INTRODUCTION: I have been a counselor at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas, for 13 years and I teach a Student Success Class, “Human Development-HUMD 0300.” I call this class Orientation Plus, since it teaches many of the basic Orientation principles such as college services and policies, study skills, time management, etc. PLUS it teaches basic success skill topics such as decision-making, taking personal responsibility, emotional intelligence, life success behaviors and priorities, etc. I have taught this class for about 5 years and began using On Course as the class text in fall 2001. On Course has proven to be a wonderful aid in teaching and facilitating the Plus component.
As a counselor I have observed that choosing a life path is difficult for many traditional age and some non-traditional age students because they often “live for and in this moment,” they have so many options, and they seem to have a fear of commitment. These failures to choose a life path often yield these problems at our college:
Approximately 30% of our students are undeclared majors, and many of them say, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”
In the initial advising session, my First-Time-in-College students often say they don’t have a major and just want the basics until they can figure it all out. This lack of clear goals seems to put them on a pretty ambiguous path, with the likelihood for errors, wasted time, and extra classes that may not be needed.
When asked to say what is important to them in life, they can say they want things like a good job, a happy marriage, a good life and other general goals. However, stating their values and prioritizing, as well as identifying specific life goals, is often something they cannot easily do.
This lack of specific life goals, knowledge of values, and priorities seems to impact retention and persistence. Again and again, students who have not addressed these questions either drop out or follow a “free floating path” in school, not really sure of where they are going.
To help them identify their values, identify priorities, and gain clear life goals; I have used methods such as values clarification surveys, guided meditations, and class discussions. While these have brought the students closer to identifying values, establishing priorities, and clarifying their life purpose, they have not had the impact that I have sought. My hope is that students would be brought closer to “seeing” their clear path, such as I have seen students do who have been through a major life changing event, for example facing their own death or that of someone close to them. I have also seen this happen with older students who are returning to school after living life for a few years and finding that the experience showed them their true path and showed them what they wanted and did not want. This true path often reflects their values, priorities and specific life goals. In other words, they have begun to “GET IT.”
The time involved is at least one night for writing the eulogies and one class period for responding to and discussing the process.
- To help students consider the contents their lives up to this point and at a future date
- To help students consider the quality their lives to this point and at a future date
- To help students identify personal values
- To help students begin to link those values to life goals and priorities, leading to choosing a career/major
- On Course text
- Handout entitled, “Remember Me Now and Then” (see Support Materials below)
- Instruct students to read Chapter 3 in On Course: “Discovering Self-Motivation”
It is helpful if in previous classes, the students have already discussed and shared their identified roles and dreams and personal affirmations, as well as having learned about and applied the DAPPS criteria for creating a goal.
1. Begin the class by sharing an idea from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind.” Then tell the students this exercise is an opportunity to consider their own “ends” and to plan how they could choose to live their lives.
2. Give the students the handout “Remember Me, Now and Then” and instruct them to complete the exercise at home.
3. In the next class, ask the students to respond in writing to the following sentence stems that are written on the board:
What I most want people to remember about me is…
Something that is the same on both eulogies is…
One thing that is on one eulogy and not the other is…
Looking at both eulogies, I can see that these 3 things are very important to me:
As a result of writing these eulogies, I…
4. Discuss their answers, and follow with a summation of the discussion as it relates to values and goals.
5. Complete the activity by discussing how identifying what is important to you relates to choosing a career and consequently a major. I then connect this to future work the class will be doing on taking career surveys and researching careers and related majors.
OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES: I introduced the exercise by sharing two events that were occurring in my personal life: attending the funeral of a 22 year-old son of my friend and the critical illness of my 51 year-old brother-in-law. This sharing provided perfect avenues for considering that life may be brief, that we do not know how much time we have on this earth, and that our challenge is to make the most of the time that we do have. During this discussion, a 19-year-old student said that he had heard it said, “We live to die” and asked what I thought of this. I responded that I believed that this was true and that I had also heard the saying, “You begin to die the moment you are born.” I shared that when I was younger I had not thought about death much, since I “knew” that I had so many years to live. Now at 56, I have begun to really understand that I do not know how many years that I have to live and so it is important to live life as if I might die today. To me, this means making the most of life, taking care of unfinished business, and showing people in my life how much they mean to me. As I spoke these words, I noticed many heads shaking up and down as if they were saying, “Yes, I see what you are saying.” I did not pursue the topic any further, choosing to let it be more of a rhetorical topic, something for the students to think about.
