“Three Lessons I Learned As a Resident Assistant”

MICHELE ELAINE HANNON, author of our “My Busiest Year” column, reflects on her first semester as a resident assistant and shares three of the lessons she learned.

The author with her fellow Resident Assistants.

When I applied to be a Resident Assistant my freshman year, I didn’t make the cut due to a very rough first semester. Sophomore year, I reapplied. I had a higher GPA and more determination than ever. I was crushed unlike ever before when I accidentally received an e-mail saying I didn’t get it.

Then, on February 22, 2011 at some point in the afternoon, I learned I got the RA position, and to date, it is one of the happiest moments of my life. I found myself thanking every lucky star I apparently had and didn’t know about.

Later, one of my interviewers told me he wanted me to work in Peabody Hall because I “had the right artistic spirit for it.” I was honored. I’ve never thought too much of myself so hearing a stranger say that really brought a smile to my face.

The training class in the spring came and went in the blink of an eye, and after a really tough summer, I found I’d arrived at August 11, the first day of actual training. Moving in, I found myself more thrilled than I think I even was on my first day of college. I met the other six fellow RAs, my two bosses and settled into my room. I had high expectations for that day, but I don’t think any expectations could prepare me for the journey I have been on since then.

By the end of training week, I felt like a different person. And now, as the first semester nears its end, I find it crazy to think of who and where I was, and where I’ve landed. One semester of being an RA, and I’ve learned more about life, college and myself than I did in my first two years. Of all the things I’ve learned since becoming an RA, these are probably the three most important lessons:

1 No matter who you are, there is someone somewhere who cares. Might sound cliché, as I’m sure all of these lessons will, but I never realized until this year just how many people I’ve had in my life who truly give a crap that I exist. And the same goes for others. I’ve had some people come to me as an RA with some of the saddest things imaginable, and it was my job to tell them how much they matter. I reminded these students that even if it was only me, someone out there who loves her and thinks her life is the most precious gift.

Forget diamonds; a well-organized calendar is a girl’s best friend. It’s often said that time management is one of the most important life tools and saying that to a high school or college student is essentially like talking to a brick wall. The tendency is to think, “I got this,” or “I’ll just wing it.” Face it. Life don’t work that way, sister. I recently started to hardcore use a Google calendar and it’s one of the smartest things I’ve done in a long time. It keeps my head together, lays out everything that must be done and even lets me code it in pretty colors to distract me from how intimidating such a large amount of work is. I honestly look back on my life before my calendar and wonder how the heck I got anything done. [Editor’s note: Before she started using Google’s Calendar, she missed every single deadline we gave her.]

3 Life goes on. This is the simplest lesson but also the one of most importance. This semester, I held a program based on the idea of Post Secret, a community art project started a few years back by a man named Frank Warren in which he sent post cards out to people he knew and asked them to anonymously send it back with a secret. I went about to the whole building passing them out and ultimately about twenty something residents came and we shared some incredibly amazing things.

The strength and courage in these kids completely blew me away. Their maturity, despite being only a few months out of college, and the things they overcome each day was truly eye opening. It made me take a look at my own life. I’ve been through a lot of, well, I’ll be plain, a lot of shit in my life. Lost very close family, struggled with intense bullying from my first day of pre-school to even today, been financially screwed in every which way, and without the housing I have on campus, I technically don’t have a home. But despite all this, I get up every day, and so do these kids who have been through things equally as painful, and in some cases, even worse.

But what I found the most beautiful was that of all the cards, one submitted was left almost entirely blank, and on the lower right corner, someone wrote the phrase, “Life goes on.” It’s three little words that put every other card in perspective. Family problems? Life goes on. Love gotcha down? Life goes on. Feel so stressed you could bash your own head in? Life goes on. No matter what happens in life, things are always going to go on, till one day they won’t anymore, and I don’t want that to be a day where I’m regretting the little things that get me down. Every second is an incredible gift, not to be wasted.

I don’t think if I hadn’t been an RA this year and met the amazing people I’ve met and experienced the things I have, I would have realized what I wrote about in that last lesson. Without the people I’ve met, I wouldn’t be the girl writing this essay. But I’m glad I did meet them, and I’m surprised to say, I’m finally happy with who I am.

From M.L.T.S. Magazine‘s third issue, released in December 2011.

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