13 years ago I was in grad school at GVSU. I was still a pretty innocent person. I think the first time I actually met a Democrat was there…(I should say in defense of my parents they were Democrats, but I just didn’t even know enough to talk about it) I was 23 years old. I still thought everyone went to church, and did not realize there were non-traditional students. I was doing fine in the program, I made friends, I even drank alcohol for the first time. I was growing up.
One of the classes I was in required a group project. The professor was very clear: “Do NOT pick your friends for partners. Do NOT come to me with problems, you are adults, I cannot solve things for you”. Well, I had a problem group. I had a lazy, flighty, non-committed group. There were three of us and one of the girls said she would take all of our paper contributions and edit them and put it together into one nice paper. What she really did was staple our rough drafts together and hand it in. A week late. Because of the time change. Seriously.
So my professor pulled me aside before class one day and she told me she was very disappointed. She told me that she expected better from me and she told me she did not think she should pass me as she did not think I would be a good social worker. I was a hot mess. Sobbing, red faced, hiccuping the whole 9 yards.
She did pass me. She said “I am going to give you the lowest grade possible so you still pass the class. And this stayed with me. I always thought about the day I would meet her again. And what I would say. “Hi, remember me? The girl you said could not be a social worker? Well I am. And I’m a good one. And I am a supervisor, and I travel the world training other social workers. And I am a professor. At the same place you work. So there.
So guess who got into the elevator with me this morning. Yup. It was me, her and another professor I know well. He asked if we met. I said no. I shook her hand and smiled. I said “Nice to meet you”. And we exited the elevator and walked our separate ways. And I realized what I had done. And I said to myself in my head “Sarah Zuidema you march into her office and you talk to her this minute!”
So I did. I walked in and said, “Actually I lied to you earlier. I have met you. You were my professor. And you almost failed me and you told me I would not be a good social worker”. And she said “Wow! I can’t believe this… Look at you now! I am glad you didn’t listen to me! And you should know I changed how I do group projects, I was very harsh on students back then. Sit down, tell me what you are up to!” So we talked for about 20 minutes. And we laughed, and I recruited her to help me with an HIV task force I am a part of.
And a weight lifted off of me… it was almost visible to see this cloud of what I really think was shame just float of my shoulders and out of my heart into the air and vanish. I feel lighter. I feel happier. I feel proud. I feel real.