These discussions beautifully led into the eulogy writing exercise, “Remember Me, Now and Then.” To begin the discussion of their eulogies, I gave a quick overview of the last 3 class periods in which we had talked about roles, dreams, and goals and the challenges in actually turning a dream into a goal. I continued by going around the room and asking each student what he or she most wanted people to remember about him or her. As each one answered, I paraphrased what I had heard and expanded by stating the value/s each seemed to be reflecting. Most answers were general and dealt primarily with interpersonal values. The following are examples of what was shared in response to the stem, “What I most want people to remember about me…”
I was a fun, loving, considerate person.
My voice and my smile.
I was not a quitter, never gave up, had pride, being responsible, caring, kind, loveable, always there when needed, hard working, nice and big, big, big heart!!!!
I enjoyed life and was always there for anyone when they needed help.
My personality, how I loved others, and how much I am going to do in life.
How much of a good person I was.
I next asked them about sentence stem, “One thing that is on one eulogy and not on the other. Again I polled each student, and they all generally said that the difference between the two is that the one with the future death date had events or accomplishments that they had not yet had time to do, such as marry or have children.
We then discussed the sentence stem: “As a result of writing these eulogies I…” Some of the responses included:
I think we shouldn’t mess with it. [She said thinking about this is not important to her.]
I found out that I really do not think about this sort of subject. [This is the first time that this student had formally pondered the meaning and goals of his life.]
I realized that I kind of set a life plan for myself. I listed things I want to do in my life and what kind of person I want to be. It also makes me realize that we don’t have much time here and that we could be taken away at any moment. [This student shared that her 19-year-old brother had been killed 5 years before, and his death has caused her to be aware of her possible limited time on earth.]
I understand how I really am in life and what I do in my life that is really important.
I hope that these are the thoughts that go or would go through the heads of my family and friends.
In summation, what seemed to have occurred is that students did begin to clarify values, to think about the value of their lives, and to begin to think about a life plan. However the goals listed were very general and did not seem to help the student make much progress toward identifying specific career goals as they answered their questions.
To link our discussion to my goal of helping students identify life paths, I ended the discussion in this way:
“From what I have heard, you have done a good job of identifying what is important to you in your life and how you want to be remembered. Be mindful of the potential that each one of you has to do great and wonderful things in your life. One ways to accomplish these wonderful things is through the career that you can choose. Be thinking about this: What kind of career can you pursue that will allow you to live according to your values and contribute what you want to the world? In the next few weeks you are going to be taking some career inventories and considering majors and careers. If these careers are to be what the Buddhists call ‘Right Livelihood,’ what you were placed here on this earth do, it is important to keep these values in mind.”
I collected the written questionnaires, but did not collect the actual eulogies. I chose not to take them up because I wanted them to be kept private. By doing this, I may have lost an opportunity to see that the students did write specifically about life goals and careers.
Weeks later I asked the students what impact writing the eulogies had had on choosing a career. A couple of students reported that it had caused them to become determined to choose a career that would be what they liked and that would deal with what was important to them. None of them reported changing their career goal as a result. This is probably due to the fact that most of them had been undecided majors at the beginning of the exercise.
PERSONAL LESSONS: I learned the following from presenting this strategy:
1. All these students want to have an impact on people and they want to be remembered in positive ways.
2. Although the exercise did not appear to help the students begin to identify concrete life goals, it did appear to be successful in helping students begin to identify personal values, the first step in the process of choosing life/career goals.
3. The next time I use this exercise, I will be more specific in the directions and add this instruction: “As you write both eulogies, be sure to list what you want the writer to have identified as the specific goals that you would have accomplished, especially in relation to family and career.”
4. I learned how difficult it is to imagine my own date of death. As I thought of how I felt about the decision that I was asking the students to make, I found myself saying things such as, “Oh, that is not old enough; I will still have too much to accomplish. I want to die in the spring so that the weather is right for the people at my funeral. I really do not want to think about this, yet I know the power in accepting death that may come at any time so that I make the most of each day.”
SOURCE: This exercise is a variation of the exercise “Eulogy for Myself” in the On Course Facilitator’s Manual.
SUPPORT MATERIALS: Handout
REMEMBER ME, NOW AND THEN
Write 2 eulogies for yourself. A eulogy is often shared at a person’s funeral and is a summation of one’s life, detailing what the deceased accomplished, how he or she impacted the world, (especially from the writer’s point of view), and/or what meaning his or her life had.
The first eulogy is to be written based on your life IF IT WERE TO END TODAY and would reflect what the eulogy writer could say about your life to date. The other eulogy is to be written based on A CHOSEN FUTURE DATE OF DEATH. You, the writer, are to choose the day, month, and year that you would choose to die, if you had the power to choose, and would reflect what you would want the reader to be able to say after your death. Both eulogies should sum up how you hope to be remembered and should by completed and brought to the next class.
–Dorothy J. Ulcak, Counselor, Palo Alto College, TX