Ever since starting my job at my high school alma mater, I’ve wanted an opportunity to work with the students. I’ve wanted to pick their brains about their high school experiences and teach them about life after high school. I finally got the chance this week when I was asked to participate in Ethics Day with the senior class. My role as a volunteer was to bring an ethical dilemma I had encountered in my professional career to present to my group of seniors. The students would then discuss the dilemma with the group, pick apart the situation, and come up with an ethical solution.
I have to admit that, even with all the want and desire to interact with students, I was a bit nervous. Not about talking in front of them, but sharing my unique story. Most of these students come from very well off families and have opportunities many teenagers don’t have. Suddenly I found myself, a single mother raising two small children alone going in front of students looking for guidance, in an ethical dilemma.
Fitting, seeing as how I was there to discuss ethics with them. Do I leave out key parts of my adulthood (single parenting, battles with addiction, dropping out of college twice) or do I take the risk and tell it like it is? The parents of these students are expecting the school to give them positive roll models so that their child has a tool box to use so that they can make good decisions. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to back out, simply because I didn’t want the temptation to lie.
Ultimately I decided to participate
while secretly hoping the students wouldn’t ask for specifics about my life. I prepared an ethical dilemma close to my heart having to do with sexual harassment, and presented it to the students. The exercise went very well. They picked my brain about the details. What kind of harassment? What does military protocol dictate in this kind of situation? What did I do when faced with the dilemma? A teenagers view of the world is so different from adults. It was amazing to hear their take on the situation. Their reactions were genuine, some actually showing physical reactions. I saw the pain and sympathy they felt for the victim of the sexual harassment. As adults we learn to hold so much in, sweep it under the rug, and ignore what it really going on.
Chin up. Chest out. Drive on.
As the discussion went on I could see that, even at 17 and 18 years old, it wasn’t the act of sexual harassment they were more worried about, it was the justice that would result. Would the dilemma end happily or would it end in blatant injustice? They pushed through, gaining more understanding than I thought they would. At the end of the discussion they were both pleased and disappointed with the outcome.
After seeing their reactions to everything we talked about I was ready for any “personal” questions they could throw at me….and they did. They asked me about what college I went to. Although it was difficult admitting to a bunch of college bound seniors that I couldn’t handle college directly out of high school, they understood. I explained to them that I burned myself out during high school and that it’s ok to not do every activity possible. I also told them that later, after I joined the military, I came to realize that my issue was not about being burned out or having too much on my plate, but the lack of structure many colleges have. You’re left to your own devices, and have to schedule your own time. Although I struggled with similar issues after leaving the military, I learned how to manage my time and structure my own life into something that helped me be a more productive member in society.
When I told them I finally finished college with two associates degrees at the ripe old age of 32 while taking care of two small children, and that I was hoping to go back this coming fall, they looked as if I just told them I ran a marathon backwards. I almost laughed, not at them, but at myself. For days I had been worried I wouldn’t be a good example of what kind of person the school puts out in the world. I was afraid to let them down, but their reactions told me differently. They saw me as someone who has overcome many obstacles, all the while doing some
kick ass amazing things.
I went into Ethics Day hoping to teach the students something useful, but came out with them teaching me just as much. Every once in a while we need to be reminded that there are things we’ve done throughout our lives that have made a positive impact in the world. Maybe it’s because we had kids or because age has made us lazy, but the older we get the less we notice our own individual accomplishments. I never thought a group of high school students who teach me to remember and be proud of just how far I’ve come.
We don’t have to lie about what we’ve done with our lives because, just like the ethical dilemma I gave the students, it’s not about what you are going through, it’s about the end result. Be honest with yourself and others. Learn from what you are going through, and as hard as it may be, try not to make the same mistakes again. Last but not least, tell people your story. We can learn from each other. We NEED to learn from each other because we’re all in this together.