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Life Lessons Class

October 9, 2014

I walked out of the classroom today after teaching my second class and began my walk across campus to Starbucks.  As I walked, I noticed hundreds of backpacks sprawled across the lawn at the University of Miami.  As I got closer, I noticed that there were letters attached to the backpacks.  On some, pictures.  As I walked along and looked down, it became clear that the backpacks belonged to college students across the country who had taken their own lives.

I teach a class at 12:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays called Sports Governance.  It’s become a joke of sorts amongst my 28 students, but I start each class with a life lesson.  Some life lessons are simple, like why it’s important to find a hobby.  Others are more focused on the situations students find themselves in, like it’s ok if you bombed the LSAT.  Others are closer to my heart, like be nice and a friend to everyone.  My particularly favorite life lesson came when a football player who sits in the corner of the room sheepishly raised his hand one day and said, “I have a question:  How do I get a date?”  Somewhat annoyed that his question wasn’t about Sports Governance, I paused briefly and then said, “Step one:  Talk to, be nice to and take interest in someone you’d like to date.”  I was proud of that answer.

When I kick off the class with life lessons, I inwardly know that I’m probably aging myself and sounding like the old fogey at the front of the class.  Inside, though, I know that I do this for a particular reason:  I want each of my students to know that they carry value in this world.

Value goes beyond how you perform on the football field and whether you get drafted.  Value goes beyond the score you get on the LSAT and the law school you get–or don’t get–accepted to.  Value goes beyond the grade you get in my class, although I hope you pass it.

Value, rather, is how you treat people in this world.  You become valuable by treating everyone you come into contact to, regardless of who they are and what they’ve done, with respect.

Value isn’t about test scores, acceptance letters or the amount of money you make.

Value, rather, is what you make of the situation life has handed you.  You become valuable by choosing to put a smile on your face even when your heart doesn’t want to.  You become valuable by refusing to be a victim to your circumstances, but instead turn them into opportunities.  You become valuable by leading a life lived with gratitude.

My students have their first exam next Tuesday.  As I began helping them review today, I said, “So, what do you think is going to be on the test?”

One of my most verbose students piped up and said, “Life lessons?!”

I chimed in, “Are you sick of my life lessons?”

Much to my surprise, he said, “No.  I feel like I’ve actually learned something in this class that I can apply to my life.”

I then said something I probably shouldn’t have.  “First, life lessons aren’t going to be on your test.  Sports governance issues, however, are.  If I were to be honest, though, I really don’t remember much from my undergraduate classes.  If you asked me to do a calculus or physics equation, I’d have to get a book out.  The one thing I remember, though, was from a lecture arguably about life lessons.  My Economic Development professor lectured one day about what makes people happy.  Are people with more money and power happier than those with less?  Ultimately, we learned, they aren’t.”

Perhaps I made a mistake by admitting I don’t remember much from my undergraduate education experience.

I hope that’s not what my students dwell on, though.

I hope what they took away was today’s life lesson:  College is about learning how to survive and making it through.

Which, if we get down to it, is what life is about.

The backpacks sprawled across the University of Miami’s campus today were placed there by an organization called Send Silence Packing.  According to them, 1,100 college students commit suicide each year.  A big reason for this astonishing number is because of our society’s tendency to keep silent about mental health issues or the problems hurting us.  Rather than talking about it, we attach stigmas to both or bottle up the problem.

We need to talk openly about the issues our college students are facing.  The pressure spans beyond the walls of the classroom and the examinations taken within the classroom.  The pressures mount from parents and the fears placed on them of whether they’ll be good enough to graduate and compete in the workforce.  There are social pressures ranging from using drugs and alcohol to fit in to engaging in self-destructive behaviors like eating disorders to look a certain way.  There are pressures to spend more and buy more.  There are sexual pressures.  There are race issues.  There are religious issues.  While a college campus is supposed to be a safe bubble for a student, that bubble can quickly escalate into something that even the strongest of adults would find difficult to navigate.

I want my students to know and fully understand how sports organizations govern themselves.  I believe that I teach them in an effective enough manner for them to fully accomplish this.  I’d be thrilled if they remember our sports governance lessons after they graduate.  However, I will consider myself a success if they each hang onto this:  No matter what problem you’re facing, no matter what you get yourself into, no matter how badly you’ve been hurt, here is the one lesson you need to know about life:

It goes on.

The lesson about life isn’t that it’s easy.  No.  Life is hard.  Really, really, really hard.

However, it always, always, always goes on.

For every bad day I’ve had (and there have been some pretty bad ones), I’ve had a good day.

For every time my heart has been broken (and it has been broken more than I want to say), it’s been restored.

For every problem I’ve faced (and there have been some big ones), I’ve eventually found a solution.

It may not have seemed like I’d see another good day, restoration or solution when I was in the mix of things.

But I’m glad I gave life time to go on.

Because time after time after time again, there was another good day, restoration and a solution.

Always.

Every time.

It has never failed.

I wish the 1,100 college students each year who take their lives could have someone near them to just whisper to them, to just remind them, to just nudge them and say those three simple words:  Life. Goes. On.

However, we can’t remind people that life goes on if we don’t know they’re hurting.  We can’t tell someone what they need to hear if we don’t know how badly they need the words.

The silence must stop.  And the best place to stop the silence on the college campus is in the classroom, where discussion is meant to happen.

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