Working past challenges, even when you are facing failure, is tough. But I see our students do it every day on the WIU campus.
Western Illinois University has gone through an unprecedented time of strain over the past several years. We’re struggling to remain on our feet as the right-hand jab of a steady decline in state appropriations has been accompanied by the left-cross of a decline in enrollment. We’ve all gritted our teeth and tried to survive and thrive through the state budget crisis. We have all felt (and are still feeling) the impacts of these ongoing strains, including our students.
In the context of these adversities, I would like to highlight the remarkable accomplishments of WIU students during these difficult times. Western Illinois University students have continued to persevere at a time when the usual, normative lack of resources among college students has been heightened by macro-level forces outside of their control.
As WIU’s graduation approaches, I’d like to give a “shout out” to my resilient students, who “keep on keeping on” in the face of persistent challenges.
One student I’ve had over the past few years comes to mind, I’ll call her Meegan. Meegan was first my student a few years back as a freshman in Introduction to Sociology, First Year Experience.
Meegan was like a lot of first-year students, learning to really study for the first time, and possessing limited experience writing academically. However, Meegan was the student teachers LOVE to teach, because even though things did not come easily to her, SHE DID NOT GIVE UP. Her persistence is memorable, even in my memory of hundreds of students over 15 years of higher education teaching. She came to class every day, was never late, came to office hours to get help, asked questions (usually over email, she is a bit of a shy person). She was not always completely successful, but she continually improved, and NEVER. EVER. GAVE. UP.
Over the years, Meegan took more classes from me, and more, until she had taken everything that I regularly teach undergraduates. By the time she and I worked together in an upper-division sociology of mental health course in her senior year, Meegan could write, reason, and analyze like a pro.
As I reflect on her progress, I am inspired by Meegan’s determined “stick-with-it-ness,” and her teachability. It was a real pleasure to describe Meegan’s academic journey in a letter of reference I wrote for her this past year.
I have had many students who have impressed me with their resilience over the years, despite not being able to pay their bills, suffering through health challenges, mental distress, and family tragedies. Some are open about these challenges, most are more private.
A few years ago, I had two students in the same semester, in two different classes, suffer the unspeakable tragedy of losing a sibling to gun violence. The strength that it must have taken for them to stand up and go on in the aftermath of profound loss is awe-inspiring. Each of these two students struggled to finish their respective classes that semester; but eventually, finish they did – quietly, determinedly, admirably.
Looking to my students for inspiration and motivation is something I try to remind myself to do as often as I can. It’s a selfish endeavor, because it brings sanity to me in what often seems an insane world. These impressive students are the reason why those of us who work with college students do what we do. And why we keep doing it.
Overwhelming circumstances can make us see only what is concerning to us, only a very small circle around us. I think many of us, like me, need to remind ourselves to think beyond our own narrow circle of immediate concern – to see those around us and recognize the amazing things that people do, every day.
The examples of being impressed by others’ resiliency that I’ve shared today come from my experiences with college students. I find it a glad opportunity to spend time with college students every day of my working life. You may not have that same glad opportunity; but I’m sure that you spend time with people who have struggles that are different from your own; people whose resilience is impressive when noticed.
During this time of year, when Spring brings hopeful renewal and revival to nature and humankind alike, join me in making an effort to pay attention to the human renewal that goes on around us, all the time. We can draw strength from one another in celebrating resilience in the face of challenges.
Notice those around you who struggle, but persevere, and draw courage from their resilience.
The challenges faced by our Western Illinois community are not over, and they never will be. I will not give up on Western Illinois University. I will not give up on students like Meegan. All of us in this community must “keep on keepin’ on,” just as so many of our students do every day, every semester, every year.
WIU students, congratulations on completing another semester of successful learning through resilience. You are strong, brave, and deserve all the good things coming to you!
I salute you!
Lora Ebert-Wallace is a Professor of Sociology at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.