Hard Times

Idealist.

Career Fair.

I almost feel I need not say more… But I will. I must, for I have classrooms full of students trying very hard to compete in very hard times.

I myself am not an idealist. I don’t have to be; I married one. He is an engineer, and of all people in the world, engineers must be idealists. They must care about the “should-bes” of life: the best, the brightest, the most perfect way to do all things.

After all, they build bridges.

I am, instead, a realist. I tend to focus on the “is” more than the “should-be.” That makes me very adaptable, and it means I am difficult to disappoint. Expecting the worst provides the pinnacle from which there is no fall…but better yet, my generally unflappable and often unemotional response to the “is” makes for a smooth transition between times of plenty and times of want. I rarely look back. I rarely make comparisons. I do not measure the present by the past, and I’ve never found the future to be a reliable bench mark, either. But expecting only the worst would be pessimism rather than realism. I also hope for the best. I leave the door open, fostering a crack through which sweeter winds may blow.

And they do. Change is inevitable. Whether we see change as for the worse or for the better depends partly on our perspective and partly on our preparation. What I am attempting to do for my students is give them a bit of both. We read economy texts, we learn statistics. But this is an English class, so we also analyze and criticize and question. We ask “what is reality”? and we ask “what is my purpose and goal?” We look at the is, and we see in it boundless possibility made possible by human capital and hard work, desire and dreams and a spirit of unflagging determination to make the ideal into the real.

As professors, as teachers and as mentors, we must care about  the “want-to-bes” of life. We must engage the clear-sighted, the hard working, the willing to adapt. We must take dreams and carve them into stairwells and ladders… Ideals and turn them into solid platforms from which to build the future.

After all, we build graduates.

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