I was invited to participate in a career day at a local elementary school. I said yes. It seemed like a good idea, and I was asked so far in advance that there was really nothing on my calendar that would have been a hindrance.
As the career day approached, I found myself regretting my decision. Work was getting busy. Personal projects were beginning to mount. And in all honesty, I was feeling scared about the remarks that I would give to these children. What could I ever say that would be of value to them? This was a predominately Hispanic, predominately low-income school. Although I am from the suburbs, as a Black American, I at least have had racial commonalities when I have worked in/spoken at different school settings. Moreover, with no experience working with young children, I wasn’t sure how to convey the complexity of my profession or my thoughts at an appropriate level.
All of this uncertainty and discomfort caused me angst for days leading up to the career day. I wanted to pull out, but it felt important to honor my commitment to him and the students.
When in Doubt, Tell Your Story
The night before the career day, still reeling in self-doubt, I sat down to plan my remarks. I decided to spend less time talking about my current job and more time talking about the different places I’ve been fortunate enough to live over the past several years. I created a slideshow with pictures of my family and childhood. I also included pictures from different chapters in my life – college in the Bay Area, a year living in Brazil, a few years in Chicago, and now back in Dallas.
At the school, my presentation was interactive and fun. We worked on math problems. I asked the class, “if I graduated from high school in 2007, how many years ago did I graduate?” They all chimed in with “10!” One student proceeded to tell me that he was born in 2007, providing a glimpse into that phenomenon of feeling old.
We translated different items in my pictures into Spanish, Portuguese, and English. After showing pictures of Brazil, a little girl raised her hand and asked, “so if I go to college, I can have the opportunity to go to a place like that?” I was thrilled that she was drawing connections about college from what I was saying. I showed maps to talk about distance and geography. We talked about soccer and the movie Rio.
The most transcendent moment came when I showed a picture of my high school teacher Ms. Johnson, who came to my college graduation. I used her example to talk about how hard teachers work and how much teachers want us to succeed. I got goosebumps as I watched the students look over at their teacher with a new set of eyes, and as I watched the teacher look back at them with warmth and humility.
Celebrating the Power of Story
The career day was a powerful day. I’m glad that I said yes to an opportunity and stuck with my “yes,” even when I wanted to back out of it. I was also reminded of the power of story, that our stories transcend our boxes.
As I curated the pictures for my presentation, I was reminded that I have had a life full of rich experiences that have shaped my story. My job isn’t to judge those experiences or discount their value because they might not seem relatable. Despite differences in age, race, socioeconomic status, legal status, language, etc., those kids learned from my story. I know they did. I could feel it.
That feeling of impact might not happen every time, but that’s not within my locus of control. It is my responsibility, however, to be in tune with my story, with my light. It is my responsibility to share of myself, and then to let the universe take care of the rest. And I am thankful to those kids for that lesson.