Now it has become your job to pass on that lesson

Yesterday at work, my team was interviewing job applicants for an open position we have.  The standout comment someone made during the debrief was:

“Hey, you know that website that one candidate said she co-founded?  It’s actually real!”

It’s a pretty cool website, too.  It’s called and it’s a site where you can post quick thank you notes to teachers.  It reminded me of a thank you letter I sent last year:

Dear Mr. Varela,

I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a student at your high school when you first became a Principal there.  When I was a senior, I let my counselor know that I wanted to apply to Stanford.  Instead of encouraging me, he told me that I shouldn’t get my hopes up, as it was rare for students from our school to get accepted there.  I chose not to listen to my counselor, and decided to apply to Stanford anyway.  I still needed someone to fill out parts of my application, so I turned to you for help.
It wasn’t really part of your duties as Principal to fill out part of my application (it was my counselor’s job), but you stepped in when I needed you.  I remember you being so warm and encouraging.  You made me feel like I deserved to shoot for the best. 
I would not have been able to get into Stanford if it weren’t for you.  I graduated in 2004.  After spending 4 years working in the corporate sector, I realized that I wanted to use my skills to join the efforts to improve access to quality public education.  Last spring I graduated from UC Berkeley with my MBA, specializing in nonprofit management.  Now, I manage operations for California’s largest network of charter schools, and I’m loving it. 
One of the things I love about the organization I work for is that our educators are committed to helping each one of our kids get to college, and do so through encouragement and high expectations.  It reminds me of how you believed in me, and helped me when someone else explicitly told me not to even bother trying.
I am grateful for you and every single educator who is committed to setting high expectations for their students and helping their students get there.  Public education needs more educators like you.

I vaguely remembered that he eventually replied to my message, but I had forgotten what his message said.   I re-read it this morning.

Let me begin by apologizing. It has taken me a while to answer you because May was an incredibly busy month. Things have calmed down a bit. I am honored by your words Michelle and yes I do remember you. In my career I have always chosen to work at schools that had challenges. You were the first student that I saw that truly impressed and amazed me. I remember you sitting in front of my office waiting patiently to see me. I believe you sent me a graduation announcement. I am sorry I could not attend but believe it when I say I was and am still proud of you.

I am sorry for what you had to go through with folks not believing in you. However, I do believe it taught you the valuable lesson, that all you need is to believe in yourself, to make your dreams come true. After my discussion with you I had no doubt that you were going to accomplish your goals. Now it has become your job to pass on that lesson. I am happy that you are in education. We need quality people like you in this field.

Again, let me say thank you for your kind words. Your email came at a difficult time and reminded me why I got into this field in the first place. If there is ever anything I can do for you, you only need to ask. Keep my email and contact info and let me know how you are doing once in a while.

He’s right.  Even though I never thought about it that way, I got into Stanford because I believed in myself.  Because I believed in myself, I didn’t accept my counselor’s discouragement.  Because I believed in my abilities, I sought out another way to get what I needed.  Because I believed in my own self-worth, I had the balls to ask the Principal at a school with 4500 students to take time out of his day to help me.  And he did.  Because I believed in myself, he believed in me.

It is a valuable lesson, and now I’m passing it on.  All you need in order to make your dreams come true is to believe in your ability to do so, because when you believe in yourself, it compels you to act in a way that makes others believe in you, too.

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