Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's the Little Victories...

While the picture stands in contrast to the title, Tiger's reaction looks more appropriate for sinking an eagle at the U.S. Open, I couldn't help but use this enthusiastic fist pump when I saw it. Besides, we all could use a little celebration for our victories, big or small.

If you do not know, I work in an inner-city high school in Cincinnati as a College Access Advisor. My job is to manage a caseload of juniors and seniors and help them prepare for college. When I first got here, one of the largest challenges was this one girl. She wanted out of my program, stating that she didn't want to go to college and thought that she was taking a spot from other students. My partner and I assured her that she wasn't, but she wouldn't listen, and with that, we had lost a student to what surely would be a difficult life ahead.

We proceeded, on the surface undeterred, but feeling really upset at how a student could be raised in an environment that would allow a student to feel this way. It was really depressing, and it was the first time we had seen disappointment and sensed failure since starting the job. We have since encountered plenty of both of these since the incident with that girl, and have subsequently grown numb to it.

That isn't to say we haven't had our share of victories in the job. There are students that everyday come up to us and tell us the progress they have made; students that have gone on their own and applied for scholarships. There are plenty of things to smile about, especially with the addition of a "College Acceptance Letter Wall" in the cafeteria. Kids are proudly asking us to post copies of their letters on the board and the fever is spreading. We're getting letters from kids we have never met who want to be included and we gladly do.

But for each time we put one of these up, it stands in stark contrast to the kids who are looking at the wall longingly, not with pride. I want to celebrate each letter I get like I really mean it, but as soon as the kid walks away smiling, I feel like they are an exception. There are dozens of students still waiting, or not even trying, like the girl from the beginning of the year. It's easy to get defeated when thinking like that, but that kind of thought is hard to avoid.

Yesterday, as often happens, our guidance counselor handed us a few letters to make copies of and hang. Business as usual. That was until we looked through them and noticed one from Cincinnati St. telling that same girl from the beginning that she had been accepted! Are you effin kidding me?!?! My partner was more animated with her joy but internally I was so happy. I allowed a little smile to escape but couldn't help still feel a little worried. I thought maybe she had just done it to do it and it didn't mean anything. But when I saw the girl I congratulated her and she said thank you. That was normal, but the smile she was wearing was not. As my partner and I walked away grinning, my partner said "I am finally feeling like we actually make a difference." And she was right. It was amazing to see someone figure out what they need to do and I feel like our messages in the beginning might have made a difference. They may not have, but I know she heard our message and we now have results. It felt good.

Even though it was like all of the others, just one kid in a mess of others still waiting to be accepted, she was different. She overcame some serious doubt and I knew that anyone could do that after seeing her do so. Even though it was a little victory in terms of numbers, its significance was much greater, and that is cause for celebration.

Celebrate the little victories, because they are what lead to the ultimate triumphs. 

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