Fellow Patriots Fan
Meet Frank: Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a major in biology, candidate for a masters in biotechnology, diehard New England Patriots fan, obstacle course racer, and Fellow at Penn Treaty.
So I’m finally sitting down to write this reflection. Ideas have been floating around in my head, but it took a while to confront the blank page before me. Perhaps the reason I’ve been delaying this moment is because, subconsciously, I haven’t been able to categorize and interpret everything I’ve come across thus far. It’s a bit unsettling. In the short month that I’ve been at Penn Treaty, I’ve seen students experience a spectrum of emotions, make amazing strides in maturity, and delve deeper into their own ambitions and insecurities than I have in the last 24 years of my life.
On my end, it’s been daunting trying to analyze all the emotions I’ve felt. Admiration, awe, guilt, frustration, pride, exhaustion, inspired, enthusiastic, driven, dejected, betrayed, humbled, respected, trusted, enlightened. (There are so many I can’t even keep my parallelism straight!) I won’t pretend to understand what this all means. Instead, I’d like to share the moments—the vignettes if you will—of students who’ve absolutely stunned me.
A Proud Senior
When I first met him, I instantly pegged him as the class clown. He’s funny and charming, but also quick to walk away whenever confronted with anything serious. He’s overflowing with confidence and has no problem speaking to adults about his future. (Unbeknownst to him, he became my rock as I waded through the intimidating first week of school.) However, it wasn’t until I unintentionally sat in on his math class that I saw the cracks in this facade.
It took some prodding and coercing, but we finally sat down together to look at his math homework. Within 5 minutes, the bravado and jest that I was accustomed to became humility and anger. Phrases like “Man I’m too dumb for this” and “This is why I ain’t goin’ to college” seemed like only clichés before this moment. But despite his outward aversion towards fractions, there was a hungry determination to learn. We persevere, another 15 minutes pass, and now it’s, “Do another, do another” and “See mister, told you I’d get it”.
A couple days later I pop in his math class again, and he flags me down with a sheet of paper. It’s a 100 on his quiz. And there it is—pride, in its sincerest form.
An Ambitious Junior
It was around the 2nd week of school that I first spoke with him. His class had a substitute for the day so they were finishing their worksheets with 12+. We start chatting, and I’m suddenly floored by how much political and historical knowledge he has. He’s quoting statistics and facts as if he’s reading straight out of a textbook. After nonchalantly blowing my mind, he packs up and leaves for his next period. What just happened?
I catch him later that week during lunch playing chess in the PLUS Center. I peek over some shoulders and watch him play. He’s pretty good. The math teacher is starting a chess team so I recommend he join. Everyone around the table scoffs at the idea, saying that it’s social suicide, so I drop it. (It’s worth noting that these guys play chess religiously.)
The following week we started asking for nominations for the PLUS Leader program. I ask the group playing chess if they think they’ll be nominated. He brushes it off and says, “Nah, that’s not for me. I just like to chill and get my [stuff] done in class.” Fair enough. However, I think he’d be a great candidate and hunt him down after lunch to talk about being a PLUS Leader. We peel away some of the excuses for why he doesn’t want to apply and eventually he reveals that he doesn’t feel like he fits the mold. He knows some past PLUS Leaders and feels like he’s not what we’re looking for, despite having a lot of the characteristics we value in applicants. We talk about the qualities that make a good leader, and he admits he’s a bit self-conscious about standing out. But after some encouragement and pestering, I get him seek out a teacher nomination. A few days later we deliver our PLUS Leader applications and when I hand him one, he seems eager. I think he’s ready to start showcasing his talents.
An Aloof Senior
We had met last year when I stopped by to volunteer for a day. We talked a bit of football and left it at that. Now, months later, I’m scheduling a senior advising session with him. He doesn’t respond to the first appointment slip I deliver. That’s OK; I should probably ask him face-to-face.
Just my luck! I pass him in the hall, except he adamantly insists that I’ve got the wrong guy. After a few minutes (he’s got me unsure at this point), I ask to see his student ID. It is him. Ha ha, funny. Anyway, we schedule a time slot for after his class, but again, a no-show. The next week I see him in the halls again and as I walk up, he jukes around me and sprints to the other side of the building and down the stairs. This guy’s impossible. I decide to catch him during class (nowhere to run) and discover that I’ve pushed too far. I call out his name, and he snaps back at me that I “can’t make him go to 12+” and that he “ain’t got nothing to talk to me 'bout”.
Defeated, and a bit bitter, I ask around about him. It turns out he has plans, big plans. But he hasn’t quite figured out how they’ll come to fruition and how 12+ fits into his journey. I enlist the help of a friendly face from last year and eventually get this wily senior into the PLUS Center. He’s curt and distant at first, but we start talking football again and we find that we’re both huge Patriots fans. That softens him up a bit. We keep bouncing back and forth between college applications and the New England backfield dilemma, his transcript and our patchwork secondary. When it’s time for him to go, I can’t say that he left happy, but he seemed surprised at how painless (and possibly enjoyable?) our meeting was.
Like I said, I can’t quite put into words what these moments have taught me. But I do know they’ve challenged me in ways that classes and previous jobs never have. It’s a flurry of emotions every day, but I relish every second. I hope that by the end of this year, I’ll have grown as much as these students do every day.