Category Archives: The College Experience

Get a Side Hustle!

This was someone whose footsteps I always wanted to follow. We were RAs together and after graduating, she went into higher education. A year later, after graduating, I found myself going into higher education. She ventured into student leadership and development, and I went into student leadership and development. She made the jump into the corporate world, and I wanted to make that same move. All though her journey, I had no idea that her some of jobs were just as UNFILFILLING as my own. Upon interviewing her for the webinar I facilitated last week on the elusive dream job, I uncovered this nugget of wisdom from my friend, Jen, which is just as fitting for recent college graduates as it is for seasoned professionals:

“Get a side hustle! If your job isn’t filling you up, then find something that will – something you can do alongside what’s (currently) paying the bills. It could be working on a book you always wanted to write, or volunteering at an organization. For me, it was DJing. I totally stumbled into it. I basically taught myself. And in the beginning, I would work all week at my full-time job and be miserable and mentally exhausted by Friday. But then I would hit the boards at a club on a Friday night and the dance floor would be PACKED and people we having a great time and I was like “I did that!” And it just lit me up. And I was instantly hooked. I would only make a couple hundred dollars per gig, but it was not about the money – it was about doing something that felt like I was applying my talents to bring joy to people. And now, here I am, five years later, turning down gigs because I’m too busy!”


The Elusive Dream Job

Still on a high from the webinar I facilitated for my alma mater!!!! The topic: the elusive dream job. To prepare for the webinar, I interviewed several friends with whom I graduated about how they have been able to attain their dream jobs AND what lessons they learned along the way. From my preparations, I learned (fortified, really) that the dream job – or the very idea of it, anyway – is, indeed, elusive.

Before I get there, I had done some prior research into friends’ pursuit of the dream job, that, I think, will provide a framework here. Some years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who admitted he was in a rut. He was in his mid-twenties, he had a great career (a lawyer, for god sakes!), lived on his own, was single and ready to mingle, and was your typical bachelor. But, still, he felt stuck in a rut.

He wasn’t the only friend who professed this to me. Another friend lives in Boston (well, just outside of Boston, really, like most people who live in Boston) and is ready to party as soon as his phone starts to buzz. At the time, he was a manager at his job and by all means was successful. Yet, he also felt stuck.

Another one of my friends lives in Connecticut also felt their pain. She was unhappy but not miserable at work – which only means she didn’t really like her job, and it’s not what she wanted to do (although at the time, she did not really know what she actually wanted to do); but her job was not terrible enough to make her quit. Beyond work, she was out partying every Saturday, at Happy Hour every Friday, and had Girls Nights about once a month. She vacationed with her girlfriends and had heart-to-hearts anytime she needed them. Despite that, something was missing.

If that wasn’t enough, another friend from New Hampshire, who is married, has two children, and makes six figures (which makes my puny paycheck look like crap!), wishes he could go back. He loves his life now — his wife, his children, dog, white-picket fence, and all that nuclear family jazz – but every now and then, he talks about the way things used to be.

And then there was me. Stuck.

We were all afflicted by it.

But what if the issue was not with us as much as it was with how we were all taught to view the idea of a career? More specifically, the dream job.

Our brains are still forming until our mid-20s, most teenagers are still unsure of themselves in high school, yet we expect people to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. First problem.

I liken this to the way we are socialized to view women in the media. Pick any magazine cover with featuring a woman and you will undoubtedly see flawless skin. Eyes that pop. Pouty lips. Long, flowy hair. Impeccable physiques.

This image is dated, I’ll admit that. But, I used it on the webinar because it was tame (relative to the others from Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition) AND features a notable celebrity.

See, we adore these images (and our female celebrities) because in our eyes, at least how we have been taught to view them, these women are perfect examples of beauty. But it is almost as if we pay no attention to the editing, enhancements, and Photoshoping that has taken place to deliver to us the image of (in this case) the perfect woman. For many of us, those adjustments to the image do not matter – all that does matter is what we see: flawless skin. Eyes that pop. Pouty lips. Long, flowy hair. Impeccable physiques. Because this image has been enhanced and adjusted, it becomes an illusion.

