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Student Success

“I’m Not Sure If You’re Princeton Material”

Jordan Bingham, college adviser for Wallace-Rose Hill High School in Duplin County, N.C., writes about the importance of believing in students and their dreams.

A group of high school students

By Jordan Bingham, college adviser for Wallace-Rose Hill High School in Duplin County

I have a 40-minute drive to and from work each day, which gives me plenty of time to fill my ears and mind with music, audiobooks, podcasts, and thoughts. I’m listening to Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” on audiobook this week. I’m only a few hours in so far; I’ve worked my way through Michelle’s childhood memories and landed at a pivotal point in her adolescent years: her college counseling appointment.

Michelle, a high-achieving, motivated, relentless student, had her eyes on Princeton, the Ivy League university her brother currently attended. Michelle recalls hearing one sentence with the potential to shatter her confidence for years to come: “I’m not sure if you’re Princeton material.” After hearing those few words, she remembers tuning out the remainder of her college counseling appointment. Luckily for Michelle, she had the family support and the self-awareness to recognize that the doubt her college counselor expressed did not have to define her plans or aspirations. She would be accepted into Princeton University, and as most of us know, continue on into Harvard Law School.

Unfortunately for most students, doubt and apprehension from the adults they’ve learned to respect can define their path for years to come. Unlike Michelle, not all students have a strong family backing that teaches them to recognize and challenge obstacles and injustices. Unlike Michelle, not all students have learned to trust their intuition over the opinions of others. Some students, lots of students, count on the adults at their school to inspire and support the dreams they never realized were attainable.

Nicole Hurd, the CEO and founder of the College Advising Corps, incessantly repeats the phrase, “I believe in you,” said slowly and with intention. She believes in us as college advisers; our students; our goals; their dreams. Nicole Hurd, like Michelle Obama, recognizes the life-altering effects that doubt from our environment can have on our sense of self-worth.

This morning when I woke up to my alarm at 6:20 a.m., I noticed a message on my phone sent from a student at 12:59 a.m.: “I want to become a OB/GYN, do you have any information on colleges in Florida?” My immediate, first thing in the morning response to myself was, “If you cannot even use punctuation marks correctly in a conversation with your college adviser, how do you plan to put the effort and discipline forth to relocate to a school hundreds of miles away and commit to 10-plus years of additional education?” But then I realized… I have absolutely no right, nor any incentive, to discourage this student from considering a plan that would ultimately change her life forever. It is not my place, nor anyone’s place, to impose doubt on an individual’s goals or dreams.

Instead of responding with doubt or uncertainty, I simply replied, “Awesome plan. What makes you interested in Florida?” I’m not sure if she will follow through with her curiosities about colleges in Florida, nor do I know if she will create a path that leads her to medical school, but what I do know is that no one but herself can keep her from these dreams.