An Open Letter to my First Year Experience Students
One of the greatest things I get to do every day is teach. By far teaching is the greatest profession. Now I know some of you respectfully disagree, but I want you just sit back and think about where you would be if it were not for a teacher. Now we all have had exceptional teachers and those who should have never been allow in the classroom. Good, bad, or indifferent they had an impact on your life. Each day I am blessed with the opportunity to help you walk your journey on being the best you can be. When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, you will be successful. Success starts with you, so no matter what your situation or circumstance you have the power to be the best you can be.
Many of you are beginning to embrace your journey. You have a better understanding of what it means to be educated and the value of a liberal arts education. As you plan your career goals and objectives, you see yourself five years from now living, loving and enjoying life. You are willing to make the necessary adjustments, change your mindset and are focused on the task at hand. However, some of you have yet to get it. You are caught up in your current situation. You do not believe in yourself and underestimate your ability. In essence, you already feel defeated, and the journey has just begun. It is time for you to have a different frame of reference. It is time for you to leave the pity party and jump on board to making the rest of your life the best of your life.
I want to share a story with you about a young lady that some would say had a challenging life. Although challenging to some, the young lady thought her life was normal. She felt this way because everyone around her experienced the same thing or something worse. She grew up on the rough side of town, but she always knew there was something better. Her neighborhood was plagued with drugs, alcohol, gangs, and violence. It was a never ending cycle of madness. You see someone today, and they were gone tomorrow. Either because somebody killed them or they were shipped off to the penitentiary as a result of their lifestyle. In addition to the neighborhood drama, there was family drama. When she was a little bitty girl, her father’s vice was alcohol. Although an alcoholic, he loved his kids. Drunk or sober he would let nothing stop him from spending time with his kids. Her mother totally objected this and would argue with her father and either tell him to go away and come back when he was sober, but sometimes she would let him play with her and her brother. As she grew older, her father got better, and for a number of years he was clean as a whistle. However, something happened, and when she graduated from high school and left for basic training, her brother informed her that their father had relapsed and was back on the bottle again. Her mother and father divorced and just like other families that live in these types of communities the vicious cycle continued.
Drugs and alcohol were normal so it would be nothing to see a drunk staggering down the street or a crack head in an alley getting high. The interesting thing about this young lady is she had two uncles that died from drinking (her dad’s oldest brother and younger brother). Three uncles that were addicted to crack cocaine (her dad’s baby brother and her mother’s two brothers). An aunt that was also addicted to crack cocaine (her mother’s baby sister) and her Dad’s new vice was crack cocaine and alcohol. To make matters worse, her brother was a gang banger and drug dealer. Again, nothing is abnormal about her situation because everyone around her is living in similar conditions. Her brother eventually becomes a statistic and is shipped off to the penitentiary as a result of his lifestyle. Her aunts and uncles continue engaging in unhealthy behaviors to cope with their issues not realizing that once they come down from that high they still have to deal with their problems. Through all of this, the young lady persevered and did not allow her circumstances to dictate her life. When she was in high school, she had to take the ACT five times because her scores were low. She scored a 12, 14, 14, 14, and finally a 17. She did not allow low scores to discourage her. She knew she wanted more out of life and that she had something to offer the world. She enlisted in the United States Army Reserve and applied to five schools. The five schools were the University of Kansas, Lincoln University, Central Missouri State, Southeast Missouri State and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. All five school s accepted her on a provisional basis. She decided to go to the University of Kansas. Her first two years were tough as a result of her playing around and not being focused. She was put on academic probation and eventually kicked out of school. She came back home and transferred to Harris-Stowe State College. While there she did not focus on the dysfunctions of her family. She made the necessary adjustments and changed her mindset so she could meet her goal of being the best she could be. When she graduated from college, her mother was in the hospital (she had a heart attack), her brother was in the penitentiary, her father, aunt, and uncles were still strung out on crack cocaine. That did not make a difference. This young lady made the decision to live her life and not allow her circumstances to dictate her life.
As she continued to grow and mature she stayed encouraged, was always motivated and knew that life is what you make it. Her father, aunt, and uncles eventually began to deal with their problems, told crack cocaine and alcohol to the leave the building and never come back again. They all are clean and sober. Her brother did his time and upon returning home fell back down; however, he decided to get back up and altered his life. He went to school and obtained his associates in applied science. He is currently a web designer and specializes in marketing, branding, web development and design. Through all her trials and tribulations she knew she was destined for greatness. She knew that her situation and circumstances appeared to be a setback, but that setback was a setup for a come up. She went on to graduate school and obtained her master’s and doctorate degrees. For the past 25 years, she has had the privilege and honor of being a middle school teacher (social studies, communication arts, and reading), elementary principal and professor. She continues her journey on being the best she can be by sharing her story so that others can see where there is a will there is a way. As an educator, author, professional speaker and coach she inspires, encourages and motivates everyone to be the best they can be. She has written a book, three book chapters, and published several peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed journal articles. She consults with a number of schools, organizations, nonprofits and provides executive coaching for teachers and principals.
Dr. Shonta Smith is the “Essence of Education.” As you continue your journey to be the best you can be when life throws you a curve ball knock it out the ballpark. Don’t be afraid and never ever give up. Allow me to be your example. Life is what you make it. Each one of us has the opportunity to live, love and enjoy our life. The decision is yours. My question to you is, do you respect and love yourself enough to be the best you can be? You are a bright and shining star, and when you decide that you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe only then will you be successful. Begin today and make the rest of your life the best of your life.