And this illusion begins to color how we respond to women in the media (they become sex objects, which is another lesson, for another day) and impacts how we treat women in our everyday lives.

The reality is we are given perfected images of what a beautiful woman looks like, and gone unchecked, the images become our standards for beauty. Standards based on illusions.

How we have come to see career is similar. Something that, for most of us, can feel both real yet unachievable at the same time. We learn that our careers should provide financial wealth, allow us to afford a home, go on vacation, and ultimately become a boss! Rarely do we hear about those things we may not attain through our career such as family or a sense of belonging, and how those values impact our professional selves.

So what I encourage students, and new graduates to do, is reframe that way in which they see career, the amount of value they place on a career, and how much influence they allow a career to have over them. Not easy, by any means. But this mindset can be adjusted by working on self-reflection, developing and working towards both a personal mission and goals, as well as working to achieve work-life balance.


Our problem is we have already frolicked through the fields of heaven (that was our college experience), so the circumstances we’re going through now simply feel like purgatory. We’re all wishing we could somehow fuse our lives now with our lives from back then. We all wish we could return to a life that was.

Letter to Adults

Every day, I hear of adults failing the young people and teenagers in their lives. This is my letter to those adults:

Dear parents who told their daughter that she simply could not go away to college:

At this impressionable age, your daughter is bubbling over with ideas and ambitions, hope and dreams. One dream that she had was to go away to college. To be on her own, for the first time, and prove to herself, that she can make it. On her own. She wanted to go away to college, not as some sort of slight against you. But to better herself. Your decision to rid her of that college dream did more than just temporarily remove her desire to go to college. It also told her that she should not even dare to dream. She did not tell you, but you left her a broken mess. She no longer believes that she has the ability to pursue something greater than herself. You shattered that vision by insinuating it was okay to have low expectations and reach for mediocrity. Unbeknownst to you, you instilled in your daughter all sorts of self-doubt. You may as well have told her that she could not accomplish her goals, or that she did not have the capability to achieve all those aspirations she had been dreaming of since she was a little girl, or that she should not even dare to dream. Your message of mediocrity will not only affect your academic aspirations, it will also affect the relationships she makes, the people she choose to date, the career that she pursues. It will impact her life in all of these ways, and so much more. Please consider a change of heart. More than, please consider letting your little girl dream again.


The counselor who had to pick up the pieces.

If that girl were to write a letter to her parents, this is how I imagine it would read:

Dear mom and dad:

Growing up, your parental voices were seldom nurturing, and were more time authoritative screams – leaving your ears deaf to my cries. Your verbal scorchings have scarred my soul, and left me devoid of spirit, hope, or ambition. You turned your back and blockaded my every attempt at capturing your attention, when I only wanted your approval. My hopes began whole and were crushed into cubes, and then used to cool your ever distracting glass of lemonade. You became my adversarial force, incessantly ordering me to and fro, stop and go. And by ignoring me, you became parentally ignorant.

I grew lonely, and then became fed up with feeling all alone.

Your ignorance again reared its ugly head when you ignored me, taking little interest in my days at school, the teachers who belittled me in front of my classmates, and the sugary candy that made my teeth rot and my tummy ache. You sat me in front of the TV, VCR, video games, and other new technological advances, and wondered why I fell sullen and melancholic. And when I didn’t respond, I was assaulted with further tongue lashings and then, the back of your hand or your thick leather strap.

I used to fight with my brothers and sisters: the mythical standards you’ve set for us had caused me to grow ashamed, and in the process of masking my imperfections, I had in turn shamed others; both your biases and prejudices singed my soul, and left me afraid to love. But, I no longer feel alone. In my peers I now confide – though we are both as green as budding stems. I would have rather learn from their experiences than sip from your tainted glass. My soul was on the verge of dying, just as yours has already. Yet the passion and zeal of my youth just will not let me go gentle into that good night. That’s from a poem I read in English class. You know, the class I told you I loved so much and wanted to study in college. Only to hear you laugh in my face at how I would never become a writer or be able to support myself by majoring in English. Thanks for the encouragement.

