“Today, I Made A College Student Cry”

I am not the “I” in the title of this post. Rather, the title comes from the first sentence of a Facebook post by a staff member at my school. The post moves me and makes me think, and I want to share it with you.

Here is her post, and my responses to her, and to you, after it.

Today, I made a college student cry. I won’t get into the specifics, but I had to have an extremely hard conversation with him about consequences and it truly scared him about his future. It. Was. Heartbreaking. My job has always been to uplift our students and help them to see their true potential. I’ve been proud to be the person they turn to when they need to practice their pitch, think through an exciting idea or weigh out a tough decision. I’ve helped countless students network their way into their dream jobs and have also given out countless hugs when others didn’t get their dream jobs. On most given days, I love my job. Today was not one of those days though. Watching a 22 year old shake and cry in front of me is not something I ever want to relive. After speaking with the student about their situation, I learned that he is taking 20 credit hours this semester to try and graduate on time. He is also working 20-30 hours per week at his internship and being taken advantage of because he’s too nice to say no. Yes, he made a bad decision (which was why he was in my office), but it’s likely because he’s overwhelmed, underappreciated and just…tired. I truly feel that he is this way today because there is just too much pressure on college students to be the best. To succeed in college now, you don’t just need a high GPA. You’ll need that, involvement in numerous clubs (preferably in a leadership capacity), have multiple internships, spend your free time attending networking events and practice your interview skills until they are perfect. You also need to get very comfortable with making your future decisions extremely early on. We have finance companies that are coming to recruit students for internships over 16 months before their first day on the job. Accounting companies are asking students to commit to their junior year internship before they are even declaring their majors during their sophomore year. The pressure to succeed is so high, students are terrified throughout their 4 years of college and continually asking themselves, “Am I doing enough?” When did all of this become normal? When did getting your first job go from something exciting to something so stressful that it affects every aspect of your health? What can we do to change it? I don’t know what the answers to these questions are. So for today, I gave my student a tissue, a hug and a promise that if he ever needed my support again – I would be there.

Dear Students:

I know many of you are feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, and tired. And under a lot of pressure. To the extent that I contribute to that, I am sorry.

My FB friend asks, “What can we do to change it?”

What can I do? I can remind myself before every class, every test, every assignment that this is not your only class.

What can you do? You can forgive yourselves for not being perfect. When the voice in your head asks you, “Am I doing enough?” You can answer it with a simple yes. You can take care of yourselves, and each other.

A few years ago at graduation, Jane Miller spoke. Her message sticks with me: Run Your Own Race. This is the single best piece of advice I know.


And one more thing on this topic, from the Run Your Own Race file.

The year we moved to Boulder, Son #1 was in fifth grade. In his new school, everyone did a science fair project. Well, everyone and their parents did them. A typical display is shown below, left. My kid’s display, below right. Was he doing enough? Was I? Yes. Yes.

8 Comment

  1. Mary Beth Lewis says: Reply

    I also read this FB post and lamented the reality of it for many a college student. Don’t know if Laura’s blog readers can see my comment, but I’ll add this for our students to consider: You are more than your GPA. Anyone, corporate recruiter, faculty, well-meaning family, who loses site of that needs to be reminded. So practice this with yourself as an affirmation: “I am more than my GPA. Let me tell you about the many other things that enrich my life and the ways in which that makes me a more-skilled, more-insightful, more whole and healthy friend, colleague, and human being.” I will continue to remind myself also. MB

  2. SJG says: Reply

    Congratulations. Having a college student cry in your office is an indication that maybe you have opened a window of opportunity to give students a new message. I have taught college and graduate students for nearly 20 years, and I think a vulnerable moment is one of the few times we might actually have a chance at making an impact. Instead of hoping it never happens again, we should welcome the chance to say something real. Students are yearning for their mentors to care. What can we say? Maybe we can help them understand that they can define themselves, not by their GPAs, but by their ability to be real, to create needed change, and to impact others in a positive way.

