This is the third post in a six-part series, in which each Fellow looks back on their year in the PLUS Center and shares what they will take with them as they embark on their next ventures. Today we hear from former Penn Treaty Fellow Frank, who is now running an education startup that aligns with 12+'s mission by contributing a percentage of its profits.
“I want to stay in touch, hear about what you’re up to next year… we can grab lunch! I’m excited to see the things you accomplish.”
At the beginning of the school year, I might have envisioned that those would be my parting words to students. Instead, I found myself on the receiving end.
In June, graduation came in a flurry of last minute adjustments, blurs of camera flashes, and the uproar of applause. And then it was over. Students processed up the aisle and disappeared in the flood of parents and loved ones. I made my way out the front doors and spotted some of my favorite students. We took pictures, hugged, and talked about summer plans. Then one of the guys, probably the student I’ve grown closest to, casually dropped that line about staying in contact. That’s when I finally realized… 12+ wasn’t just another step in a journey for him. It had become something he would carry with him as he entered college, and I had become someone he wanted to keep in his life, not just as a mentor or educator, but as a friend.
Every year is a series of ups and downs and, at the lowest of lows, we [the Fellows] were told to not be discouraged by what felt like short-term “failures.” We were reassured that the work done would stay with our students for years to come, and (as difficult as it was to accept) we may not witness our students’ successes. But they will succeed. We have to subdue our selfish need to change their lives. Our desire to elevate our students to podiums of achievement is just that-ours. It has to fall on our students to discover their passions and to pursue them with the vigor and determination we encouraged. And hopefully, if they do stumble, they will remember that there are open ears and supportive voices waiting for them at 12+.
As for me, I’ll remember the routines that became a trademark of my time in the PLUS Center: pleading with students to prepare for the SAT, getting made fun of for my “weird” lunches, failing to stay humble when I won at chess, using random analogies to explain electron orbitals, having tough conversations with students when filling out the FAFSA, celebrating when students improved on their SATs, mitigating frustrations when colleges took forever to respond with decisions, explaining my love of avocado and why buying 30 at a time was value, building a relationship with my Penn Treaty team, demonstrating proper deadlifting form for uninterested students, constantly telling students to go to class, slipping up and laughing at inappropriate jokes, cookie Mondays, seeing our biggest cynics become our strongest supporters, meeting parents brimming with joy, making amazing puns that no one appreciated, lying down on the couches after a long day just to realize how many sweaty bodies have already been there, and most vividly, the dozens of pride-filled smiles we received from students.
12+ offers a luxury not many people have. It provides the Fellows with an opportunity to excel at their work by simply being themselves. While our metrics may show growth and accomplishment in SAT scores and college acceptances, it’s the intangibles—the trust, the goofiness, the compassion—that our students are impressed by and put value in. These will be the parts of 12+ that they carry with them.