Ever have those days in the office where you thought long and hard about climbing out your window and running away from all the craziness that’s inside your office, disappearing off where no one could find you? For me, it was the first day of spring semester, and I have to set the scene for you just a little: We have a decent-sized staff for our student population, but we also do several functions that many schools house in their registrar’s and bursar’s offices. We’re also not the kind of school that cancels classes if you’re not paid throughout the semester – students just rack up late and interest fees and have holds placed on their accounts so they can’t register and get transcripts and such. You guys know the drill. As you can imagine, busy place the first day of a new semester, right?
And I knew that it was going to be a bad day because we had a staff member out on medical leave, so we were short-staffed, and then to get to work and find out that the other assistant director is out with her sick son was just the icing on the cake. Half our counseling staff gone, there’s one who is still new (less than 5 months on the job, fresh out of college), and then me. Fantastic – let’s start the day. Students were piling in left and right trying to figure out why they couldn’t register for classes, trying to explain to me why they needed more aid, and from what I’m seeing, these are not the best academic students. We try to give them a pass for one semester, but 3 or 5 or 7? I’m getting things figured out for these students, but then I can’t get in touch with the controller’s office to get the holds removed so that they can register – always problematic. I know that they’re just as slammed as we are today, but I’m calling, emailing, IMing, texting, sending smoke signals, Hedwig, whatever I can think of – why can’t we just be in the same darn location like any normal campus?
I’m prone to migraines. I don’t know why, but ever since my son was born, it happens. Stress, smells, not enough sleep, not enough food, weather changes – that stuff will bring them on. I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch at a normal time, and I get a student in my office that had just gotten off a plane – literally – and come into my office to get her aid straightened out. I’m familiar with her, because we’ve emailed and talked on the phone countless times before she decided to come to Ohio from Florida. It was going to be a long appointment, because she hadn’t done any of her direct loan stuff, and she had been offered a Perkins loan as well, which I had to explain the terms of and how to obtain through our third-party servicing system. This student comes in, and I’m not sure if she normally wears that much perfume or if she had put it on because she’d just gotten off the plane, but I’m choking in it. It smelled like a bottle of some 80’s issue Avon old lady juice had exploded in my office. My student workers out at the front desk are giving me sympathetic looks as I take her back, because they know about my headaches, what kind of day I’ve had, and how long this is probably going to take. I somehow make it through twenty minutes of explaining everything in her awards package, all of her student loans and how they’re obtained, and send her on her way. The smell lingered long after her, so of course, being the cold January Ohio day that it was, I opened my window.
I OPENED MY WINDOW. Now was my chance to just go ahead and just climb out, right? I mean, why not, after the day that I’ve had? It’s 2 pm, no lunch yet, dealing with all of THIS…
I ran to our back area as quickly as I could and grabbed my lunch, getting away from the temptation of the open window (and also the smell in my office). I only took 10 minutes, because really, that was all the time that I had. I know we’re supposed to take a lunch hour, but who has time for that anymore? I replayed the absolute horror of the business and rush of the day in my mind as I walked back toward my office with the open window and terrible smell, and I saw that ledge just beckoning me, once again, to climb over and run away…
But I had another student to see.
This one was different, though. She was a senior, one that had done everything right. Her bill for this semester was unexpectedly larger because she had held a previous refund on her account and forgotten about that, so she was wondering what to do, how to get her balance paid. It was a small one (by our standards), and I was looking at everything. 0 EFC. Senior with a 4.0 GPA. Already a decent amount of loan debt. I remembered my director saying that we had some SEOG left to spend, and so that’s exactly what I did.
When I told her, this girl…cried. A lot. And gave me 5 hugs. Over covering a small balance.
And that, my friends, is why we don’t climb out the window, no matter how bad we may want to. No matter how many students in a row we get that don’t do what they’re supposed to do, that want more money when we may think they don’t deserve it or need it, that come to your school when they probably shouldn’t be there and we have to figure things out for them, “but the coach promised me this,” no matter how many of those type students we may see, the next one that walks in your office may be the girl like that one. Who’s grateful for anything that you can do for her. Who cries and hugs you and sends you the thank you email (and we all know we don’t get those that often), who offers to be your office assistant. Whose life may be changed because you took the time to help her with her aid.