After a ten-year hiatus, I have come to California again for the national On Course conference. I was able to bring some terrific people from Cowley College with me. On Course is a student success program developed by Dr. Skip Downing about twenty years ago. The program focuses on the deeper issues and factors that affect personal success, including things like assuming personal responsibility, making good choices, developing self-management and self-motivation. It has helped thousands upon thousands of students—and teachers—improve their lives. Skip’s book is now the best-selling student success book in the country and maybe in the world.
Like the book, the conference is full of great ideas, great concepts and great opportunities. Teachers, counselors, advisers and administrators share engaging learning activities and ways of being more effective. Every time I have taught a class using the On Course principles I have had good results. Inevitably, when I require students to do a reflective essay as a major part of their final exam, I will read things like “This class was awesome!” “This class was exactly what I needed.” My favorite, though, is the one that at least half of my students have written in one form or another: “This class changed my life.”
One of those students who wrote that after the creative writing class I taught two years ago at Highland Community College is Brandon Beavers. We submitted his essay into the international contest sponsored by Skip and Cengage Publishing. One of the key elements in Brandon’s essay was a reference to his brother’s suicide, a tragic event that left Brandon drifting. On Course was vital in moving him to choosing a good direction for his life and getting him back on track.
Brandon’s essay, with a little help from me and more help from Skip, was one of the winning essays! He won a hundred bucks and his story is published in the current edition of the very popular textbook. I’d hoped that he would be here in Anaheim to personally read his story as part of the ceremonies but that didn’t work out for a few different reasons.
As it turned out, Brandon sees some benefit to his not being out here this week. A loved and valued friend of Brandon’s family committed suicide a couple of days ago and Brandon will be serving as one of the pallbearers. It stirs echoes of past pains in ways that only those who have suffered similar wounds may understand.
I am confident, though, that Brandon’s resilience will continue and perhaps even increase. He will share his grief with others who share other parts of his life. He will make good choices and use his emotional intelligence in good ways, not only moving through this but helping others move through it as well.
Along with that, though, he, his family and the family of the man who took his own life also need greater strength, greater grace, greater wisdom and greater comfort. They need your prayers. We all do.
I am convinced that the touch of God is greater than all the ironies of our lives. For over sixty years, I have relied on Him to keep me on course. But I have learned that when I take responsibility for making my choices and choosing my actions, He is able to work His will in my life with far less pain for me and those who love me. I think it helps make the job and the process more enjoyable for both of us!