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Lessons from students

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By Betsey Sawyer

This fall semester, I did something fantastic … something that I could only have dreamed would be such a profound experience. Teaching at the University of Mississippi was even more wonderful than I had expected. I knew the experience would be enlightening and beneficial. Going into teaching, I knew it would have its challenges.

College freshmen are notorious for thinking they are invincible. They love pouring on the excuses, combined with an ounce of charm. They think because everyone around them thinks they are bound to mess up, that means that I am obligated to forgive every absence and late assignment. Fortunately, most of them learned quickly that that wasn’t going to happen, and because I was once the queen of invincibility, I knew what to look for. 

On the last day of class, each one of them stormed into class with a spirit of joy, beaming with excitement that the semester was finally almost over. As I ended class that day, they told me thank you for the lessons learned, for making their first semester great. I told them, in response, thank you, as well, because I had learned a lot more than they thought I had. One innocent soul, a bright-eyed Jacksonian who sat in the front row, looked at me and said, “Ms. Betsey, tell us what you learned from us.” Taken aback, I quickly giggled and told them that we were out of time, but I so enjoyed the semester. And then I realized … I owe each of them (and you) a response. So here it is:

1. We often think wisdom is only learned from older individuals who have experienced life in such a grand manner. However, I have been shown that wisdom is gained by knowledge from every soul we care to listen to, whether words are spoken or not. 

2. Each individual has a story to tell. If you open your eyes, you can remind him or her to share it.

3. People will try to bulldoze you if you let them. Excuses are a dime a dozen.  Toughen up, and call people out when needed.

4. Just because you spill your coffee all over your car and outfit first thing in the morning does not mean the day is off to a bad start. Stop, take a breath, and start again.

5. Be early. If you are on time, or late, you will never know who cared enough to be there early.

6. Extracurricular activities can prove time-consuming and all-encompassing. Time-management takes time and a capacity for understanding. Grades may drop, participation will weaken and attendance will disappear. Warn them ahead of time of what you already know that they are too confused to understand just yet. 

7. Keep your values. Don’t lose yourself because those around you are losing theirs. 

8. If your friends are breaking the law, and you don’t want to (good for you), stand up for yourself and stay strong. You will lose relationships. But they were not worth it anyway.

9. If your friends decide to not break the law, and you do (shame on you), be kind. It’s not their fault that you feel bad for what you are doing and want to drag them down also.

10. If you get arrested and think that is an excuse for missing class, you should probably spend another night or two in jail.

11. Forgetting to show up for an appointment with anyone shows disrespect. Life happens. If something comes up, let someone know as soon as possible (and that doesn’t mean two days later). 

12. Speaking of informing, most of us have email on our phone. Saying you did not get a message, or email, will be viewed as dishonest. Don’t get trapped in a lie. Be honest.

13. There are those around who do not have as much material possession or financial security. Watch what you say, and give away what you don’t need when you can. 

14. Home for each of us is defined based on our story and experiences. Reach out to someone who may have difficulty adjusting. 

15. For every choice, there is a consequence. Don’t think that you are immune to consequences. That’s just when life bites you. 

16. Every action has an equal inaction. Every decision has a bunch of decisions not made. Choose wisely.

17. Be courteous, be kind. You are not superior because you are older, richer or more educated. We are each walking this earth together. And if we open our ears and eyes, we can learn a whole lot from the person next to us.

18. Show up, sit down and listen. 

19. Money does not grow on trees. Someone worked hard for you to have these opportunities, even if that person is yourself. Don’t take advantage of that. 

20. Most people would prefer the truth regardless of what it is to a lie that may or may not help you or them. Speak up. 

21. Make a goal, even if it is just for tomorrow. Start small.

22. Show respect to each soul you meet. Be kind to those who are unlike you. Say hello; learn to smile. 

23. Each one of us is struggling in some way. Offer a word, or look, of encouragement. 

24. Don’t forget where you come from. Our story began somewhere. You can rewrite the chapters and make a sequel, but you cannot erase the introduction. 

25. When Mom calls, answer the phone. Remember that she misses you. Be sweet.   

26. Say thank you to anyone who has offered even the smallest ounce of assistance. 

27. If someone needs help, don’t leave him or her. You may be the difference between life and death. Direct them to the right person.

28. Listen to your intuition. There is a voice in each one of us. Develop it.

29. Be you. Whoever that is. Don’t apologize for who you are.

30. Remember to tell those around you that they have made a difference in your life. 

Betsey Sawyer is a lawyer and teaches at the Universtity of Mississippi. Contact her at esawye1@gmail.com.