I’m going to be honest. This post is a difficult one for me. It is something I have wanted to share for quite a while, but I allowed myself time to develop the courage to share this. It’s extremely personal for me, but I hope that it can give at least one person hope.
Four years ago, I wrote this blog post.
After I wrote that post, I wasn’t really sure where my life would go. I planned on going back to school the following Fall and graduating as soon as possible (I seriously just wanted to be done with school). But something beautiful happened. When I went back to school, I discovered a supportive environment full of faculty and students who believed in me. Soon, I developed plans of going to graduate school. Grad school turned into dreams of getting my Ph.D.
I promised myself that, when I got into a doctoral program, I would write a letter to the faculty member mentioned in the previous blog post. Approximately a year and a half ago, after accepting my offer into the School Psychology program at UNL, I came through on that promise.
I’m honestly not sure whether she ever received the letter. I think about it sometimes, but I quietly take solace in the act of writing and sending the letter. The act of standing up for myself. The act of standing up for others who have felt defeated by someone who didn’t believe in them.
Here is the letter I wrote:
Dear Dr. __________,
I hope this letter finds you well. You may not remember me, but I sat across from you in your office in Fall 2011, requesting my third complete medical withdrawal from my courses at the University of Oklahoma. I had been struggling with my health for years, as evidenced by the inches-thick binder of medical records that accompanied me during our meeting. You recommended that I do some soul-searching and suggested that I discontinue my college education. After I told you that I planned on going to graduate school, you glanced at my grades and the number of W’s on my transcript and said that I would never get into professional school with such a poor history. You told me that I would need to look into other options if I could not get my health under control. I left your office feeling hurt, defeated, and hopeless. I almost believed you.
The following semester, my health deteriorated further. I withdrew from my courses a fourth time. I became so sick that I was completely disabled. I required two major surgeries, coupled with months of rehabilitation and healing. By August 2012, however, I was back in school. I chose to attend a different university because I could not imagine being in a place that harbored so many negative memories for me. I maintained good grades, found ways to help my department, and graduated within a year and a half. With the encouragement of the faculty at my university, I started a masters program. This spring, I accepted an offer into the School Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In three short years, I turned my life around. And I have you to thank for that.
I think about our conversation every day. Your words almost broke me. If it had not been for my impossibly strong support system, they would have. While your words added fuel to my fire, they have the power to extinguish that of others. As [a leader at the university], you have the potential to ruin a student’s career by passing judgment at an inopportune moment. Students believe what you have to say. I urge you to think about the impact your advice can have on a student before giving it, to consider how it may affect his or her life. I imagine students come to you when they are already broken—I was. I urge you to encourage them, to help them mend their broken pieces instead of breaking them further. To understand that, as a faculty member at a prestigious university, discouraging a student from pursuing an education that he or she so badly wants can hinder potential greatness. I urge you to think carefully about the lasting impression you can leave on students; I know you have left one on me.
I’ve wanted to write a very similar email for quite some time now. This is more than fantastic. Thank you so much for your courage.
Caroline, thank you for your encouragement and kindness. I’m sorry you’ve had an experience that has led you to the desire to write a similar letter, but I hope you do it. I found it to be very therapeutic. Sending love your way.
Great job Pooja, it takes special courage to speak the truth!
So proud of you girl!!!!!