Just a thought… The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. [H.P. Lovecraft]
Today, as we begin a brand new month, I have to share with you something that has been eating at me for a couple of weeks now.
Just two days after we arrived home from Amsterdam, my new friend Nancy and I were guest interviewers at a local high school. I signed up through the Rotary Club of Sidney, to which I belong, and knew that Nancy, with her background in PR, would be perfect at this task: we were to do “exit” interviews with grade 12 students.
This is part of their curriculum: come into the school’s smaller of two gyms, sit at a desk across from an interviewer and answer questions. After 20 minutes, we would write a few notes on a small piece of paper, they would take that note with them, and while we wrote our thoughts, they’d sign a “thank you” card and then give it to the interviewer as they left.
We arrived at the school at 8:30 am and met up with a few of the other non-student volunteers for the day. Some were former teachers, others business people and even a few were recent graduates themselves. Another was a Rotary volunteer and there were a few local cops in uniform, too. As if these kids weren’t nervous enough! And, oh, they were nervous.
We were seated in the boisterous gym and, at times, as students sat across from us, it was almost impossible to hear what they were saying. Some were more soft-spoken than others, while a couple said “like” so often that I wished I was having trouble hearing them.
A few expressed battles with mental illness (which I thought was remarkable, in that not so long ago, those kinds of difficulties would likely not have come up with strangers like Nancy and me). More than a few had already been accepted at the local community college where they hoped to lay the groundwork for their future education and careers.
That is reason #1 why Grade 13 was a good idea, in my book! Neither Rob nor I decided the paths our careers should take – both radio – until the final months of that final year! Lauren was one of the very few at her Grade 12 convocation who wasn’t taking a “victory lap” and going for more high school credits, which is exactly like Grade 13, is it not? And good on them, I say!
There is a lot to be said for not paying an exorbitant amount to figure out who or what you want to be. Some parents agree and some don’t. That happened to be our opinion and it worked in our lives as students, and later, as parents. But I digress. The point of the exercise was to give students a “real world” sort of interview, but I don’t know how useful I was in this exercise.
While I believe Nancy DID write in one student’s note about not chewing gum in an interview, and also mentioned the constant use of “like” in another, I treated it like a pep rally. I didn’t stress the importance of making eye contact to one young woman who was seemingly without any interest at all, and I could have gently suggested to another that she perhaps not scratch uncontrollably when she was nervous.
I didn’t tell the young woman who loved rock climbing and photography that her hopes of a career as a journalist were going to be as far out of reach as the pinnacle of Everest, given the climate for journalism in the 21st century when scores of professionals and veterans – Pulitzer Prize winners included – are being mercilessly put out to pasture.
I remembered how Lauren hated when broadcasters would come to lecture her radio classes at Algonquin in Ottawa and tell students that most of them were not going to make it in the business. Were these guest speakers right? You bet your employment benefits cheque they were. But was it the right thing to tell these kids they likely weren’t going to succeed – to strafe their hopes – like that? I couldn’t and didn’t.
Here’s the one “hack” I did pass on as they were getting up to leave: write a thank you card. Not the one they were perfunctorily signing on the way out of the high school gym that day, but for any potential employer. I said that after they’d completed an interview for the job they really, really wanted, go out and buy a thank-you card. Go home, look up the person’s title – and spell their name right – and MAIL them a card.
Why? Because no one else does it. Because four days later when 50 other people have been interviewed for the same job, your card comes in and moves to the top of the pile. That’s why. Lauren wrote her first radio employer a thank-you card after he interviewed her. She was probably going to get the job anyway, so impressed was he by her maturity and confident air (the latter was a good front, anyway). But sending this card – something she was good at – sealed it.
I don’t know how much of an impact that day in the high school gym will have on the young men and women Nancy and I tag-team interviewed on that busy, long Tuesday, but I think someone along the way is going to get a thank you card. And I hope that it pays off.
Tomorrow: the student whose interview stayed with me to the point of haunting my dreams.