The most important skill freshmen need to know is how to get from HERE to THERE. That’s it. Movement. If a freshman has mastery of this skill, they can do almost anything.
But movement requires courage because movement means change which often includes risk. For example, a student hears on the announcements that a great club is having a meeting that day after school. At the end of the day the bell rings and they begin the movement from HERE to THERE which usually includes a few questions:
Where is the room again?
Do I know anyone that’s going?
Maybe I should go next month.
I’ll probably not like it.
Will they welcome me?
How do we begin to normalize these feelings? As adults we know these feelings and often times move beyond them and get THERE. Freshmen, not so much.
Recently I welcomed the class of 2021. Five hundred freshmen sat in our auditorium. A student emcee welcomed them and then introduced the principal. After the principal’s opening remarks, he introduced me.
“The most important skill you need is how to get from HERE to THERE,” I opened to a sea of fresh faces. “Getting to the meeting, to the tryouts, to the game, to that classroom, to that new activity takes courage. If you can move from HERE to THERE, you can write a powerful story in this building over the next four years.”
“I want to give you a chance to practice that skill. Take a look at the number on your seat.” In saying this 500 freshmen suddenly disappear as they bend in half to look at the small brass plate on the front of their seat.
“In a second I’m going to call out a number and you are going to decide whether you stay seated or stand up. Many of you have two digits on your seat. For example: 25. I want you to look at the second number, the five.”
“All those that have a ‘3’ as the second number you need to decide to stand up or stay seated.”
A group of about 35 freshmen stand up.
“Would you give these courageous freshmen a hand!” While clapping, the sea of faces are binary in that some are relieved that I didn’t call their number and others are bummed they didn’t get to stand and are literally dancing in their seats.
“Would those with a seven as the second number also stand.”
With all the “3’s” and all the “7’s” standing I say, “Ok, I want to talk to all the 3’s and 7’s that are standing. I now have a second challenge. You have two choices again. You can sit down or you can move to another row. This will change where you end up today. It may change what room you go to. I may change who you sit next to. It is a risk. It requires courage. And maybe it requires a little motivation. When you exit your row a student leader will reward you with a candy bar as you journey to your new spot. For those that want to take the challenge: GO!”
And then I watch. Some students gleefully push down the aisle, a candy bar and an adventure in view. Others hesitate, look both ways, and sit down. They can’t do it. It’s too scary. There’s too many unknowns. But I’m not surprised. There are so many landmines in the freshman mind. They have chosen safety. I hope that maybe later they will regret this decision and resolve to be a bit more courageous the next time.
When everyone is seated in their new row, I ask those that moved to stand.
“Would you give a round of applause to this group of freshmen who were courageous enough to take this risk today? This is the skill that we all need to do in order to do high school right. They have successfully met their first high school challenge. I hope that you will be like them and be courageous. Getting from HERE to THERE is a great skill, and it will completely change your story at Washington High School.”