How a 16-Year-Old Taught Me the Power of Words
Last week Pablo, one of my students at UCLA Extension, informed me that he was dropping the course because an unexpected job offer in Miami fell his way. Although nervous, he knew this was one of those rare opportunities.
I congratulated him for his luck and his courage. I know how a “rare opportunity” can be life changing as I’d seized such an opportunity soon after graduating college. I was given the chance to teach at a high school on an island 700 miles south of Guam.
While I have many stories from my years at Xavier High School, this is my favorite.
I arrived a week before the semester’s start. The principal reviewed with me the class roster, pointing out who was bright or lazy; who was a star or just a pain. When he came to the name “Augustine” he said that he’d probably not last the semester, as he was a major troublemaker.
I was intrigued — could he be that bad? By end of the first class it was clear to me that Augustine was the brightest kid in the class — and, yes, the biggest “pain.”
I took him aside and told him that I wasn’t in the habit of taking crap from anyone — especially not a freshman! I told him that I’d heard he was lazy and that I had no doubt he could do “A” work, which is what I expected. He was shocked.
As the semester progressed, I kept at him and slowly, steadily, his grades improved from “C” to “C+” to “B” and then, with his final exam, he earned his first ever “A.”
I was thrilled that he’d pushed himself to do the caliber of work I knew he was capable of. And I also felt smug as I proved everyone wrong!
I went looking for Augustine and found him on the basketball court. I ran up, slapped him on the back, and gave him the great news. I told him how proud I was and that I always knew he could do it.
His eyes glistened with tears, something no 16-year-old boy wants. He said that no one had ever told him, “Augustine, you can do it.” I was incredulous, yet I later learned that he came from an unusually broken home and that, indeed, most likely, no one had ever told him that he could “do it.”
This was many years ago and today Augustine works in his government’s historical preservation office.
The power of words is the power to create reality. My words helped to create a new reality for Augustine because they helped Augustine see himself as he truly could be.
Is there an Augustine in your life?
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