Christopher spent the majority of his teen
years living with his mother in a Washington DC homeless shelter. Food was tightly rationed and washing his clothes was a luxury—something he could only afford to do once a month.
Despite these circumstances, Christopher excelled in high school and went on to earn a full scholarship to attend Michigan State University.
The future seemed bright for Christopher. Unfortunately, once in Michigan, his excitement quickly turned to anxiety and isolation. He felt like an outsider at his new school of 37,000 students after he graduated in a high school class of 150. He felt unprepared for the rigors of university life. He worried constantly about his mom back at home. He got sick frequently, became depressed and eventually stopped going to classes. Ashamed, he told friends and teachers back at home that everything was fine.
But obviously, everything was not fine.
As reporter Kavitha Cardoza tells the story in her incredible radio documentary series, A College Dream: Deferred, a few people who worked at Christopher’s old high school began to sense that something was not right. They investigated and learned that he was flunking out of college. Michael and Tiffany, two people who worked at Christopher’s high school and who remembered him as an extraordinarily promising student, spent their own money to book a flight to Michigan to meet with Christopher face to face and see what was going on.
He had no idea they were coming. He was stunned when, one day, they arrived at his doorstep. Christopher broke down crying, Michael and Tiffany cried too, and together, they came up with a plan to help Christopher finish college successfully and build the future he deserves.
His experience led his university to ramp up the support level for disadvantaged students who are often the first in their families to attend college.
Today Christopher is working at a high-end restaurant near DC, but has not yet graduated from college. He still hopes to. His story is “a work in progress.” He and his mom still struggle with finances. But having Michael and Tiffany visit him in person was a transformative moment in his life. Because of that surprise visit, he realized that people really cared about him, really wanted him to succeed, and would go out of their way just to say, “Are you OK?”
I wanted to re-tell Christopher’s story; at least, an abbreviated version of it, because it’s such a powerful reminder for all of us… a reminder to show up for people, to check in on people, to ask “Are you OK?” and to keep asking, especially if you sense that someone might be too ashamed to tell the truth right away.
If you sense that something is not right with a colleague, a friend, a child, or a student….don’t ignore that feeling. Say something. Do something. Dig a little deeper for the story.
Pick up the phone. Show up on someone’s doorstep. Reach out to someone—even if they repeatedly insist that everything is fine, and even if they’re not asking for your help.
That could be the moment when they need your help most of all.
~ Dr. Sue