I remember my school having a Career Day when I was in 10th grade. I eagerly signed up for journalism, picturing an exciting, glamorous session around undercover reporting. At the end of the day, I was clear that I didn’t want to be a journalist. Getting clearer on what I didn’t love got me interested in other careers. The experience was invaluable.
This past Friday, my school held its first-ever Career Day.
I walked into the auto mechanic presentation. Joe, a friend of mine, had brought a huge bag of tools from his auto shop and laid them out on a table. A student, Yonas, who immigrated from Eritrea last year, looked fascinated. * “Yonas took apart a distributor and put it back together!” Joe told me. “He’d like to work with me, we’re going to exchange contact information.”
I walked past the other rooms: architect, salesperson, computer programmer, software engineer, police officers, nurse, marines. My staff and I had enlisted our friends, fiancées, in-laws, and local police precinct to come and present on a Friday afternoon. Students had signed up for the presentations that peaked their interest.
There was something special about peering into the classrooms and seeing students look solemnly at the presenters and ask questions: “What do you need to study in school to be a nurse?” “Why do you defend people if you know they’re guilty?” “How do you know if you want to be an architect?”
I peeked into the presentation done by two U.S. Marines, a woman and a man. Four girls sat in the presentation listening eagerly, two of them wearing hijabs and abayas. I saw yet again my gender and cultural assumptions: I would never have guessed that recently immigrated girls from Yemen would be interested in the Marines. And that’s exactly why we created this opportunity: so that the students could explore possibilities beyond what they know, and beyond what may be imposed on them by our own assumptions.
There was a generosity and thoughtfulness in each presenter: the nurse who came in full uniform with a stethoscope around her neck, the architects who brought gigantic photos of their companies’ projects, the lawyer who explained why he defends people who are guilty in order to uphold justice, the petite police officer who spoke Spanish and told a group of recently immigrated girls from the Dominican Republic, “You’ll learn English, and you can do this.”
“You’ve made my dream come true,” I told Shira, Mike, and Crystal, my assistant principal and counselors who had organized the event. We had been prompted to create the Career Day through our partnership in the Opportunity Network, an organization that promotes college and career readiness.
After the presentations, I saw Yonas standing in the hallway, lingering outside of Joe’s classroom. Joe’s last session had ended early so he had gone to another presentation. During his three presentations, Joe had had kids who listened politely and were interested but not passionate; like me in 10th grade signing up for “journalism,” they had seen that maybe it wasn’t for them. Others, like Yonas, saw instantly that this was his passion. Both experiences were equally valuable.
“Are you waiting for Joe?” I asked Yonas.
He nodded, and his face lit up when Joe arrived.
*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.