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What the World Needs Now is Compassion

What the World Needs Now is Compassion

I was the victim of bullying when I was nine years old.

Here is how the perfect bullying storm arose:

A new girl (a bad girl — maybe kicked out of another school?) came midyear to our fourth grade classroom.

The teacher appointed MY best friend to be her buddy.

The teacher totally had dementia and was oblivious to the dynamics in the classroom.

The girls (and even some of the boys) were in awe of the bad girl and followed that Pied Piper of Misbehavior down the road of no return.

The new girl, Natalie, was a tough, ballsy chick from the other side of the tracks. Yes, even at nine, she radiated that vibe, as the Girl Most Likely to Drop Out of School and Never Amount to Anything But Before Doing So Leave a Trail of Destruction in Her Wake.

My friends and I, all from the same Happy Days-type neighborhood, had never met a girl like her: brazen. Cold. Disdainful of school and disrespectful of authority.

Maybe that was part of her allure.

I picture her with bleached blond hair and black roots, snapping her omnipresent Doublemint gum and smoking a cigarette on the playground, but surely I am imagining that last part.

In any event, when my BFF was anointed Natalie’s buddy, they became best friends. Which left me, well, out of the equation. Because you know how threesomes and preteen girls are. Almost always incompatible.

Before I knew what hit me, at the gleeful prodding of Nefarious Natalie, my best friend turned against me. Stopped talking to me. Wouldn’t walk home from school with me. Refused to take my phone calls.

And it went downhill from there.

They morphed into Mean Girls, and I was the target of their meanness. First it was whispers and pointed fingers and giggles. Then it was inviting the other girls into a secret group from which I was excluded. Like sheep, most of them were, going along with it, never giving a thought to, oh, maybe this isn’t a nice thing to do to someone.

I was shunned, an outcast. But if they had just ignored me it wouldn’t have been so bad. But.

It got physical. I remember a time when we were all working on something at our desks. Natalie sauntered down the aisle, waving a pencil in the air, and reached over to scribble back and forth on my paper. I was shocked. I tried to erase the damage as best I could. She came back and did it again. I erased, erased, erased until the paper ripped. Tears stung my eyes but I refused to let her see me cry.

And it still got worse. I got shoved in the coat room. My lunch bag was stolen and my sandwich mushed into oblivion. Stuff like that.

One day there was a buzz in the classroom. Rumor had it that I was going to be ambushed on the playground after school. Natalie made sure I heard the threats. She stopped by my desk and muttered menacingly to me, “You’d better watch out.”

If that was supposed to scare me, it worked. I was panic-stricken. But before the dismissal bell rang, an angel appeared in the form of one of my classmates, Judy, a pretty girl with a big heart who showed kindness to everyone.

She came over to me in the coat room and whispered in my ear. “Sneak out the back entrance with me. You can come to my house. You’ll be safe with me.”

And that is what we did.

Compassion won out.

I tell my bullying story not to evoke pity, but to share an example of how goodness can triumph over bad, how one person can make a difference, and how acts of kindness leave an imprint that can last forever.

I haven’t forgotten the sting of bullying. But Judy’s act of compassion was the more lasting legacy.

Because not only did her compassion help heal my wounds, it made me look at Natalie in a different light. Who knows what her life had been like to make her act so hatefully? I was blessed with love and attention from my family. She may not have been as lucky as I.

And this is my hope for today and tomorrow and all the days after. If we are to repair the world, each of us must find it in our hearts to do the right thing, the compassionate thing, whenever we see injustice. Even if it goes against what everyone else is doing.

For me, fourth grade ended and so did the the bullying. I couldn’t tell you what happened to the Mean Girls. In fifth grade we were in different classrooms and after seventh grade my family moved and I never saw either of them again. Gone and forgotten.

But Judy’s act of kindness? Never forgotten. Always treasured. And hopefully paid forward.

What the World Needs Now is Compassion

I am writing this blog post as part of #1000Speak,  joining other bloggers in a conversation aboutaQ compassion, kindness, support, and caring. Let’s flood the blogosphere with words of hope so that we can begin to repair our world.

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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned

According to the calendar it is still summer, but for those of us in higher education summer will soon be a faded memory. I work in a marketing and university relations department on a college campus, and the new academic year is just days away. Goodbye summer, hello students!

I won’t deny that I’ll miss the quiet (and clean bathrooms). But I do love the start of the semester, greeting returning students and getting to know the freshmen. The campus practically hums with positive energy and new possibilities.

Part of the fun of my job is having a student intern each semester who assists with writing, website updates, research, list management, etc. Many of our interns have minimal experience but plenty of enthusiasm, so they get a semester’s worth of Journalism 101 in a matter of days. They learn about deadlines. About suddenly having to shift gears when necessary. How to write in AP style, conduct an interview, take photos.

What do they get out of it? In addition to receiving college credit, they acquire new skills (and beef up their resumes) and get a byline in our publications. That’s great to have in a portfolio.

We benefit from this experience as well. In fact, lessons learned from our students have been invaluable to me, both professionally and personally. Here are just a few reasons why I admire them so much.

They are expert multi-taskers.

Most of our students carry a full course load but have outside obligations that require a good amount of their time. Some hold full-time jobs. Others are responsible for the care of family members. Yet these are often the students who consistently make Dean’s List and hold leadership positions on campus. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m pretty sure they don’t get much sleep.

