Being asked to be a guest speaker at Waimea Canyon Middle School was an honor, so I was glad to accept. While giving a 30-minute talk six times last Wednesday morning could have been difficult, it turned out to be fun and enjoyable thanks to the excellent behavior of the students. For the most part, they listened well, asked good questions and even laughed at a few of my tales about old dogs and hopes to one day earn a living as an old runner.
Dentists, firefighters and military personnel and folks from the National Tropical Botanical Garden were among those who donated time for this event designed to help students learn about work ethics, responsibilities and the rewards of a variety of careers.
Despite my efforts to highlight the best aspects of being a journalist (meeting people, seeing places, learning things), not many students seemed sold on it for a career.
“So, after hearing all about journalism, how many of you want to go into that field? I asked with a fist pump.
One student raised his hand. Another gave me a half-wave. The rest, politely, indicated thanks, but no thanks.
Not too surprising.
When I asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, students were happy to share. Doctor, firefighter, artist, accountant, fisherman, dog trainer and baseball player were just of the professions they shouted out.
I encouraged them to aim high and pursue working in a field they were passionate about. I paraphrased that saying, “Do what you’ll love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.”
These middle-schoolers seemed bright and ambitious and I was glad to have a chance to spend time with them.
But what will stick with me from that day is not what happened during the sessions, but after the last one, when career day was over and I was walking back to my car to return to work.
A student, who had chatted with me briefly after a presentation and showed me some of his artwork he had sketched in a notebook, caught up to me.
“Here,” he said, handing me a piece of paper with the corner torn off. “Thanks.”
On it was one of his drawings. He had printed in pencil at the top, “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” The main character, “Galactus,” was drawn in detail with a pencil, and the Silver Surfer was gliding by. Galactus was standing on a drawing of Earth and the student had written (where you live).
“Thank you,” I said. “Wow. I really appreciate you giving me this. Keep up your artwork. You’re very good.”
The student nodded, turned and jogged away.
It was an exchange that lasted just seconds.
I will remember it.
That day, as I spoke, I didn’t know if I was reaching any of the students, if I had made any impression. Most likely, not, I thought. In reality, a 30-minute talk to middle-schoolers from a newspaper editor probably is going to be forgotten tomorrow.
But perhaps not.
That one student thought enough to find me after class and give me one of his drawings made me just as proud as being asked to speak at career day. It was a gift that sits in my office, today, as a reminder that while we might not see it, we might not know it, we might not realize it, our actions and words do reach this younger generation. They do leave an impression. Youth are watching and listening. And every day, we have a chance to encourage them, to influence them, to make a difference.
If we pay attention, they will surprise us and give us more hope for tomorrow. One student, I don’t even know his name, did just that for me.
By the way, being Silver Surfer sounds like a cool career.