Lauren J. Kempton, Ed.D., a practitioner in residence in the University’s Department of Psychology and Sociology, reflects on what she has learned from the University’s senior class.
May 18, 2021
They entered my classroom, and I saw masks and eyes, and I learned to read their eyes. Their eyes bore myriad expressions: She's not on Zoom, she's here...we can talk to her in person...sadness...is this really college?...hope for a vaccine and that restrictions would have been lifted.
Eyes sad, eyes happy, eyes inquisitive, eyes appreciative. As to my students, I felt the ultimate respect for their in-person presence. They lifted me up. As their professor, especially during COVID, I became a listener. They craved human contact, stories, caring, and affirmation. And attendance was near perfect every day.
The students wanted to learn and discuss and examine and share opinions. I honor them for their courage. They wore the albatross of COVID through quarantine and actual COVID illness, sometimes losing loved ones and living under many restrictions so carefully planned to keep them safe. (Thank you, Dr. Summer McGee and team.)
They taught me to break my own strict rule: no cell-phone use allowed in class. On vaccine sign-up day, they gleefully took out their phones and made vaccination appointments, and yelled "Try Hartford Health, try Yale...". I heard and watched hope spread as they successfully booked their appointments, for vaccination was the first step on the road back to normalcy in their college experience.
‘Enriched my teaching principles’
To be their professor kept me conscious daily of their commitment to their futures at this University and of their allegiance to their college. I learned a great deal from my first-generation students and took copious notes to be shared with the administration. I also fought to receive vaccinations for myself, to be safe for my loved ones and for the students in my four in-person classes.
My teaching changed as America reacted to the death of George Floyd and the Derek Chauvin trial. I facilitated, supervised, moderated, encouraged, and, at times, raged, and, at all times, validated their voices, for they are the storytellers, the keepers of the COVID history for the future. They wrote, and I wrote back. Some had my cell number if needed.
I presented workshops for the Myatt Center and the USGA on the power of stories, as the stories of the odysseys of this COVID year grew and multiplied. My best lesson: We rewrote our history books and entered Black and Brown faces and their leaders' stories.
The Class of 2021 validated and enriched my teaching principles, my deep and profound belief in the need to think critically, act openly, and care deeply.
So off they go, back out into the world, ultimately a post-COVID world, thinking, acting and caring as they taught me every day this year.
Lauren J. Kempton, Ed.D., is a practitioner in residence in the University’s Department of Psychology and Sociology.