I overheard students at the UA last week — three of them, excited about graduating this weekend but clearly, obviously nervous, with good reason.
“I’m not ready for this. I’m so immature. I still make really bad decisions!”
Nervous laughter. Nodding. Joking, but not really.
God help you, dears.
Kids today. It’s tempting to generalize, but doing so does a disservice to the students who work — and gives too much credit to those who don’t.
I’ve taught at the University of Arizona for more than a decade. Several Star colleagues do, as well. We do it because it’s invigorating and yes, aggravating at times, but the energy that enthusiasm emits is intoxicating and contagious.
Getting through college isn’t easy. Well, it shouldn’t be easy. Some students do coast. They do the least amount necessary, more concerned about appearances and going through the motions of what they’ve been told to do than exploring what they don’t already know.
It took me a little while to accept that you can’t make a student care. You can share opportunities to become interested and engaged, but if a person isn’t curious and he doesn’t care about anything that doesn’t affect him directly, then that’s a poverty of spirit no one else can fill.
I do tell students that I refuse to care more about your education than you do. Sometimes they’re surprised. Sometimes they’re like whatever. Most of the time, they understand. It’s a relationship.
Then there are the students who vibrate. They’re curious. They’re not necessarily the loud look-at-me types — they’re the people who say something when they have something to say.
People who listen — who know when to get out of the way — they’re the students who will go on to create. They will add something of themselves. They’ll contribute, often in ways they didn’t expect.
Some students have it together early on. They know who they are — like the young woman who told me that once people hear she’s in a sorority, “they assume I’m dumb. They don’t make that mistake twice.”
Or the guy with the purple pants. Hardly said a word, but stumped everyone with his news quiz questions. He’s now a talented photojournalist with an eye for a story.
Another student also rarely said a word in class, but his writing and reporting spoke for itself. He still seeks out criticism, always wanting to improve, not because someone said he had to, but because he pushes himself. He listens to people in a way that efficiency can erode — in the moment, with his full curiosity engaged.
One young woman found her passion in LGBT and gender-identity advocacy, being a straight ally and encouraging all of us to think about the labels and expectations we place on each other. And she’s a goofball in the best of ways.
Another young man has worked more doggedly than anyone I’ve known. His road hasn’t been easy, and for a lot of reasons probably never will be. But he loves journalism. Smart, funny and kind, he’s the best kind of investment. He will find his place in the world.
To those young women worrying at the UA, no one is ever ready to launch. We can believe we are, but there’s no way to know.
Graduation is bittersweet — an end, and a beginning. So many reasons to be proud, and so many hugs to give. It’s one of those Big Life Events that waterproof mascara was invented to handle — and I’ll still be a sniffling raccoon.
There aren’t magic words of wisdom to impart, no list of how-tos to get you through every situation. But when I think about what that young woman said, I want to let her know that maturity isn’t like a pop-up button on a Butterball to let you know you’re done. There is no time limit on making dubious decisions.
But I will say I’ve figured out this much: Challenge in life teaches resilience if you let it — and bitterness if you don’t. You decide, because challenge is coming no matter what.
But you can’t know if you’re ready unless you test yourself.
So go for it.
Email Sarah Garrecht Gassen at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook.