Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Shawn Bradley was a 7’6″ giant who played professional basketball during the 1990s and 2000s.  Following a successful collegiate career, the center from Brigham Young University was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 2nd overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft.  Despite his size, ultimately, his career was a mixed bag.

Recently, ESPN ran a feature piece on Bradley noting his post-retirement infamy earned by way of YouTube video’s sensationalizing how regularly opposing players dunked on him.  The piece went on to add the personal success he experienced as a player as well.

But I was most intrigued during one exchange when Bradley was asked if he ever participated in an interview when the issue of his height was not a topic.  Bradley responded by saying he couldn’t remember a time in his adult life where he met ANYONE and his height wasn’t mentioned.

Bradley wasn’t lamenting this reality.  He understood he wouldn’t have made it to where he is today were it not for his height and athleticism.

This made me think though.

It’s hard when certain aspects of our being, physical or otherwise, become such defining characteristics that it becomes hard to see anything else.  Like an actor who plays a memorable role and NEVER can shake it.  Yeah, but did you see any of my next five films?

I can only imagine the combination of exhaustion and frustration.

I ran into a former student the other day who is now a senior in high school.  In the midst of catching up, I asked her if she’d decided where to go to college.  Although a fairly benign question, I typically avoid making this the centerpiece of conversation with graduating seniors.

Why?  Well, because seniors often get treated like Shawn Bradley.  For too many of them, the first BIG decision of their life becomes the primary (and sometimes only) focus of others’ interest.

It can be helpful to remember, for lots of graduates their college decision is riddled with anxiety.  Society has conditioned them to avoid making One Wrong Move for fear of the deleterious life consequences they’ll subsequently face.

What if I choose wrong?  What if I don’t get into my top choice school(s)?   How will I earn a living if I can only get into THAT program?

Approving smiles and nods come easy when Ivy, full ride, and pre-law flow freely from seniors’ mouths.  But what about when community college, the military, gap year, or I’m not sure college is for me are the answers – do we affirm those choices with equal enthusiasm?

We should.

Asking seniors about college isn’t wrong; it just shouldn’t be the sole interest.  For some better options, consider these questions:

  • What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned this year?
  • Are you creating enough space to enjoy this experience?
  • What do you like to do in your free time?
  • What are your favorite books? Bands? Teams? Films?

These kinds of questions demonstrate a sincere interest in students beyond societal conventions.  They may be (pleasantly) shocked that you asked, and you might just find out something you never knew about them.  Perhaps a shared interest.  Maybe an area you can add value.

If nothing else, their canned response can be put on hold for another time as you dive deeper than the same old line of questioning.  You won’t regret it, and neither will they.

Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_G_Holland 

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