Tiffany Frericks, assistant professor of social/behavioral sciences at John Wood Community College for over five years and 2011 Faculty Member of the Year.
This is always such a bittersweet time of year. As I watched my students walk across the stage, I couldn’t help but think about how far several of them have come. I am blessed to teach classes that touch on very personal subjects, so I often get to know my students quite intimately. Their fears, their obstacles, their past, and that’s why I love what I teach. I know where many of them have come from and where they are now. That’s why college can be such an amazing time. A time to discover more about you, your life and your world.
The beauty of sociology. We walk around thinking we’re all individuals, when, as one of my students brilliantly put it, we’re just a statistic. We’re living a life impacted by our past and our society, and if we don’t recognize that, we will continue to operate on auto-pilot and not truly understand our own power. Our power to change the way we view ourselves, our future and the future of others.
Changing paths. I had the pleasure of attending a WIU ceremony for a former student of mine this spring. I had to hold back the tears as I watched him walk across that stage. Before me was a young man who was confident, who knew his future was bright, and that was a complete 180 from the young man who entered my classroom five years ago. I still remember him sitting in the back of the classroom, completely unsure of himself. He still had that megawatt smile, even then, and that personality that just drew people to him, but he was unsure about himself and unsure about his future. He had just gotten out of juvie when he walked into my classroom and he was scared to death. But I didn’t know this when he sat himself down in the back of that classroom, which is the beauty of college. When those students walk into my class, I don’t know what their past is, I don’t know what labels they have gained through the years, good or bad, I don’t know their mistakes or their glories, I only know their present. The time I have them in my class, I can use to help them to understand where they came from, why they think the way they do, view others the way they do and why they view themselves the way they do. And five years ago that knowledge helped to change the way this young man viewed himself and helped him understand his life. This young man recognized his power that semester in my classroom and not only changed himself, but he changed me and countless lives since then. I have been forever changed by his story and so have many of my students.
The power to change lives. I have seen the power of our College, it is the power to literally change lives. Whether it is students telling me they got out of abusive relationships because of what they learned, coming to terms with a rape they experienced and are no longer blaming themselves for, or telling me of the shame they no longer feel about growing up poor and instead feeling empowered….or, like my student who walked across that WIU stage – telling me of the power that the knowledge of understanding where he came from helped him change where he was going. My students are truly amazing. Some of them have overcome so much and they are strong, they are brave, and they are intelligent…. some of them just may not have recognized it in themselves at first. I am so blessed that they chose John Wood so that I could be a small part in their journey.