As the details of the Newtown elementary school tragedy begin to come out, it’s caused me to reflect on my own experiences and calling as a student affairs educator. I work with a very different population of student, but the kinship I feel with the teachers of Sandy Hook is very much the same. I choose this profession because I want to help others. I choose this profession because it allows me to better the world through the students with whom I interact. I choose this profession because it places me in the company of colleagues who unselfishly give of themselves in service to others.
In this line of work, one gets an up-close look at the diversity of human beings, from the sublime to the tragic. Each student comes with their own successes, their own challenges, their own gifts, and their own struggles. This diversity is what makes human beings beautiful while at the same time so flawed. Being a student affairs educator allows me to bear witness to this and help others in a intimate way that few others will have the privilege of experiencing. When working with students, their successes become your successes. Their tragedies become your tragedies. Much like I’m sure the teachers of Sandy Hook felt and feel towards their students, my students become, in a sense, my children. Although they’re emerging adults, the care I give them is unconditional and, although they’re emerging adults, they sometimes need help like any human being does.
When I reflect upon my time in residence life, I can think of numerous situations where I put myself in danger to protect a student or help one in need. Certainly nothing as direct of a threat as what occurred in Connecticut, but situations where a lot is unknown and the possibility for danger is real. Student affairs educators do this every day. From the student who feels they are without option and the only way to make things better is to harm themselves or others, to the student who acts out with violence and turns to alcohol as a form of self-medication. As an educator, I confront these situations with conviction and out of a deep sense of duty. There is always that nagging feeling of, “What if I didn’t act?” What would happen? How could I live with myself if something happened to one of my students that I could have prevented?
Although there is little I can do to directly to help those touched by the tragedy, in a small way, I can think of no better way of honoring the school teachers of Sandy Hook and their students by continuing to do what I do. I am thankful for working in kinship with colleagues who live these values every day and display the courage to stand up for them, even when it threatens them with harm. To those who lost their lives, I pledge to live your courage every day. I pledge to help others every day. I pledge to protect those that are in need of protection, every day. In this way I and my colleagues honor you.