The Story Behind the Pearls
The first time I shared “Professor’s Pearls” with my college students was unplanned, unrehearsed and completely against my better judgment as a speech professor. While I don’t typically recommend such a cavalier disregard for speech preparation, every now and then life surprises you by your actions resulting in the exact opposite of what you had expected. Clearly, irony isn’t always a welcome force. But, there is no doubt in my mind that irony was on my side in this particular instance.
It was the last day of classes for the spring semester. My “Interpersonal Communication” class had finished the coursework, covered all the necessary content and the final exam was to be taken the following week. Since it was and still is my policy that test review is the responsibility of the student outside of class, I wanted to think of a memorable and appropriate way to conclude the semester aside from drilling through the course content.
As I began to brainstorm the possibilities, I hoped that a great idea would effortlessly materialize. But, it didn’t quite happen that way. Twenty minutes before the class period started, I still had nothing. I desperately needed something…anything to be the focus of this completely unplanned and most definitely under prepared class session. I randomly recalled some “words of wisdom” I had written in the past and decided to do my best to tailor it to a college level audience.
Just the year before, I wrote a letter with these “words of wisdom” to the first class of students I ever taught for their high school graduation. Although I had been their 3rd grade teacher so many years ago, they always had a special place in my heart as my first class of students. I would have liked to have given each one of them an actual graduation gift to open on that special day. Unfortunately, there were too many of them and too little money in my pocket for that to be a reality. The only gifts I had to offer were intangibles, and I struggled to come up with meaningful idea.
I thought about my own high school graduation and recalled how bittersweet of a time it was for me. I was happy to have high school behind me. And yet I felt scared and totally overwhelmed at the prospect of “making something of myself” after graduation. I was clueless, lost and I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do or where to begin. I surmised that many of my graduating students would be able to relate to these feelings at least to some degree. I decided to write the class a letter focusing on the transition from high school to college. While the idea was less than grandiose, at least I could give them the gift of wisdom. And, that was certainly better than nothing.
After I was positive that I had included tips and suggestions that only a seasoned college professor could impart, I mailed the letter along with an assignment they completed back in 3rd grade to each of my former students. Several months after I mailed the letters, I sadly concluded that my “words of wisdom” idea had been something of a flop. Not one single student, parent, or anyone else for that matter made any reference to the letter or gesture whatsoever. In retrospect, I’m not exactly sure what I expected in terms of feedback or acknowledgement of receipt. But, I know that I expected something. And, I got nothing; which is precisely what I thought the letter meant to my students.
After this experience, you can understand my trepidation in using the same letter as the theme for the last class session with my college students. Much to my surprise and delight, what started out as fodder to fill the time, was embraced with open arms. Several students even asked for copies of the letter after class. Their reaction was definitely unexpected. But, I will admit that it was incredibly satisfying at the same time. It was a good moment.
The summer and fall terms came and went without the inclusion of the “words of wisdom” letter. It wasn’t until the following year when a current student asked me about the “Pearls of Wisdom” lesson that I recognized the true impact of that class session for some students. At the request of my students, I made the “pearls of wisdom” lesson the standard curriculum for the last day of all my classes.
Even now, students from years past will tell me how important that class session was to them. Some of them keep the letter and continue to refer to what is now referred to as “Professor’s Pearls.” And, while these “pearls” are admittedly simple, it is no coincidence that they seem to truly strike a chord for those who are in the midst of transitioning from teen-ager to young adulthood. I discovered the legitimate need for mentoring resources for this very specific demographic. The conversion of “Professor’s Pearls” into a website is no less than my best effort to shine a light on, start a conversation about, and to be a part of a solution for meeting the educational and relational mentoring needs of neophyte adults. - PCD