In our little combined family, Carter wants to be an astrophysicist (he was trying to master differential calculus and understand the origins of Copernicus' arguments against the Ptolemaic theory of the Universe the summer between fifth and sixth grades) , Natalie wants to be a marine biologist. Katie wants to sing on Broadway, Kurt to play cello in a major symphony orchestra, 8-year-old Nanette was embarrassed to admit she wants to be a wrestler. My partner is championing a Charter school that I'm sure will be the best in the world, and I'm still working on writing that best-selling novel, after all these years (since high-school, it's all I've ever wanted to do.) We've got a successful musical group (we were featured on AMC last year) and we constantly dream big and work in the direction of our dreams, so it's no wonder that our kids do the same.
At graduation last week, one of my students was sitting proudly in his seat, back straight, smile on his face, as we waited for guests to file in. He was a bit earlier than most of the other students because he was in the Spanish club singing group that was giving us a bit of entertainment for the day's festivities. Some of his cohorts were teasing him a bit about the news he'd just received: that he'd been accepted into the Washington State University school of engineering. He was just waiting to be released this summer. You could sense his feeling of accomplishment, to go from felon to university student. Not just a university student, but an engineering student. It's not that crazy - Shon Hopwood went from bank robber serving 13 years in Federal prison to UofW Gates Scholar, outstanding law student, outspoken community activist, wonderful husband and father of two lovely children, and now a law clerk in Washington D.C. He's just one of many success stories.
So, Alec (let's just call him that) was sitting happily waiting to walk across the stage to receive his Associate of Arts degree, taking the jibes from his cohorts lightly with a smile, when one of the other teachers walked by and said, "Engineering? Maybe you should think about a job in sales or something. Never set your sights too high. Besides, you don't have the personality for an engineer..." and on and on she went.
He did not deflate. He still sat proudly, but that kind of negativism toward someone's dreams hurts my very soul. Why do people do that? I know my parents did that to me. How many years have I struggled against the feeling that I am pursuing unworthy goals, that I should have been a banker or an accountant, not a writer.
Later, I was talking with one of my students about his goals, and he was telling me about his plan to open a restaurant in Wisconsin when he got out, and to pursue a four-year degree in culinary arts that included two full years of business classes, and I was so impressed. He had the full support of his grandfather, who runs two very successful restaurants in the Chicago area. As usual, another instructor came up and started talking about the failure rate of restaurants, but my student just ignored him and then said to me, in a quiet voice, kind of as an aside, that he wanted to open the first restaurant on the moon. Seriously. And I said, wow, that would be so cool!
The other instructor said, and I kid you not, "Don't set your goals so high. You'll just end up being disappointed."
This is what pisses me off. Dream-dashing. Why do people do that?
"I'll always set my goals high," my student replied. "Even if I don't make it, I'll do something great."
The student becomes the teacher.
My cohort just walked away indignant. I said, "I'll come to that restaurant when you open it, and when you walk through the dining area, I'll say to my friends, 'I know that guy.'"