The first article of this new school year, I feel compelled to reflect on the excitement that surrounds the beginning of a new school year.
As we say goodbye to the summer and hello to the start of another school year, I think about the enthusiasm that surrounds our campuses and centers. I compare this to a wedding. Although, we are excited for the long summer days, we begin to make preparations to develop the most attractive, inviting and welcoming atmosphere for fall and the return of current students, as well as welcome new students. As the first day approaches, I find myself anxious, excited, and lying awake at night in anticipation of greeting the faculty and staff, as well as meeting our new students.
To no surprise, when the big day arrives, it is just as exciting for me today as it was 30-plus years ago. This continued feeling of excitement just solidifies to me that I am right where I need to be. Many stories begin with the great memories made at college, e.g., meeting new friends, fun at on-campus activities and events and/or a special fondness for a teacher or staff member.
Each semester begins a new story, a new chapter in the lives of our students. They come to us with their dreams, hopes and aspirations. At Hill College, we want to celebrate these stories. For some of our students, it has been a hard-won battle to get here. They have overcome obstacles such as job setbacks, financial and personal problems.
For myself, as a first-generation student, my story began at Hill College directly upon graduating from high school. Coming from a rural school with no full-time counselor, and being a first generation student, I had little confidence in what I wanted to do with my life nor what direction I was heading. I, along with a classmate, gravitated to Hill College because it was close to home, and I could also work part time. Oftentimes, students that are unsure of the path they are heading will decide to major in subjects that they excelled in during their high school years. Such was my experience, as I decided to major in business, which included typing, shorthand, accounting and business courses.
The greatest influence on me while at Hill College was a teacher in the business department. She walked in the classroom the first day of class with high-heel shoes and a full skirted dress accompanied with a belt at the waist. My first impression was that it was Mary Tyler Moore. Little did I know that the teacher would become one of the greatest influences on my life. She explained the syllabus and expectations of the class, and although she was totally unaware, she became my role model. She brought out the best in me by demonstrating what a true professional was. She never told the students to be professional in the business world, nor dress for a professional environment; we simply watched her exemplify these qualities, which made most of the females in her class want to emulate her. She always made time for me and encouraged me to become great at whatever I wanted to do. Not only did she see potential in me, she knew how to bring out the best in me. Never underestimate the power of a teacher.
As the semester progressed, I found myself wanting to please her by showing her that I could do excellent work in her class. Teachers have a unique way of listening to the stories, hopes and aspirations of their students and somehow, magically, this is integrated within the content of the course. The validation that teachers offer students can compare to nothing else. About mid-way through the course and program, my business teacher began to provide information about the work force and how to prepare for the world of work. These skills that she taught me, I remember to this day and still use when talking with my own students.
Good stories always include something positive that leads to a happy ending. My most memorable moment came at the end of the year, when everyone was required to come to the gym at 10 for the annual awards program. I will never forget sitting in the massive gym with hundreds of students, watching teacher after teacher walk to the podium and announce the recipients of their awards. I remember sitting in the back of the room reflecting on the fact that I didn’t ever remember winning much in high school, except in athletics. My thoughts turned to all of the hard work that I put into the typing, shorthand and accounting courses, and how proud I was of pushing myself to do well.
All of a sudden, my business teacher walked on the stage with her high-heel shoes, her flared dress accompanied with a belt at the waist. She walked to the microphone and announced that the winner of the Business Award was me. I gasped in shock. Did I hear the name correctly, or was I just hoping? Everyone near me turned and looked at me, which indicated that I was supposed to get up and go to the stage to accept my trophy. As I approached the stage, I will never forget the look on her face. Her smile was even greater than mine. You see, for teachers, it is the smile of the student, the validation of a job well done, that keeps them coming back for more.
Never underestimate the influence of a teacher. The trophy that I received that day sits in my office, and although, worn on the edges after 46 years, I often gaze in its direction and think of what it stands for: the hard work, the hours of study, but most importantly, the compassion and dedication of a teacher who truly cared about her students.
As president of Hill College, I strive to ensure that every student has the opportunity to write his/her own success story. I can rest assured that my teachers and staff are some of the very best that represent those qualities as my business teacher. Their satisfaction in teaching comes from seeing their students succeed and blossom like flowers. For teachers, their students’ success becomes their success.
My second most memorable moment at Hill College came this past year, when after 46 years, I was able to honor my business teacher as a distinguished faculty member at Hill College. As her biography, accomplishments, and accolades were read, I presented her with the most deserving award, and much to her surprise, as she turned to return to her seat, she glanced at the corner of the podium, and sitting on the top was a little trophy, worn on the edges, that read, “Business Student of the Year Pamela Boehm.” She glanced over at me with a big smile, and fighting back the tears, I reciprocated her smile. The chapter in my storybook began with a positive experience from a teacher, and ended with an opportunity to thank that teacher.
Thanks to all of the teachers who care unconditionally for their students. Have a great year.
Dr. Pam Boehm is president of Hill College