You never know the impact that you may have on another person. An action that seems inconsequential to you may have great meaning for another. Years ago, a retired college professor shared this story with me.
The professor said that she was working her office on the day before spring graduation. A young African-American student knocked on the door and asked to come in. She said that she was graduating the next day and just want to thank the professor. The teacher was a bit confused, then admitted to the student that she couldn’t remember having her in any of her classes. The student said she hadn’t taken any of her classes. The professor admitted that now she was really confused, and asked her why she wanted to thank her.
Now, this was a time soon after desegregation. The student explained that four years earlier, she was one of the first African-American students to enroll in that university. She said that she received many verbal and unspoken messages that she was not welcomed there. The feelings of rejection built until she could take no more. She finally made the decision to resign from the university the next day and go home.
On her last day of classes, she passed this professor in the hall, and the professor smiled. The student noticed the smile and recalled that she had seen that smile every time she passed this professor. She realized that this was one person who did want her at this university.
She didn’t quit the next day. She began to look for those who seemed to want her there, rather than focusing on those who didn’t. Over time, she realized that there were many who were welcoming, but the negative ones just stood out.
She finished her story by pointing out that she didn’t quit, and that she was graduating the next day. She just wanted to thank the professor for a small, but significant gesture.
Most of the time, people don’t make the effort to acknowledge a meaningful gesture, as this student did. We may never know the impact we have had on another person. Never underestimate the power of a kind gesture.