each individual has persevered, beat the odds, and overcome barriers to get to that point. Some had more to overcome than others, but when the tassel is turned, the honor is the same.

To avoid a statistical war, my next few points will be estimates based on a variety of data sources and experience. About 75% of students who start high school in Kentucky finish. Sounds good at first, right? Well, what about the other 25%?  The figure for students in college who persist and graduate on time is grimmer. My point is not to debate about what statistic is correct. My point is to say….when I hear the pomp and circumstance played at graduation, I think about what was the circumstance that prevented the ones who were suppose to be there-from being there.

Where was the dream diverted, lost, or postponed?  How and why did they make it to a certain point, but didn’t make it through? What could have been done differently? Was there a point in the pipeline where they were misunderstand, misdirected, overlooked, or under challenged? Was the pipeline the problem-too constricting, not the right flow, rusty pipes, etc?

For those that didn’t make it to their graduation I can’t help but wonder how much more difficult life might be because they didn’t receive the empowerment that education provides. I know folks who make an honest living and are terrific providers for their family who do not have a high school diploma and I know folks that have a high school diploma, but not a college degree who are helping make the world go round. So this blog is not to say that a diploma/degree ensures happiness, wealth, or an easy road. But the reality is more and more jobs are requiring more and more skills that require furthering one’s training and education. Therefore, my mind goes to how could the education systems have helped more students through?

Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating graduation. But the real reason I get up and come to work every day is for that percentage that didn’t make it to the ceremony. Whether it be sharing a smile, offering advice, connecting a student to a resource, helping the insurmountable seem mountable, explaining the education bureaucracy, etc. my work focuses on getting students to the special milestone of graduation.  My business is increasing the number that I see walk across that stage to accept their credential.

Today my spoon is full of hope and perseverance for those that just might not yet see it in themselves. As well as, a spoonful of thankfulness for folks who have mentored and encouraged me while helping me find my way through the education systems.