A Better Message

A Better Message

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

A Better Message

My senior year of high school, I wanted to be a social worker like my older sister, Lynn. She had really inspired me. I wanted to help people, to make a difference in their lives, just like she was doing.

I knew I had work to do because I hadn’t really applied myself in high school. It was more social for me than anything else. But I was looking ahead to my future, and I knew that if I really wanted to do this, I was going to need help. I made an appointment to see a guidance counselor, Mr. Shaw.

He listened to my inspired rap as I went on and on about the wonders of a helping career. I could actually help make a difference in the world! Mr. Shaw looked back at me in disbelief. “You’re not college material,” he said clearly and deliberately. It felt like my heart stopped . . . frozen in the moment of those icy words.

That evening I broke the news to my parents. Seeing how distraught I was, and how sincere I was in really wanting to go to college, they offered to help. They found a small college that would take me if I could manage to get a C average out of the current semester. It was too late. I had goofed around too much, and even my best efforts could not bring up my grade-point average.

My parents were so wonderful and supportive. They found another small college whose financial status would permit anyone to attend. In other words, they would take anyone with a pulse. I felt like such a loser. Mr. Shaw’s resounding words came back to me: “You’re not college material.” And I was beginning to believe it. So much so that I was flunking out—even at this college.

I gave up. I believed Mr. Shaw was right about me. After I left college, I moved home again and starting working part-time jobs. Maybe college wasn’t for me. But deep down in my heart I knew that I truly wanted to be a teacher or social worker, and . . . that would require a college degree. No getting around it.

What would I do? I simply had to try again, I had to believe in myself even if no one else did. With all the courage I could muster, I enrolled in a community college nearby and took one course in their night school. I was shocked when I received my grade. I got an A. Maybe it was a mistake or some sort of fluke. I took another course and earned another A. Wow.

I made an appointment to see one of my professors. Things were turning around, and I needed guidance. Dr. Sarah Cohen, my professor in child psychology, told me to relax and enjoy my experience; I was doing very well by all standards. She also said that I was fun, bright and could do anything I put my mind to. Here was an educational expert with a different message. I felt empowered. I was on my way.

I graduated from that community college with honors and went on to earn my B.A. in psychology and my M.A. in psychology from New York University. The very same degree the illustrious Mr. Shaw holds. I felt vindicated.

I realized that choosing who you believe in can change your life. When I believed Mr. Shaw, my life fell apart and there was no way I would ever realize my dream. But when I believed in myself and persevered through seemingly insurmountable odds, I encountered more people who inspired and supported me the way Dr. Cohen had.

As Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t . . . you’re right.”

Carol Grace Anderson

More stories from our partners