Be Authentic. Help Others Be Authentic.

Lately, I have been given opportunities to try on some new responsibilities at work. It has been fun. Today I was able to serve on the panel that selects the college’s President’s Award winner. This award is the highest honor given to a student at our school. Candidates are nominated by faculty and staff and then vetted for  academic performance, community service and extracurricular involvement.

Here’s the thing. All the students we interviewed were excellent. Each comes from a different walk of life with different obstacles, experiences and academic accomplishments. All of their bona fides were uniformly impressive. Their resumes and GPAs stack nicely.

Here’s the other thing. None of that stuff matters. What impressed me most about each of the students I met was his or her passion. These students presented their authentic selves. They were comfortable, honest and sometimes delightfully weird.

Every one of these students is going to be a bright light. They seem to know something that other people don’t yet recognize. They understand the power of being themselves.

These students are passionate about their lives and their learning. They understand how the work they are doing and the sacrifices they are making relate to their future selves.

One student is passionate about mathematics. Another is passionate about caring for others. Another is passionate about snowboarding and family. Another about helping others laugh through adversity. These students are really interesting, really talented, really unique people. And I am only now getting to know them.

Some of them have been in my classes. I have helped some in the library or chatted for a few minutes in a hallway, but I had no idea who they really were and what compelled them.

I can’t help feeling cheated. I should have allowed myself to get to know these students much sooner. I should have made these connections on day one. It would have made me a better teacher and mentor. It would have made me a better steward of their time.

I also can’t help wondering who else is sitting in my library, studying quietly. What weird, authentic self is quietly waiting to be recognized.

I can’t help thinking that I should be meeting these students and my first question shouldn’t be “What are you working on?” or “How can I help?” My first question should be “What do you love to learn about?” or “What are you passionate about doing?”

People who work with students should ask these questions first. Probably anybody who works with people should ask these question first. The people around us are talented, energetic and unique. They are greatly gifted. The problem is they may not know it. They may not see it in themselves, but it is there and it is powerful when it is discovered.

The best thing we do for the people who come to us for learning is to authentic with them, listen and encourage them to be authentic too.

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