class dismissed

Back to school, back to school, except this time, I’m the teacher.  A couple weeks ago I got a call from Junior Achievement asking if I would teach a class on ‘resume building’ to low-income high school students.  The achievement gap in Minneapolis (the worst in the nation) is an issue close to my heart, and so I immediately volunteered.

I remember visiting my high school guidance counselor to learn the ins and outs of financial aid.  When I presented a transcript loaded with AP course and A+ marks, she asked if I was vying for the valedictorian spot. 

“No – I just really need a scholarship.”

“Well then – you’re working too hard.  Why don’t you drop the AP courses and take some fun classes?  Do you like ceramics or cooking?”

“Will that make me appear more well-rounded to the financial aid committee?”

She chuckled and explained that any of the community colleges in the area were already in the bag.  “You’ll probably get a full-scholarship, so why worry?”

I told her I wanted a scholarship to a university. 

She looked forlorn, explained that scholarships were competitive and unlikely, and told me that I might be better off working and saving money.

A few days later, my favorite English teacher sat me down and taught me how to apply for funding at various universities.  I ended up getting a scholarship to my top pick.

Looking back, I’m grateful and thankful and all sorts of appreciative that Mrs. Miller took the time to make a difference.  Now, 10 years later, I’m working to do similar things for the teens in my community.
And, can I tell you what? It’s amazing what a difference you can make in a day.  I know I was only talking about resumes, but when I asked the class the top 2 things that should be on a resume, the first words out of their mouth were “birthday!” and “ethnicity!

Woah, cowboy!  Time for class.

I held a Q&A session at the end of each class, and I was humbled by the sweet and sincere questions the students asked: Can I wear casual clothes if I’m a dog walker?  Is it unprofessional to ride my bike to interviews?
People often talk about wisdom they wish to give their younger self.  To be honest, there isn’t any particular advice that I think would have helped me.

What I do dream about, however, is going back to my most vulnerable moments – times when I suffered so much I felt nearly hopeless – and saying “feel this – this goodness is what’s coming to you.”  How I wish my younger self could have know that the pain and confusion would lead to a joy beyond comparison.
And that joy that I’m talking about it – it’s not just for confused or scared high school students — it’s for anyone struggling to get somewhere, how do we say, lighter.  Whatever you’re going through, remember how quickly things can change for the better, and have faith in yourself and others that good things are coming.

19 thoughts on “class dismissed

  1. Looking back, I wonder how it is that a senior in high school is really ready to make a choice that will shape the next several years of their life. But, then I remember that it is all about having faith, gaining experience, and drawing upon that experience in the future. And not experience gained from working at an employer. Rather, experience in traveling through your mind, deciding how to approach a given situation, and continuing forward despite not knowing where it will ultimately lead you.

    Everyone needs to find their own path in their own way. But, being there to provide guidance and gently nudge each person down their own individual path must be so rewarding, both in helping others and in reminding yourself that we all are in the same situation, making choices to carve a path to our future self. It certainly isn’t always easy, but faith is a powerful force, isn’t it?

  2. Love the picture with Bucky! My father was a UofM guy, so the “Minnesota Hat Song” was one of the first songs that we ever learned, and was sung on constant rotation in our house.

  3. Oh, Jennifer, you are going to be SO amazing at this! I wish I had someone like you rooting for me (and teaching me) back in the day when I was such a complete and total mess. I am still incredibly thankful for the kind teacher who also sat me down and told me I could rise to the challenge and want more for myself 🙂

  4. What a wonderful thing you are doing for those kids. You really can make a huge difference like that in a day! I love that this is how you can give back, and make what your teacher did for you keep spreading wider and wider.

  5. You are SUCH an inspiration, from sharing your own personal story to the wonderful work you are now doing. Thank you so much for all that you do! The kids will look back and thank you for the places you were able to help them go xo

  6. My Dad volunteer with Junior Achievement years ago! That’s a really cool program. And I can relate a bit to your high school story–in high school I was all about SAT scores and grades and extra-curricular stuff, everything to score scholarships and the only reason I could have gone to the college that I did go was because it was free. I’m blessed to have learned as much as I could about the scholarship system at the time–now with little siblings and cousins all at the age of getting into college soon I try to play the role of high school counselor/college adviser as much as possible because I didn’t have one.

  7. Love this, girly. These problems are so big, but that’s no excuse not to do as much as you can to help. Next time you’re on campus, stop by the Medical Devices Center in Moose Tower! You’ll definitely run into Darrin! 🙂

  8. Wow such terrible advice to give a student! I’m so glad you had a teacher who cared enough to sit with you and work on that stuff! I got a scholarship to the university of Oklahoma for acting (surprised?), but after a semester decided to change my major to Journalism. 🙂 So cool that you have an opportunity to educate and encourage those students!!

  9. Amen! My heart aches for my teenage self who was so dependent on things that were not important… I invested a lot of myself in people that didn’t invest in me… I guess it’s life to go through heartache like that, but I could have had someone tell me that it all wouldn’t matter in a few years. 🙂 how amazing that you are able to help those students! They are lucky to have you.

  10. This is the best thing I’ve read in a while. I used to work with underprivileged youth and so often find myself missing that job. Your advice will be so helpful for them moving forward.

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