This latest fiasco dealt me a major blow. By telling me that I could not go to college, you may as well have told me that I shouldn’t even dare to dream.


Your daughter who’s gone to pieces

If you Do it Right

As I continue working on A Matter of Semantics second edition, a NEW lesson has worked its way into the revisions. Here are parts of that new lesson, raw and uncut. Enjoy!

But, if you want this unforgettable, magical, intoxicating sort of college experience, you have to do it right, and give the experience all that you have – the full complement of your time, energies, and focus, as though you were in a monogamous relationship. You have to take advantage of the myriad of opportunities your college experience will present and afford you and not just those that are within your comfort zone. You have to allow yourself the ability to transform as a result of the experiences you will encounter, and not fight reality when you realize you have grown into someone new, someone different, or someone your high school friends no longer recognize.

There is no underestimating the impact of the college experience. It has the ability to change your life, for the better.

This life lesson – of dedicating yourself completely, fully, unselfishly – one you can carry with you in every facet of life. Whether you’re in a committed relationship, on a sports team, involved in an organization, or pursuing graduate studies. If you want to get the most out of those experiences, you have to commit yourself.

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with being content with your backup role on the soccer team, for instance. Nothing wrong with playing for the sake of playing or just to have fun. Nothing wrong, whatsoever, with being on a team, in an organization, or in a relationship just for the experience of it all.

But if you want get the most out of your involvement on that team, organization, relationship, or in this case, college experience, you have to give yourself the permission to be vulnerable and allow the experience to transform you in ways you never thought possible. You have to give yourself – completely, fully, and unselfishly – to the experience. In short, you have to do it right, and that means going all in.

The Trouble With the Bystander Approach

I’m going to risk being in the minority here – in more ways than one – but for all of my dear friends and colleagues, passionately working to end sexual violence, clinging to bystander intervention principals, I am issuing the following challenge:

Is bystander intervention really the best method with which we ought to be addressing this issues of preventing sexual and dating violence?

Not to expose our own dirty laundry, but let’s get down with it and examine how we teach about bystander intervention.

Do we educate, in in-depth manners, the meaning of the word, bystander. Do we discuss, in the amount of time necessary, how the term bystander came to be in our social consciousness? Do we analyze Kitty Genovese, and the seemingly ever-changing details of her murder? Or, do we, sloppily play videos of “What Would You Do”, and ask audiences to react…as if, after seeing how people did not react, anyone in our audience will be honest enough to say they would not intervene, in some way.

Next, how many of us use the same sloppy, if not stereotypical scenario – College party. Soberish guy giving girl drink after drink until she can barely stand up. At which point, guy attempts to take girl someplace secluded – upstairs, downstairs, outside. Anywhere where they can be alone. At this point, the bystander is supposed to notice this incident and step up. Seems pretty standard, from damn near every training, lecture, webinar, and conference I’ve attended. This scenario has begun to irritate me for two reasons. First, it gives audiences a faulty perception of what the set-up of a sexual assault looks like. It leaves students thinking they should be on the look-out for guys feeding girls drinks, only. Never mind the fact that – from the research done on college rapists – his friend are usually in on the plan, and are aiding and abetting him in the process. It doesn’t take into account the rapes that happen between same-sex couples; boyfriend-girlfriends, behind closed doors; or when there is no alcohol present. No party, no booming music, no one around to act as a bystander. Secondly, from all of the advocacy work I’ve done with survivors, this scenario makes up a fraction of sexual assault scenarios. Using this scenario could actually be doing more harm than good, but we’ve clung to it, as the best way to teach bystander intervention.

