Overly helpful

Today is the first day of the fall semester at the college where I work. We take great pride when new students and parents say they chose to attend here because “everyone was so friendly and helpful when we visited campus.”

So today, in the spirit of friendliness, I stood outside my office building before the 9, 10 and 11 a.m. class slots to welcome passing students and ask if they needed help finding anything. I enjoy helping students, and I like being able to answer people’s questions, so I made it a point to take a break from work and step outside to see what I might be able to do.

Most students said hello and thank you, but they did not need any help. Several walked on by with their cell phones and earbuds and did not acknowledge me. A few groups may have laughed at me as I stood awkwardly by the sidewalk hoping to be helpful. (They did laugh, I’ll just never know at what. I’m choosing not to assume.)

But, no matter how awkward and silly I started to feel, every time there were a few students who came toward me with that look on their faces – that hopeful, tentative look that says “Can you help me?” These students needed to find their parking passes, their student IDs, their class buildings, their laboratories. One student needed to find the ROTC building, which was a new one for me, but I’m pretty sure I got him to the right place.

One student came back by later and thanked me. “You probably saved me 10 minutes of wandering through this building,” he said. I felt validated for my over-eagerness.

But the best thing I’ve seen today had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the type of student and the type of family atmosphere we value on this campus.

A blind student with a cane came down a sidewalk after the main crowds had dispersed. He was coming toward my post, but turned when he reached the intersection of three sidewalks. Instead of taking the right or left turn, which would make the most sense, he instead started down a diagonal walkway that essentially took him back in the direction he had just come from. I watched him walk away and I started to think, “I wonder if that’s really what he meant to do…”. I decided to catch up with him and ask if he needed help.

Before I could get to him, another student approached from the opposite direction, obviously on his way somewhere. This new student asked the blind student where he was headed, and the next thing I knew, the newcomer had given his arm to the blind student and was walking slowly alongside him in another direction – apparently the one the blind student had intended to take.

I don’t know if the newcomer had any previous relationship with the blind student. I don’t know if he was originally going toward that same building or if he took a complete detour to help a fellow student. But regardless, the fact that he stopped his fast walk to serve as a guide for another made my heart smile. I don’t know that young man, but I hope his parents would be proud of him for doing that.

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