This I Believe
I believe in possibility. Is it the same as hope? Perhaps, yet I think possibility draws me to action whereas hope is more passive. To me possibility is a gambler urging me to place bets that might make a difference for others as well as myself. In choosing to ride along with possibility the destination may be in sight but getting there can take a long time. Witness the election of an African American President of the United States.
The possibility of a college education for me didn’t exist in my mother’s thinking, rather it was the practicality of secretarial school after high school graduation. But as early as 4th grade my teachers urged her to send me to college and that possibility became a reality as did graduate school later on. I was awarded a scholarship in 1959 that helped pay board and room at the University of California at Berkeley where tuition at that time was free.
I volunteer in a reading program in a very poor school district. Teachers identify students who need help in reading and I’ve learned to measure progress in small increments. There is great satisfaction in working with these students yet fears that possibility won’t play fair, that the proverbial deck of cards is stacked against them. Yet conveying possibility to others comes from many sources—teachers, parents, friends, relatives, even strangers.
The same is true of my volunteering for three years in a domestic violence program. Working in pairs, when we received a call from the police we went to the home of the victim. We wanted her to know that the community cared and to talk with her about what kind of possibilities there were to help her escape the cycle of violence. At a program celebrating women survivors we listened intently to a woman who described her newfound freedom from violence as starting from scratch, beginning a new life. I envisioned a neon sign,”All things are possible!”
As Director of Development for the College of Education at the University of Illinois, I saw possibility in action. In helping donors implement their possibility of making a difference by providing scholarships for students or funding a professorship or a chair for a faculty member, they enabled those who benefited from their generosity to realize their own possibilities.
My first year as a social studies teacher I chose not to read the stack of folders with observations from former teachers describing the students about to enter my classroom. I didn’t want to meet these students in the eyes of other teachers, I wanted to meet them directly without prejudging their past actions. Later, after I knew my students, I read the folders, some students fit past portrayals, others had changed for the better. Possibility can deal a new hand and provide second chances. What I’ve learned over the years is not only to give the gift of possibility to others but also to myself knowing the difference it makes in people’s lives.