Lastly, and let’s just for argument’s sake, say the previous two points play out in the affirmative. If we educate and empower bystander to intervene when they see that exact high-risk situation happening, have we truly prevention sexual violence? Of course, in that instant, we have. So there’s a MAJOR win. (I will not deny that preventing at least one person from victimization is worth the battle!) But, that’s certainly not how we’re educating students. We’re telling students that intervening in those moments prevent rape, as a whole. That it will stop that would-be rapist from raping, in that moment, and ever again. And that’s what we need to dig through. If we stop one would-be rapist, in one moment in time, who’s to say that the rapist won’t target another victim, at the same party, later than evening? Or that the rapist won’t devise another scheme where they are no bystanders to assist? If we empower students to thwart one rape, can we say that we truly have changed how that would-be rapist behaves, overall? As Time Wise notes in White Like Me, “telling someone not to engage in racist commentary in front of you isn’t the same as getting them to stop practicing racism.” Similarly, getting one would-be rapist to stop one act isn’t the same as getting that person to change their beliefs, and thus their actions, on their own.

What’s more – and we ought to do some critical thinking here, too – if we operate under the assumption that survivors are in our audiences, and thus, we deliver content sensitively and appropriately, we must also accept the fact that people who have already committed rape, as well as those who will go on to commit rape, will be in our audiences, as well. Giving them our models on bystander theory can certainly motivate them to create alternative ways of carrying out sexual assaults.

Now I’m not calling for educators and preventionists to stop using bystander approaches. What I am challenging my friends and colleagues to do is – some thorough analysis and critical thinking. Let’s stop feeding audiences the rhetoric. Let’s spend time unpacking these very complicated issues and let’s stop being lazy and haphazardly reviewing concepts during the last few minutes we have, just to say we met some measure. Let’s stop making things so goddamn simplistic. Sure it sounds good to say to people “we can prevent rape, if bystanders will step up!” When we do that, though, are we really, truly preventing rapists from valuing, contemplating, planning, and carrying out rape? Or are we just displacing the blame, yet again, because the alternative seems too damn difficult?

To my friends and colleagues, and those who openly discuss bystander theory, let’s give the theory the respect it deserves, and analyze it, fully, as another tool to help prevent sexual violence. It’s not the tool that will end sexual violence on its own. Let’s give the complexities of rape the respect it deserves, as well. It’s not some simple entity that can be stopped by someone checking in, or saying, “I have to go to the bathroom, can you come with me”. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Let’s also give survivors the respect they deserve, and stop regurgitating the “if only there was a bystander” talk. How might that make survivors feel, to reanalyze their assaults, yet again, wondering why someone didn’t step up? Or that, as a field, we hold the bystanders just as culpable as we hold the rapists. I’m calling bullshit on that, and I challenge my friends and colleagues to do the same.

A Reflection on Convocation

I attended convocation at the place where I work, today. It was okay. Too hot and humid for my liking. But I quickly found a spot in the shade, and attempted to cool off after the student government president, dean of faculty, and president of the college all delivered addresses. Being there, watching the students sitting in plastic chairs, baking under the sun, reminded me of my first day at college.

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime memories. Like the day you get your driver’s license, your senior prom (for better or for worse), the day you get married, the moment you watch your child come into the world (if you’re lucky enough to experience the latter two.).

My first day at college was a mixture of excitement (ecstatic about the physical distance I’d be placing between me, and the place where I grew up), sadness (it felt like I was leaving the place where I grew up, and everyone I knew, behind), and anxiety (I wondered less about whether my roommates would be weirdoes, and more about whether I brought enough deodorant).

But that first day, I was away from my family, really, for the first time in my life. Away from the responsibilities of coming home at a decent hour, or calling my mother to tell her where I’d be. Removed from the wailing police sirens and other urban lullabies that sang me to sleep. Separated from my friends, the bodegas, bus routes and Path trains, and everything that made New Jersey home.

The one thing I didn’t know – the one thing I wish I had known – was that, that day, I was literally starting my life. It wasn’t like the time I went to a different high school than all of my friends, and I had to adjust. It was like the time I moved to a different part of the city, and I had to make new friends. No, starting college was much different than anything I had ever experienced.

That night, I remember setting up my things and going to bed. I hadn’t slept much the night before, and my roommates wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. When the next day arrived, it became real. The nightlife. The drunkenness. My classmates wandering around from building to building. Chatting, buzzing, trying desperately to fit in.