  3. Liz Stapp says: Reply

    Love this post and your son’s science fair board. I love the one on the left, too.

    If the kid on the left loved science fair and did the project him or herself, that’s enough, too, right? Maybe that kid and his parent needed the time together to connect.

    Full disclosure: my kids’ boards always look like the one on the left. It’s a running joke in our family. I have a science fair materials closet. Why? Because I can be there to support them through the project. I can’t always be there to make cookies, be PTO mom, or pick them up everyday from school.

    I loved school and want to share that love with my kids. My husband was a great athlete. He wants to share his passion for sports with them. He takes them to sporting events and practices with them in the yard when they ask. Different parenting paths, same result: our kids feel our presence. We show up in their lives. I know you did, too. The way you show up doesn’t need to mirror the way others do.

    The key is that there are multiple paths to success as parents, students, and people. We should avoid trying to measure our failures by others’ success. Comparison is the thief of joy, after all.

    1. laurakornish says: Reply

      No judgment for your science fair materials closet. I do have some space envy, though, considering that my pantry is in my laundry room.

  4. A base student says: Reply

    This is great! Thank you so much 🙂

    1. laurakornish says: Reply


  5. JNB says: Reply

    As a current BASE student, I feel the need to add that much of what contributes to GPA/grades/testing stress for me comes from a feeling that the things that makes the tests and projects difficult are not necessarily caused by the material itself. I’ll give some examples:

    1) In BASE this semester the first test occurred on the same day as an Accounting exam worth 40% of the overall grade and the upcoming test is also scheduled for the same day as the Accounting final. This is particularly frustrating considering some of the BASE faculty also teach Mod classes – you’d think there would be some kind of effort to avoid this overlap. It is very difficult to focus in a test when you’re already worried for another just 3 hours later.

    2) Much of the testing in Leeds is multiple choice. While this is great for certain subjects, such as math based classes, courses like Marketing, Ethics and Communication Strategy frequently feel as if the way to succeed on tests is through good test taking skills and not in depth knowledge of the information.

    3) The way BASE groups are selected is incredibly frustrating. While I get that working with difficult people is certainly a part of real life, in a College setting there is generally less accountability than you see in a work place. Many students I know are perfectly content with getting Bs and Cs, and there is nothing wrong with that, but to expect students that have higher expectations to try and motivate these kids is unrealistic – teachers cannot even accomplish this. Instead what happens is the students that are willing to work harder are forced to take on more of the responsibility and the stress that comes with that. The only current solution for this problem is the CATME surveys or direct conflict – but the notion that threatening socially loafing students with a lower grade will somehow transform them is inherently flawed. They’ve already shown they don’t care about their grade! Some of the smartest students I know are in this situation and it is incredibly frustrating to feel like they are being punished for having high expectations. There needs to be a better way of forming these groups – perhaps looking at academic history as a means to group students together who have shown a willingness to put forth a certain amount of effort. Many of the students that cause these problems aren’t deserving of the blame either – as I mentioned there is absolutely nothing wrong with not worrying about grades as much as your classmates. But to expect the same kind of accountability here that exists in a professional environment is much the same as imagining if one of your colleagues stopped coming to work and began teaching wrong information to students, instead choosing to go to frat parties, and faced no material consequences. It will never happen!

    I think the idea that students are more than their GPA is absolutely true and incredibly important to be mindful of. However, there is more to a GPA than just a students ability to learn, achievements and effort. The thing that makes a GPA stressful is largely a result of the fact that it is sometimes affected by factors that are out of a students control – even worse when instead the things that add to the stress are in the control of the school and its teachers.

    This is by no means meant to point any fingers on this problem, and I have genuinely enjoyed most of the classes I’ve taken at Leeds, but there are certainly areas where stress and anxiety for students can be better managed.

    1. laurakornish says: Reply

      Thank you for sharing. Dear JNB, please let me know who you are so I can offer support. I am keen to help you with your concern about your team. –LK

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