A student story and lesson in perspective

Higher Degree
January 23, 2011

By Joyce Helens, SCTCC President

Nothing is certain. You never know when life’s circumstances will change. Like many, I have experienced that firsthand, but some recent events at the college reminded me that it’s all about perspective.

Right before the holidays, Phil Schroeder, Vice President of Student Affairs at St. Cloud Technical and Community College, updated me one of our students. She has been struck by a car while crossing 15th Avenue in her motorized wheelchair to get to her math class. He told me about the severity of her injuries and about her continuing her online class, while she was now in a long-term recovery period at a local convalescent center.

Phil shared how the student’s instructor, Rob Jahnke, went out of his way to assist her so she could continue to work on her studies from the nursing home. It is gestures like those that really make our faculty stand out and allow students to succeed despite the circumstances.

The power of perspective

One afternoon, I went to visit student. There in a room alone sat a slight young woman in her early twenties with the loveliest of smiles. I stayed a while and we had good conversation. I learned she was born with cerebral palsy and is confined to a motorized wheelchair. She lives with her grandmother and grandfather several blocks from the college. She cannot drive. Her grandparents have no specialized van, so there is no way easily for her to get around.

She shared that being able to continue with her online class was a saving grace. Whenever she got down or felt lonely, she said she would do her homework.

When I left, I told her that she was an inspiration to us all. She was not bitter or angry. She was not a victim. She was positive, mature and looked for ways to move ahead. She told me that she wanted to be a vocational rehabilitation counselor and I told her she would be a great one, full of experience, compassion and positive energy.

Hearing her story changed me that day – and as I shared it with others, I saw it also change their perspective. During the end of the semester slam and finals, students, faculty and staff stopped. They wanted to help and started giving what they could in hopes that together they could assist with getting her safer transportation.

Reaching out

With the student’s permission, the college started contributing to a fund for her at a local bank. While students, staff and faculty did not reach their dream of getting her a handicap accessible van, they did provide a start and, more importantly, the difference they can make in the life of another.

This student’s story gives us a different perspective on life and opportunity to look at our own mindsets and points of view. Yes, the world is a changing place and so often scary, too. The political and economic climate presents us with many challenges, including uncertainty at colleges and universities statewide. But we are free to chose how we will act instead of reacting, how to build instead of destroy, how to communicate and how to value each other.

When we apply a new perspective to our own behavior, positive change becomes more possible. I have seen the miracles that can happen because someone reaches out, lends a hand and looks beyond their own perspective to that of others.

Kate Wallace
Posted in Higher Degree