I sat back, watching it all unfold, thinking to myself, is this really how it’s going to be for the next four years. Wondering where, or how, I’d even fit in. Fitting in, isn’t that what most students are just trying to do? Find their place, their niche, the place where they feel like they belong. That was me on a Saturday night, with most of my classmates (or so it seemed) stumbling from party to party, praying life didn’t pass them by.

The pit of my stomach felt unsettled. I knew I’d belonged, but that’s not what was playing out in front of me. I wanted no part of the inebriated environment. That was some shit I couldn’t get down with. Some shit that I judged my classmates for. See, what I didn’t know at that time, was that we were all in the same boat – drunk or not. Laughing with people we’d just met or sitting by our lonesome. We were all in the same predicament. Just trying to make this new place feel like home.

And, all these years later, that’s become so much of what life is about. Trying to make things feel normal, like you’ve been there forever. Whether it’s a new job or a new house. A cute guy you just met or the newest cell phone you just had to buy. We’re all in the same boat. Trying to make each, and every experience, feel like a little less intimidating, a little more welcoming. An organic extension of ourselves. Like that old Cheers song, a place where everybody knows our name.

That’s what so much of life has become. Vying, trying, and fighting, desperately, just to not feel out of place. Whether we’re chatting on our cell phones while walking down the street, meanwhile missing out on life that’s taking place all around us. After all, who wants to be an outsider, when it’s much more comfortable being part of the in crowd – however you define that term.

The college experience teaches us lesson that we can hold onto for the rest of our lives. Life is going to bring uncertainty and anxiety. Life is going to be confusing and chaotic. Life isn’t always going to feel normal and organic. The sooner we allow ourselves to get used to this reality, the better off we’ll be at adjusting to the every-changing scenery around us.

I wish I could tell my eighteen-year-old self that, the day I moved into college. But that’s also the beauty of it. Some things you can’t learn reading some obscure passage or by heeding the advice of other people. Some things you just have to learn on your own. Like how to make each and every experience, an organic extension of yourself.

Letter to a Student about Leisure and Work

I’ve been lucky enough to keep in contact with a few students that I used to teach. This is part of a letter I wrote to a former student, recently. I wanted to share it, as college students prepare for the Spring semester, and look towards post-college days. As professionals, many of us have the idea of “work” wrong. We sometimes can be more productive, by taking better care of ourselves. If we can pass this message on to college students, perhaps they’ll learn to practice better self-care and become more productive employees.

I tell ya, the working world never ends! I read this article today about work and the need for leisure time…and it’s completely opposite of how the workforce operates. Take your time in college…hell, even stay for a 5th year (if you keep up being debt free!!!) and take advantage of the myriad of opportunities, which I know that you will. You can spend a semester, sipping wine in Italy or eating croissants in France or perfecting your Espanol in Costa Rica.

And you’d get college credit for it!

Now if I can only find a similar deal, in Hawaii! I can dream!

Talk soon!



Quinnipiac Panel Jitters

Journal entry, from the panel I participated in, at Quinnipiac University a couple of weeks ago. Can you take a guess as to whom I wrote this letter?

I sat in that chair, not fully knowing what to expect. I had prepared for what I thought was to come, but still not knowing what, or how, it was all going to go down. It wasn’t so much anxiety, as it was nerves. That’s how I always get before speaking engagements. Nervous. Am I projecting good energy? Do I know how I’m going to answer the first (and most obvious) question? Are my thoughts flowing cohesively, such that my words will come out seamlessly, and I will come across articulate and engaging, as opposed to a stuttering, tongue-tied, mumbling dufus? You know how I can sometimes, when I’m excited, and bouncing off the walls, and my mind is moving so fast that my mouth can’t keep up!

I felt confident enough. I’d prepared a good amount, but not so much that my thoughts were filled with singular responses to complex, and complicated questions.

Students packed the small room, with its square shape and wooden wainscoting décor. The room felt smaller than I remembered it. No longer was it this grand space that I thought it had been; now, it felt large enough to accommodate a good sized-audience, but small enough to still feel intimate. True to the Quinnipiac way, I guess.

