I am one of the luckiest and most blessed men alive! In fact, the father of one of my students paid me the ultimate compliment when he wrote “no person has known their place on this earth so exactly and loved it so dearly as you.” To have had the opportunity of serving literally thousands of high school students and their parents as a high school counselor in both public and private schools over the past thirty-six years has blessed me in ways that are difficult at best to put into words.
The time has now come for me to retire. In doing so, I am very intentionally calling a time-out in my life to reflect upon my career and all of the life-lessons I have been taught by my students and their parents. Yes, they have been my teachers and, I, their pupil over these many years. It is the lessons I have learned from them that are so choice.
Imagine going into work each day and walking into your office that is located right in the center of where hundreds of students congregate. Literally every time I opened my counseling office door I would see them passing by in all of their adolescent “glory” (or “whatever” as the adolescent vernacular goes). And, yes, as adolescents tend to do, they frequently came running on their own to my office to seek out my wisdom and counseling assistance. NOT! (Again, adolescent lingo). Actually, I must admit that I had to use some manipulative measures to lure them in. These measures ranged from jars full of candy on my desk to student photographs hanging on my office walls and windows. These photographs depicted them doing their “things” in a multitude of different venues. As one of my students phrased it, “You documented our lives.” Of course, I had to leave my office to be where they were to take such shots. And let me assure you that students know when you are present to see them in action.
My philosophy of high school counseling was fairly simple; try your best to connect with your students in the good times so that when the bad times come you have a level of connectedness that enables you to better minister to their needs. I have italicized the word connectedness to emphasize that is the essential ingredient of serving the adolescent community effectively. (Some would prefer to term it “the building of relationships,” but that is only somewhat synonymous.) Let me sing the praises of Dr. Ned Hallowell, an extraordinary adolescent psychiatrist, who has operationally defined connectedness as follows:
“Connectedness is a sense of being a part of something larger than oneself. It is a sense of belonging or accompaniment. It is that feeling in your bones that you are not alone. It is a sense that no matter how scary things may become, there is a hand for you in the dark.”
So, basically my role as a high school counselor was that of connecting, of being that “hand in the dark” but also being there to give a handshake and a pat on the back on those “sunny days” when most everything was right in their world. There were plenty of those days. Once the connections were made, the lessons began.
Some of the lessons I have learned were joy-filled and elicited from me intense laughter, broad smiles, and, yes, at times, even happy tears. Others brought more visceral responses such as knots in my stomach, a flushed face, confusion, and so forth. But, let me suggest that these are what life is all about, especially when it centers around the adolescent world.
While I firmly believe that a loving Lord placed in my heart a genuine love for people, modeled by my incredibly loving parents, and a heart-felt desire to serve them, I still needed to develop the skills necessary to minister to them in a productive, meaningful way. That is where Wofford College entered my life. My older brother, Rudy, was already a student there, with his focus being more upon (as he describes it) “no-legged and four-legged” creatures in nature (he was a Biology major). Since I was looking to serve the “two legged” population, my focus centered around the field of Psychology.
Thanks to Dr. Jim Seegars, Dr. John Pilley, and Dr. Don Scott of Wofford’s Psychology Department, and their respective fields of study, I absolutely fell in love with my major. For every class I took (with the exception of Statistics – forgive me Dr. Scott), what being human was all about was expressed in powerful ways. While I hoped my future career emphasis would focus upon counseling, I, too, needed to know what made people work (or not work), how the brain actually operated and was affected by a million bits of stimuli that impinged upon it daily, and how certain schedules of reinforcement either encouraged or discouraged the behaviors for which I was hoping. These gentlemen covered it all and did so with a hands-on, one-on-one approach that made it so meaningful. They, in effect, placed “a fire in my belly” to proceed with my future counseling career.
While at Wofford I also joined the Army ROTC Program and, upon my graduation, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Military Police Corps. Interestingly, that further opened doors for the study of human behavior. My 3-1/2 years of military service coupled with my Wofford Psychology degree and an additional Masters degree earned at the University of South Carolina in the field of Secondary School Counseling, paved the way for my calling and my career. Wofford set the stage for so many wonderful things that followed my education there.
So, I close with special thanks for so many folks who invested themselves in me over these many years. In turn, their investment enabled me to invest in those very strange “creatures” known as adolescents. As one person has phrased it, despite their many quirks, adolescents continue to be “among the most charming of God’s creatures!” They certainly blessed my life!