Yesterday I talked to a group of low income students about finding money to pay for college. My presentation started out kind of rocky. I was super nervous and my voice reflected it. As I was talking, one of the girls in the back rolled her eyes and put her head down. sigh. I continued painfully through the material, reading off the paper, not making sufficient eye contact and speaking too fast.
I had almost lost them completely until I got to the part about scholarships and said, "Let me tell you how I went to college for free." That got their attention for sure. I began telling the story of how I had spent hours and hours researching various scholarship opportunities while in high school and had been awarded enough money to cover the costs of attending an expensive and prestigious university and then some. I told them that it was possible for them to do the same and gave them tips and strategies for making it happen.
The more I spoke, the more they listened. The more they listened, the more passionate I became. My voice took on a melodic lilt that fascinated me. I noticed that the energy of the room had changed. Everything seemed to have slowed down. There was a stillness that seemed to cocoon us all, a silent power permeating the air.
I looked each one of the students in the eyes and instead of breaking eye contact, they looked back at me almost as if they were hypnotized. Smiles appeared on their faces and I realized that my presentation was no longer just about giving them information about financial aid. I had found a way to truly connect with them on a deeper, spiritual level.
What I saw shining through their eyes was hope, inspiration, but most importantly, the belief that going to college was a possibility for them. This realization is huge for students who are being "educated" in one of the worst school districts in the nation and live in neighborhoods where models of academic success and achievement are virtually non-existent. Yesterday I made a difference and it was an amazing feeling.