The first question was read, and I deferred to another panelist. Not surprising, I defer most things that I’m offered – whether it’s a ride or someone asking about my day. It’s not because of some underhanded plan, but rather, I’d prefer to give rather than take. Give a compliment, as opposed to take or receive one. Give someone a first attempt, and give them all the praise, instead of taking whatever limelight and spotlight for myself. This decision was made easier as one of the panelists was a current Quinnipiac student. In my mind, it made sense for him to be the star of the show. As he was speaking, I swear I was doing my damndest to pay attention. But my mind kept going back to my own response – I had to make sure that I nailed the first question. If you don’t start off well, it would have become an insurmountable task to get back on track, or right the ship, so to say. What’s the cliché – you can never make a second first impression? You know that I hate clichés, but this one fits.

So I sat in my chair, feeling the eyes on me. When it was my turn, I picked up the microphone and attempted to speak. It’s never my style to try and sound articulate or poetic. That shit just happens. Well, I shouldn’t call it shit. But you know what I mean. Speaking well just seems to come to me – a talent that I think I often take for granted (hence, referring to it as shit, the way I’d refer to something I’ve done a zillion times, like take out the trash), but one that I work on, incessantly. I don’t want to be good. I want to be great. And I don’t want to just be great, I want to be the best. But that’s not what’s running through my mind. All I’m trying to accomplish, is turning my thoughts into words, in a fashion that will sound clear and will resonate with the audience. The articulate, engaging, or even poetic stuff just happens on its own. That’s not something that I try to control.

I had you in mind when I answered the first question – the value of a college education. Value can be such a loaded word, can’t it? What’s valuable to one person, may not be valuable to another person. And that’s precisely what I tried to convey. My opening remarks were something to the effect of – the value of the college experience lies within each student. That a college education will have as much, or as little, value as each student allows it to have. On the surface, I know that can sound coy, or as if I’m not really answering the question. But, here’s what I mean. Take the girl (here’s when I thought of you), who knew she wanted to become an occupational therapist. She did some volunteer work at a nursing home, during high school, and discovered her passion for therapy and helping people get back to their daily lives. That student, who gets admitted to a school with a reputable OT program, goes on to graduate with honors. She lands a job, and goes from a nervous new-grad, to a proficient, senior-level professional. If that girl, now a woman, decides to get married, and have children, she can decide to put her OT career on hold. And when she’s ready, she can resume her OT career, just like that. For this individual, a college education will be invaluable – there would have been no other way she’d have been able to become an OT without going to college. Said simply, you can’t become an OT by going to trade school.

Now, this isn’t to say that every career requires a college education. But our focus was on value. And for students who do it right – focusing as much on their academic, as they do on their career and personal development – there will be no monetary or numeric vale that can be given to the college experience. It will be part of what makes them unique; part of their fabric. The college experience will be a very distinct part of how they see, and define themselves. Like – Jessica, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, OT, college graduate. The experience is one that’ll always keep with them. (Or maybe it was just me, who had such a transformational college experience.)

Once I shared that story, everything seemed to ease. I saw heads nodding, faces smiling, people beginning to feel connected to what I was saying. That was the engaged part, I suppose. But that wasn’t what I set out to accomplish. I just wanted to convey an idea (a brilliant idea, mind you!, that I crafted through my mental preparation), and let everything happen. Told you…that other stuff, it just comes!

The Economic Value of a College Education

I participated in a panel recently, on the value of a college education. We had some spirited conversations, and each topic was worthy of having its space in the universe, where we could dedicate the appropriate time and energy to explore the topic, in great detail. On this panel, we began the conversation discussing the value of a college education, from an economic standpoint. This particular conversation is as important, as it is multi-faceted. For, can we really put a price tag on how valuable the college experience is for students? Here is just one, often overlooked perspective, on the economic value of a college education.

When I hear, what is the value of college education, I sense others are approaching college as a traditional investment, a bunch of facts and figures, dividends and portfolios, and ultimately, whether there is a return on the investment. But unlike stocks and bonds, the college experience is made up of people – individuals with ever-changing thoughts and values, interests and ideas. So the investment comparison isn’t quite apples-to-apples, because bonds are not living beings with career aspirations, and students are not intangible entities that can be traded for the next hot commodity. But, if we must look at college as an investment, and are thus compelled to determine its value, let’s look at the college experience the way we look at buying a house.

