An old professor’s advice

Acts of kindness draw closer together people who might not otherwise become connected. When we are on the receiving end of such kindness, we tend to relax more, let down our guard, feel better about ourselves. Best of all, we look for opportunities to reciprocate.

At the store where I shop for groceries, a pharmacist who dispenses my prescriptions routinely goes out of her way to help her customers. Her instinct to kindness has benefited me and my wife on numerous occasions. Our businesslike pharmacist-customer relationship has developed over time into friendship. We always exchange smiles and waves when I’m shopping, whether I have business in her department on that day or not. When I do, if she’s not busy with other customers, we briefly chat about our families. She never fails to ask about my bride, who now resides in an assisted living facility. I ask about her family, which includes a daughter who is navigating her first year at a major university.

The other day she reported that her daughter, a straight-A student in high school, has become discouraged by a lower-than-expected grade she earned in a challenging course. Her daughter says she’s not sure she wants to continue her university education, which worries her mother, who is trying to encourage her daughter but isn’t sure that it’s helping.

What could I or anyone outside this family do to help? Then I thought of something I could do. In my 22 years on the faculty of this university, I frequently found myself counseling students with similar doubts and concerns. Many of them now enjoy great careers despite having earned some disappointing grades along the way. We learn more from our failures and disappointments than from our successes. I asked my friend for permission to write her daughter a letter from my faculty perspective to try to encourage her. She gratefully agreed.

In the letter I shared the stories of two former students who now enjoy dream careers despite having earned some disappointing grades along the way. And I suggested that she liken the university, its faculty and students, to an orchard abundant with ripe fruit, waiting to be picked. You will be in the orchard only a short time, I wrote. While you are there, pick the fruit. This is your time.

Will my letter make a difference? I don’t know. I sure hope so. Writing it definitely has helped me.


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