By Erin Cochran
The last time I was in a high school guidance counselor’s office, I was 17 — 19 years ago. I had seen the guidance counselor in the hallways during the three years I had been attending University High School. Although I hadn’t spoken to him during those years, he seemed to have a friendly smile and face.
When I was brought into his office to talk about my plans for college, he looked at my grades and then looked at me like I was the most offensive creature he’d ever encountered.
Although I have no recording of this, his words were close to, “You shouldn’t even be thinking about going to college with these grades.” To be honest, I was stunned.
It was the first time in my life an adult had shocked me into silence and into partial self-loathing. Even though I knew my grades weren’t that horrible, the way the man made me feel … well, today I think you would probably say I felt harassed. I felt that the man had the intention of disturbing me and upsetting me. I don’t recall much else that he said.
Today, teenagers are committing suicide because of other classmates bullying them. I was a shy and unpopular girl and had been bullied by many people in my life. His words crippled me. Today, my fear is that if this type of “guiding” is still in effect, it could also lead teenagers to suicide.
I recently heard from a friend who went to a different school. That guidance counselor told him that because he didn’t come from a rich family, they shouldn’t consider college as an option and that he should get an application for the coal mines. It was a small town, so the guidance counselor knew his family. This person went to college and graduated as well, and is a success.
With “guidance counseling” horror stories like these, I must come forward and try to make a difference. Just as others today are making a difference and bringing to light other harassments that they may have felt unable to disclose in the past.
Perhaps high schools are more vigilant about the type of people that they hire to guide our leaders of tomorrow, or maybe there’s a teenager out there right now who has been dreaming of the day he or she can reinvent him- or herself and start over in college.
Teenagers who have been worn down over the years by insults and laughter at their own expense, and when they enter the office of a guidance counselor and hear that they shouldn’t be thinking about going to college is the last straw for them. One more insult that pushes them over the edge — into believing they’re less than nothing.
And what if they take their lives because of the words of a man who is supposed to be building them up and not tearing them down and burning them into ash? How can our schools hope to protect the leaders of tomorrow if they employ bullies themselves?
I am not a parent. But I know what it is to be young and lost, cut down by an adult you haven’t spoken a word to, simply because of a few bad grades.
Teenagers are good at bottling things up, too good. If you are a parent, ask them about their guidance counselor experience, if possible be there when it happens. That would be my wish: That every high school makes it mandatory for the parents of a minor to be there. After all. I think it’s important that they hear what their child’s future may entail. I don’t believe that my guidance counselor would have said what he said to me if my father had been sitting right next to me.
Despite this man’s opinion and disgust for me, and not because of his words to me, I graduated from WVU and wrote a book. I have had a book cover liked by John Grisham on Instagram and have received praise on another book excerpt from Webster Stone, who is known for being an executive producer on several movies.
My advice to teenagers today would be this: Do not let the opinions of adults stand in the way of what you know yourself to be. Do not let them make you feel less than. Those who try to make you feel that you are beneath them, know that you are above them by unimaginable heights.
If you want to go to college, you have every right to pursue that dream. Do not let the simple minds of others try to stop you.
ERIN COCHRAN is an author and book reviewer, who lives in Morgantown. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.