Unlike most other investments, purchasing a house is not strictly a financial or economic decision. There is more to consider than simply can we afford the mortgage. Prospective home buyers will want to consider the school systems and neighborhoods, proximity to work, family, and highways, whether the roof needs replacing, and if there is mold in the walls. Most of all, prospective home buyers will want to take into account, does the house they are considering, feel like home. Not just a place where they will eat and sleep. But does the house feel like home, where they will want to raise kids and have holiday dinners. Does the house have a certain warmth or aura. Within seconds of stepping foot inside the house, does it feel like a place where they want to live. Is that something you can put a price tag on?

When it comes to buying a house, sure finances are important, but they don’t make the entire decision. For the right house, buyers will stretch beyond their means, so they can have the home of their dreams. On the flip side, just because the numbers work out, doesn’t mean the house is for you.

Like prospective home buyers, students should consider the emotional connection to college. That is, is this the school where they can foresee themselves learning and growing. Does the school’s values match their own. Is this the school where they want to be. Sure the price tag is important, but that should come further down the line. A school’s sticker price shouldn’t deter students from applying as there are scholarships, grants, and various forms of financial aid. Students will find that there are people, and companies, willing to invest in their future, thus making the value less financially taxing.

Just like there are houses for different income levels, so too are there colleges to meet different income levels. The conversation about financial aid and scholarship is important, but fit for another discussion. When students find the school of their dreams, instead of berating them with inquiries, asking them to second-guess their decisions, it’d be better to work with them, to create game plans for success, to take advantage of all the resources that school has to offer. There’s no way to put a price tag on students’ potential, and their ability maximize that potential, whether it manifests in the field of nursing, social work, or education. Helping students fulfill their dreams is the real value of a college education.

Message in a Bottle

Ever since A Matter of Semantics was published, I’ve always wanted to see it on a bookshelf, holding its weight against other titles. A few weeks ago, I got that chance when I took a trip to the school where I used to teach – Sussex County Community College (or “Harvard on the hill”, how locals refer to it) – to see my book, on the bookshelf, of the bookstore.


It was a breathtaking experience, one that proves dreams do come true. Teaching there was fun and rewarding. Not fun in the sense of belly laughs or random fits of the giggles, but fun in a manner of being enjoyable and touching, which is what work should be. And rewarding in the sense that it stirred something inside of me, something that fueled and motivated me, something that helped give me a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

The students are what stood out the most, though. Even if I forget some of their names, I will never forget what I learned from them, even if it was how to alter the inflection in my voice, to help them stay away for an 8:00am class!

There are more than a few, however, that will I remember. Who I probably will never see again or will probably never hear from, unless they need a letter of recommendation. (And that’s okay, because that’s what I signed up for, when I signed up to teach!) But, those are the students I wish I could thank, personally…for letting me help them, in their journey to create success. So this is my letter to those students. With social media being the way that it is, I’m hoping each one of them will get this message in a bottle.

Dear Brie – Thanks for the wonderful email you sent me, that semester after you took my class. I never could quite read your facial expressions, so it means a lot to know that you enjoyed our class and (selfishly) that you liked my teaching style! Even though you discovered that college was not for you, I hope you see the value in education – even if it takes downing a can of Red Bull (like you did for our 8:00am class!) to get you through lectures and seminars! I wish you much success in your pursuit of a career in cosmetology and I know you’ll do fabulously. I don’t like giving advice, but if I can even be of any help, please reach out. My sister owns her own salon!

Dear Kali – You were another person whose facial expression I could never quite read. With all you had going on personally, I never knew if you were going to show up to class, so I’m glad you always did. During that semester you spent in my class, when you told me that you didn’t have much family or support in the area, I remember saying to my wife how I wanted to invite you to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. But I was too cautious and wary of the social stigma and mixed message that would have sent. My wish for you is that you dare to dream! Even without a support system, you can accomplish anything that you want! But first, you have to dare to dream it, in order to make it your reality! And don’t lose your positive attitude. It’ll serve you well in the years to come. I’d like to hear all about your endeavors; I wish we could have kept in contact.

