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When You Don’t Give Up on a Student

When you don't give up on a student, he or she can do great things. A student on the football team I met in 2016 was struggling in many ways, and I was fortunate that he trusted me enough to tell me about his issues. I refused to give up on him, despite what sometimes seemed even to me really big odds stacked against him ranging from the financial to the academic.

My advocacy helped him benefit from an anonymous donor who paid his outstanding bill so that he could register for classes the next term and stay on track to graduate, which he will this May. I do not know who did that, but I will always be grateful. Because this young man got another chance.

And a few weeks ago, he presented a paper at the The Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Academy of Religion and The Mid-Atlantic Region of Society of Biblical Literature. It was an undergraduate research panel and his paper dealt with evangelical views and how they led to mass incarceration policies.

I asked him, on the eve of traveling to New Jersey where the conference was held, if he ever thought he would be doing this. He laughingly replied something like "no way, Dr. McKay."

Yet this is what happens when you do not give up on a student. This is what happens when they love what they study. Doors open for them. When they believe that you believe in them, they try things they never would have done. I can't take all the credit for this, as my dedicated colleague in his major of Religious Studies is the one who truly inspired this student to go farther, do more, and write a paper worthy of a research panel at a conference in the field.

How do we put value on that? At a time when the humanities are bashed and programs cut because they do not have enough majors to justify their existences, one may ask: what's the value? Yes, numbers matter, and colleges with finite resources can't teach it all.

I sure would like those who make these financial decisions to talk to this student about the value of his experience. Because I am willing to bet that it is something he will never forget, and it's something that will lead to more opportunities. In fact, I would say this experience has further changed his life.

And isn't that what the humanities in their best iteration are meant to do?

4 thoughts on “When You Don’t Give Up on a Student

    1. Gretchen McKayGretchen McKay

      Thanks, Gretchen. He is an inspiration, and come May when he crosses the stage, I'm going to be all kinds of proud of him!

      Reply

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