I talked recently with a colleague of mine who plays a similar role at another community college in the state. Among her duties, like mine, is dealing with student requests for permission to take finals early. It seems pretty typical that the families of students who live far away from campus tend to buy plane tickets without first consulting the academic schedule. It seems pretty nervy of them to commit such blasphemous acts but it does happen. Tickets are bought, someone eventually realizes, “Oops, that’s a week or two before finals are over” and then they want someone else to fix their mistake without any cost or penalty. You know, kind of how we want God to straighten out the messes we so carefully create.
Anyway, Ellen told me, “I had a student bring a petition for Early Finals to my office. Our reasons are very clear: military service, school function, life-changing event or what-have-you. His form stated, ‘I can save two hundred dollars on my ticket.’
“Naturally, I gave it a good two seconds of thought and then rejected it.” I nodded my head in agreement, figuring that was maybe a bit more thought than I would have given it. Then, Ellen moved to the rest of the story.
“Two days later, he comes in to see me about his request. I invited him in and talked to him. He’s from Puerto Rico, totally away from his family, which includes a brother who is five years older. I explained to him that I’d checked and found out he could get his round trip tickets for about a hundred-and-sixty dollars more and that I would not approve his request.”
Here, Ellen paused and her expression changed, became less matter-of-fact. Her voice softened, too. “There was something that just didn’t feel right to me.”
“You mean about him?” I asked.
“No, about my decision. So… I started talking to him, asking him about his family. I asked if he missed them and that’s when he tilted his head down. He sat there like that for several seconds. When he looked back up at me, his eyes were red; he was crying.
“I gave him a moment. Then I asked what led him to come so far away from his home in Puerto Rico to Kansas.”
“He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and then said, ‘I came to play baseball.’ Then I asked him how that was going. “ It was probably my imagination but I thought Ellen’s eyes misted over a bit as she related his answer, ‘I got cut from the team.’”
“Wow,” I said quietly, shaking my head and feeling a lump about the size of a baseball in my throat. “That had to cut pretty deep… So what did you do?”
She smiled and said, “I signed the dang form. Any eighteen-year-old who leaves his family and friends three thousand miles away to come to Kansas to play baseball and gets cut from the team has endured a life-changing event.”
I smiled and Ellen grinned. Then she added an even better ending, “I know that my teachers are compassionate enough that they won’t mind letting a heart-broken student take a test a week early so he can get back to the love and comfort of his family. My students and I are lucky to have teachers like this.”
“Yes, you are.”
A college with teachers like that is a college that will be a blessing to a community that extends way beyond its service area.