Dear Colleen – People often say things like, there is no such thing as perfection, and I laugh. From the moment my son was born, he has always been, in my eyes, perfect. He cried himself to sleep some nights, or threw temper tantrums, or wouldn’t eat his vegetables, but he was always, perfect. Likewise, you were perfect. Whenever I need an image of how I’d like students to approach my course, I think of you – always being on time, always taking notes, always giving your best effort. (Surely, if I could have given you a grade higher than an A, I would have.) The way you carried yourself was even more impressive – leading by example, displaying patience and flexibility, accepting challenges and never taking the easy road. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. If I had attended SCCC, you would have been one person I’d want to be friends with, and have in my circle of friends and support system. By now, I hope you’re pursuing your dreams of becoming a social worker. I have no doubt you will get there. I’d love to hear from you, someday, and catch up over lunch. Stay perfect.

Dear John – One day you’re going to wake up and find yourself living the life you have dreamed about for so long. Trust me, but more than that, trust yourself! Your passion and drive reminds me of myself, once upon a time. I’m sure we could be cousins, somewhere down a family line. I know you’re always seeking advice, and I always talk in circles because, well, there’s nothing I can say to you (in some contrived fashion) that will instantly change the way you see and approach the world. So I will say to you, what I wish I had known during my first year of college – First, the way you see things is just a reflection of your background and upbringing. It doesn’t make you right or wrong, it’s just your perspective. Harm comes when you hold people to your standards, like how I used to think girls were sluts and hoes simply because they wore short shorts. If that were true, that would have made most women I knew, and even my wife, a hoe. So be open to expanding your perspective. Secondly, the world isn’t small, it’s big. So dream big. Dream bigger than New Jersey or Florida, dream about sipping wine atop the Eiffel Tower or going sightseeing in the Serengeti. Dream bigger than what you have experienced, like writing that book you never thought you could. Then, use the college experience to help you achieve those dreams. And don’t let anyone rob you of your dreams!

Dear Haley – Even though were just a student, there were times you felt more like the little sister I never had. On those days where it was a struggle for you to be in class, all I wanted to do was caution you to the carnal nature of men (or boys!), and help you bring light to your dreams that had been trapped in darkness, and give you a hug and tell you everything would be okay. A big, burly, comforting bear hug. To show you that a man’s touch could be supportive and nurturing, without being at all sexual. But I couldn’t show favoritism. I pray that you’re doing well, wherever your journey has taken you. Now that you’re no longer the pupil, don’t hesitate to reach out should you ever be in need. I hope we get to have lunch sometime soon, and that I get to meet your son, Caleb!

Dear Kim – You’d probably never guess, but my favorite singer is Alanis Morissette and she has a song entitled, “So-Called Chaos”, the theme of which fits you perfectly. I know you’re wracking your brain over majors, schools, careers and the like. But what if I told you that you will find answers as soon as you stopped looking? I don’t have any empirical evidence to support this notion, I just have anecdotal stories. Like the time the guy was searching so hard for a girlfriend because he didn’t want to be alone. Yet, when he decided to embrace being single and concentrate on himself, magically, a girl walked right into his life, as if she already had the key to his heart. Fret not about what major you’ll pursue or what career you’ll end up having. What’s most important now is YOU. I almost wish you would leave the community college and go to a four-year school. There, you’ll have a greater exposure to different majors (you could choose between Molecular Biology, Emergency Medicine or Physical Therapy, but at SCCC your choices are Bio, Chem, and that’s it!); professors (who can help you distinguish/differentiate between all of those majors); and students (who can share with you the cool things they are doing, so you can formulate your own career path). Things are not supposed to be perfect right now, because you’re still figuring it all out. They’re supposed to be nerve wracking and chaotic, and that chaos is what’s going to help you get where you want to be. So embrace it. Kick off your shoes. Take a leap of faith and enjoy the chaos.

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