I believe in the unyielding power of students. Working as an academic advisor and associate faculty member at a big ten institution, my world is filled with words such as, helicopter parent, drop deadline, official transcripts, and incompletes. With these also come terms for our thousands of students: millennials, probationaries, certified, and continuing. However, I never hear the word “powerful”.
As I stand in front of my students on the first day of class each semester, the first thing that I tell them is, “You are far more powerful than you think you are,” to which I am generally met with blank stares and questions about the syllabus. I simply smile and move on. I already know they will not disappoint me; I already see their power.
The belief I have in them undoubtedly comes from my own discovery of power as an undergraduate student at the same university, some 14 years ago. As a sophomore, still in search of where I fit in on this large campus that was home, I signed up to go on a trip to Washington D.C. to take part in the opening ceremonies of the AIDS Memorial Quilt Display on the National Mall. I did not know then, but this would be the last time that the quilt would be displayed in its entirety due to its growing size. It was at 5:00am, as I stood dressed in all white on the National Mall receiving my training on how to open the massive quilt squares, as I watched the sun rise over the Capitol building, and as I shivered from the extreme October morning cold, that I discovered my power. I was only one person, how powerful could I really be? As I looked around at the hundreds of volunteers that would be opening and honoring this massive memorial, I realized that we are all “just one person”, but if we believed that being just one person limited our power to have an impact, there would have been no one there that frosty morning to open and tend to the AIDS Quilt squares.
Finding my own power led to many more trips to Washington D.C. for the Millennium March, World March of Women, and record breaking March for Women’s Lives with 1 million women, men, and children, just to name a few. I write to senators and congressmen and require my students to do so as well. Even with the initial grumbles, to see the excitement in the eyes of one of my students when he received a hand written message back from a congressmen, was confirmation that they are discovering their power.
On the last day of class each semester, my students write their own “This I Believe” statements, after listening to those of others all semester. They believe in the idea of home, standing tall, asking questions, being themselves, and not judging others. They believe in their own power as individuals, just as I believe in them.