I knew I wanted to become a Teach the moment I saw them: mystical beings dipped in silver and draped in white; creatures from ancient Greek folklore. They came in a massive wave, surrounding the herd of frosh as we nervously huddled together along the steps of Victoria Hall. Apprehensive and shy, the energy we channeled was in stark contrast to the high-energy, high-on-life second year students who suddenly began chanting,
We are the Teaches and you know what we got!
(What do we got?)
We got froshies that are hotter than hot!
Teachin’ cheerin’ and lots of fun too!
We’re gonna teach the WHOOPSIES outta you!
What was I expecting? A campus tour, perhaps. Some team building activities, certainly. But not this.
We TEACH, we’re big and loud
Con-Ed’s what it’s all about!
Come on Frosh, YOU KNOW!
The chanting continued on for some time and stopped as abruptly as it had begun.
A moment of silence.
Frosh Week had officially begun.
. . .
It was the summer of 2011. I just finished my first year of studies and was getting ready to welcome the future class of Concurrent Education students to Queen’s University. The process for becoming a Teach (orientation leader) was a crossover between a job interview and a theatre audition. By that point, I had been so indoctrinated into the program that I had no problem singing and dancing my way in, so that’s what I did.
A couple of us volunteered to write letters to the incoming class of 2015 to say hello and personally welcome them into the Con-Ed family. I recall sharing tidbits about some of my favourite experiences at Queen’s along with some advice I wish I had taken prior to arriving (like getting a pair of rainboots). I included my email address in the letter in case anyone wanted to write back—you know, the “regular” way. Out of five recipients, one responded.
Orientation week came and went, and for a while, that was that.
In all honesty, I had forgotten all about those letters, but one of those letters had been sent to a young man named Mike. Mike went on to become the Rector of Queen’s University in 2014 and we had one final encounter on my graduation day.
My family is big on efficiency, which is why I never bothered going to the graduation ceremony for my first bachelor’s. I was four-fifths of my way through a double-degree program, and neither myself nor my parents had any desire to sit through hours of formalities. So, when I finally completed my second degree, the entire family; mom, dad, brother, grandma, grandpa, and even my aunt from Hong Kong, came to celebrate a successful end to five years of post-secondary education.
It was a joyous day, made even better as I made my way across the stage to be congratulated by various esteemed faculty members, and was met by Mike, our Rector. As I reached out to shake Mike’s hand, he leaned in and said, “April, I just wanted to tell you that you were the one who wrote the letter to me. The one with the Hello Kitty stationery and all. I wanted to tell you what a difference it made.”
I was so taken aback that my free hand shot forward in defense to meet Mike’s shoulder. What just happened? Is this real? Is this really happening? My family members who were watching from the balcony later asked me why I “punched that young man in the shoulder.”
In the four years since he arrived at Queen’s, I had heard plenty about Mike; his campaigns, his achievements, and the incredible work he had done for students’ wellbeing on campus. I was hardly aware of the fact that a letter I wrote—likely ridden with grammatical errors, and purposefully garnished with tacky looking gold-trimmed stickers—would have made a lasting impression on anyone, let alone one of the most influential people at Queen’s.
Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, and not our darkness, that frightens us.Marianne Williamson
I doubt I drastically altered the course of Mike’s life by sending him that letter, but I will be forever grateful to him for showing me what a difference I have made, that I could impact change, and most importantly, that I have no control over how or when that happens. It was Drew Dudley who famously coined the term “lollipop moments” in his TED talk on everyday leadership.
As educators, we do not often see the impact we have on our students’ lives, for better or worse. As I head into the start of this school year, I am faced with the trepidation that comes from starting a new job in a new country, during a pandemic, and if I let myself, it is not hard to find excuses for why this year is going to massively suck. Instead, I am taking a step back, reminding myself to just breathe and enjoy the journey. I don’t know how, or when, or where; but somehow, sometime, some where, in some small way, I can make someone else’s life just a little bit better.