At 9:45 sharp, I stood in front of 25 students, all undergraduates at the University of Minnesota, welcoming them to their first “Personal Leadership in the University,” class this semester. Aside from the three things they each chose to tell the class about themselves, things like, “I like sports,” or “I love to cook, and I make a mean cheesecake,” or “I’m a small-town girl at heart,” I know nothing of these students.
I know they have worked hard to get to where they are, in these seats facing me, in this room, at this R1 university that accepts a fraction of the students that apply. I know that I am meeting them at a critical juncture of their lives, when they have left the nests of familiarity, of what they have known, into a future that is yet unknown, yet to be created. I know that they have dreams and friends and families and struggles and fears and desires and anger and happiness and hurt and courage and hope. I know they each have a story, stories full of possibility and power to change the world.
And when I stand in front of them and share my story, I spare none of my failures. I tell them that when I was in a student like them, sitting in my chair on my first day of college, I could hear the walls I had built around myself begin to rumble. I could feel a falling apart, a cluelessness about who I was and what I wanted, a feeling of aloneness, of being the only one who had no idea what I was doing with my life. I tell them I was so riddled with uncertainty and depression, I rarely made it to my classes, graduating five years later with a mediocre GPA, a blank slate, and enough desperation and determination to create a life that resonated with the thrum of my soul’s longing.
I share these things in part because I know mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are epidemic in universities today. But mostly I share these things because I have a deep belief that sometimes we need to fall apart, obliterate what we have known and think we know in favor of what we may discover, about life and about ourselves, about what we have to give, about our unique talents, and about the profound gifts that can come from profound struggle.
I invite them to be human, to not know. Because in this space of not knowing, in the blank spaces of our lives, we have an opportunity to innovate, to create an idea or thought or solution that has yet to be created. In my classroom, we begin each day entering the pages of our journals, where I invite them to create the greatest art they will ever create–their lives.
Let the revolution begin.