When I was in grad school they warned us, most days will be thankless, but every so often you’ll have a moment where you’ll realize it’s all worth it. Up until now, I’ve had minor instances where this has occurred. Today, for the first time since I finished grad school (four years ago), I had my full on, you made a difference in my life and I am sorry I was such an ass to you while you hung in there with me experience.

Well really it started yesterday. I received a phone call from a former intern of mine who graduated last year. I’ll just say that he was one of the toughest students I’ve worked with, questioned and fought me all the way, did nothing to make my life easy, did the least amount of work required to keep his job, and there was one time when his conduct was so out of line that I was near firing him which resulted in a meeting where we exchanged dissenting opinions about what was expected and when I called him out on his behavior he lashed out and eventually got up, walked out of my office and slammed my door. I of course when running after him and ordered him (I’ve never ordered a student prior or since this incident) back into my office if he had any intentions of saving his job.

Because I consider myself an educator, I tried really hard. I kept at him and I tried to meet him where he was. To say he did not get how his actions impacted other people or that the world did not revolve around him, would be an understatement. At times I was so frustrated. And probably not always patient. But after the door slamming incident, we began to repair our working relationship and rebuilding trust. I tried my best to foster growth in areas where I knew he could succeed and spent many hours in conversations about his worries about graduating and becoming more independent. You know, a grown up in the world taking care of himself.

I invested time. And energy. And I’ve done this with countless students. And I did not think I was making any difference with this one particular student. In a way I was relieved when he graduated because the idea of working with him for another year was exhausting.

So back to the phone message yesterday. Out of the blue I received a message from this former student of mine. He starts off by telling me he’s now working in my field and he is so sorry for being such an ass to me. He goes on to say he gets it…all the things I did…and that he really wants to take me out to lunch to talk. And then today we ran into each other at a campus event and he just kept telling me over and over how sorry he was and that he now understands where I was coming from and why I did everything I did. And he told me that I was a good supervisor. That I had made an impact. That he respects how I did my job, and again that he was sorry for being an ass. We spent over an hour talking about the growth he’s experienced in a very few months. I told him how much I thought he’d grown and I thanked him for all the things he said to me. In some way I felt like we had come full circle. And he could finally see beyond his needs. He’s become a little less selfish and has started his way towards becoming an adult. A person who can put others before him, and responsibilities before his own desires. Four months ago, he could not do this. And my heart smiled know in some way, I had an impact on him. That the work I do matters. They weren’t lying to me in grad school that it’s rare that former or current students come back and tell you that you mattered, but what they neglected to tell me was how amazing it would feel when it does happen.