Living in the Past

...all I can think about is a frame for our future, and pictures of the past...
-Beyonce "Dance For You"

In the upcoming school year, I'm going to be like a chicken with her head cut off. I have NO idea how this is going to work, but it will. It always does. One opportunity I was eager to accept is a chance to interact with the undergraduates at my alma mater, and current school, in an advising capacity. I adored my time in undergrad and anything I can do to help others have a great time, I want to.

But in conversations with fellow alums and just general reflection, I'm realizing that I might need to check some of my eagerness.

When I was in undergrad, we didn't really care for our alums too much. It felt like any interaction with them found its way to an opportunity for them to tell us how we weren't as good as they were when they were in our shoes. We (the black students) weren't striving for a better school for ourselves like they had done. We weren't militant enough, we weren't close enough, we weren't loud enough -- we weren't enough. In turn we shied away from having to do anything more than listen to them drone on and on about their boring lives on a panel.

But now that I am an alum, I get it. But what I get is that those alums hadn't done a lot of self-reflecting or bothered to get to know us and what issues mattered to us so they could help. Instead, they wanted to re-live their undergraduate years through us. Accomplish all the things as alums they weren't able to as undergrads.

I realized this in full strength this morning when I was thinking about a meeting I have tomorrow to begin finalizing a program I'm really excited to be creating and running in the fall. I started thinking about some of the underhanded things that went on when I was in undergrad that discouraged my participation in some organizations and how easy it would've been to change those things if enough people had gotten together and refused to go along to get along. These things were so disgustingly reckless that in hindsight, I'm embarrassed to say I didn't do anything about them. But because I was silent, and others were silent, they're still happening and even as an alum I'm still feeling some of the repercussions.

And then I started thinking about how I wanted to remind the undergrads I'd meet with of several things along those lines...

That was about the time I had to slap my own fool self and recognize how I was quickly turning into the type of alum I'd always said I disliked and didn't want to be: trying to change the things that I didn't feel empowered to change back when I was a student. There's a fine line here, between illuminating things for these students that I didn't know back when I was in their position and forcing them to fight a fight I should've fought.

I think we all do this in various facets of our life. It's true that hindsight is 20/20. I speak so assuredly now of any number of things that are true for people younger than me, in any setting but I have to realize that if I knew then what I know now things would have been different. Not only did I not know what I was doing, but I didn't know that I didn't know. That comes with age and experience and I just as I didn't have the wisdom back then to make some of the choices I'd make now, neither do folks who are in the shoes I just left a few years ago.

My job is to show them the potholes I fell into and give them tools to avoid them. What I can't and shouldn't do is try to push them around the holes. If they fall in, they fall in and they'll learn, like I learned. I can't live in the past because I can't change it -- I can change tomorrow though.

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