All it takes is a little creativity.

Who wants the same old same old? Not us! We’re open with them about our expectations, but from the get go we encourage the proverbial thinking-outside-the-box. Out of these brainstorming sessions have come some really cool ideas, things that we hadn’t thought of before. One of our interns taught himself video production and editing, and made several fantastic videos that we added to our website.

They are self-assured and driven.

I am often awestruck by the composure of our students. They are well-spoken and respectful, but do not hesitate to question the status quo and offer alternate solutions. Many of our students are first generation college students, and very motivated to succeed. The dream of a college degree, and the doors that will open for them, keep them going even when the challenges seem insurmountable.

Take two LOLs and call me in the morning.

They are funny, these Generation Y-ers! Just in the nick of time, when the work is accumulating and the stress level is inching up, they come out with something that tickles our funny bone. Finding the humorous side of things can make the tension dissipate: just what the doctor ordered. We have a laugh and then get on with it.

It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.

It is gratifying that our interns stay in touch. Just when we start to wonder what ever happened to so-and-so, we’ll get an email or an impromptu visit. Occasionally it will be to request a reference, but most often it is just to say hello and catch us up on their careers, their families. A good thing that is, staying in touch.

We feel good knowing they’re out in the world making a difference. And what they’ve left behind has made a difference for us.

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Freshmen Orientation 101

If you are a college student or the parent of one, I don’t need to tell  you that your summer is over.

No matter what the calendar says, the fall semester is here, or almost. Most freshmen report for Orientation about now, with classes beginning shortly. Remember the good old days, when the fall semester started after Labor Day?

Yes, cars packed to the brim with necessities, like shower caddies and extra-long bed sheets and laptops, are chugging along the highways destined for college campuses. With a mixture of sadness and relief, parents move their children in to their new homes away from home, and return to the old homestead, tearfully wondering where the years went.

By then, however, the newly minted freshmen are getting to know their room mates and finding out how cool it is to be in college. And once they begin Orientation, the fun really begins.

If you are a new college parent, let me tell you that Orientation is a whole new ball of wax from what it was in our day. The tedious stuff, like registering for classes, is done in advance online. Orientation is now Party Central.

Do you remember your Orientation? It was like, what, one day of intense boringness? Perhaps something like this happened on your first day.

You arrive on campus and have no idea where to go. A cheerful upperclassman directs you to the gym.

The gym is at least 125 degrees because, after all, these are the dog days of summer and there is no AC. You stand in line to register for a course, beads of perspiration dotting your upper lip. Finally, it is your turn. An unsmiling administrator hands you a course slip. You suddenly realize, uh oh, there’s a conflict. You’ve made a mistake. Unsmiling Administrator is motioning to the student behind you. You back away slowly.

Ugh. You’ve scheduled Sosh and Econ for the same time block. You glance furtively around the gym. No one else seems to be having an issue. Students are happily exiting the gym with their well-conceived course schedules. You start to doubt your college worthiness.

You get back in line. This time to drop/add. You drop Sosh and add Ballroom Dancing. It’s the only course left.

Off to the bookstore you go. There are lines snaking around the store. You search the shelves for dozens of required textbooks. Almost finished, you manage to drop your armload  of books. All over the floor. Which you wish you could drop through somehow. You feel the intensity of many curious eyes as you scramble to gather your things.

Cute Guy standing in line offers to help. He asks you where you live, what your major is, what your sign is. Turns out he’s taking Ballroom Dancing, too. Things start looking better. Maybe college will be OK after all.

And now, as a college graduate and the mother of three college graduates, I still wax nostalgic this time every year. Freshmen, I hope you will soak up every experience during these once-in-a-lifetime, incredibly exhausting, amazingly wonderful four years.

And parents? You’ll miss them. But the empty nest can be kind of nice, too.

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Congratulations to all the parents whose children have graduated from high school. Your darling sons and daughters are happily morphing from high school student to college freshman.  Commencement is over, yearbooks have been signed (they do still do that, right?) and the quest for a summer job is underway.

You, dear parent, have cried, exulted, worried and philosophized.  But now that your son or daughter is positioned for the next four years, I am here to tell you that it is time to plan for your future.

Consider this: no more “Back to School” nights, sitting uncomfortably in those student desk/chairs while trying to look interested in the expectations or recriminations of long suffering high school teachers. No more PTA meetings, bake sales, soccer tournaments, Halloween parades, choir recitals or  high school musicals.

What are you going to do with all this extra time?

Of course you have your 9-5 job, your gardening club, grocery shopping, fantasy football and all the other mundane tasks that we pack into our days. But be honest now. Is there a part of you that secretly yearns for the carpool line? Will you have to resist driving by the baseball field to catch a few innings? Are you still humming the tunes from last spring’s high school musical?

Good news: your prayers have been answered. These days, the gates of college are open not just to incoming freshmen, but their aging boomer parents as well.

Responding to the outcry of parents who want to retain their position in their offspring’s day-to-day lives, many institutions of higher education have adopted a full scale of parent programming and opportunities for involvement, giving you a way to extend the active parenting years a bit further. Do you have fond memories of serving on a school committee? There’s room for you. Miss volunteering at school events? Just sign up and the job is yours.

And whether your child reacts with glee or despair, you don’t have to cut the apron strings. Not yet.

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