Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Public School Guru

I remember walking out onto the Cal High football field. Much like many of the San Ramon basketball and baseball fields, that field has seen me overjoyed (like when I got to speak at Graduation) and has seen me utterly lost (like when I decided to move to Chicago).

On this day though, so many years after I left, I came back to pay tribute to someone special. I came back to see my high school counselor, who was retiring from Cal High. The graduation ceremony was his last day on the job.

Sure, Henry Bailey was a great high school counselor. There's no doubt he fulfilled all of those responsibilities. If there was a High School Hall of Fame, he'd be an anonymous selection. Over the years, he's advised thousands of kids included perhaps his greatest challenge; advising all three Kamath kids. But beyond being an academic advisor he's always had a special connection with the students.

The Switch:
I remember my first day of high school. I looked at my schedule and noticed I had been assigned on of the new counselors. My sisters told me to go to Mr. Bailey and tell him to pick me up. So I awkwardly went into his office. He usually smiles when you walk in and gives you a hearty hello. I told him who I was and asked him to pick me up as an advisee. He apparently had no idea how much trouble I would be and agreed to become my counselor.

Finding the right words:
There were numerous times in high school when a friend was extremely depressed or having some sort of life crises that was way beyond my teenage mind to comprehend. I would try to help but when things got really bad I would walk them over to Mr. Bailey's office, make the introduction, and walk away. I have no idea what he would say to them but somehow he steered them in the right direction. It's easy to see how counselors help us pick our classes and help us apply to college but I think we forget their role in helping a lot of kids survive high school.

Nostradamus Bailey:
I really didn't want to take calculus in high school. So I went to Mr. Bailey and asked him if I could take another class instead. He totally called me out! He told me I was trying to take the easy route and it would probably cause me problems later on. Of course I didn't listen and he was right. I also remember the end of my senior year too when I became so damn lazy in class. He called me into his office one day and said something like, "Vaman, you should probably start doing your homework in Miss Sater's class or you're going to fail. Your college can still take away your acceptance." Luckily that didn't happen. Whattup Miss Sater! Thanks, for letting me turn in that stuff so late!

His Weakness:
Listen, Mr. Bailey is human after all and all humans make mistakes. He happens to be a Cal football fan. I've accepted this fault.

The Conversation:
Above all else, there's one conversation that puts Mr. Bailey in the Small World. I used to visit campus every year to visit him. On one of these visits I told him how I was working for a startup in San Mateo. His look was almost funny. He said something like, "What are you doing? Why aren't you helping people?" And I replied that I wanted to learn about the corporate world and then get back into helping people. He didn't say I was full of it but I could tell that's what he was thinking. I think about that conversation ALL the time and it's one of the things that motivated me to leave my job in Chicago and move to India. I do love people and that was the first time someone had called me out on it. Amazing how one interaction can have such a profound effect on your mind.

As a society, it's amazing to me sometimes which professions we have grown to value. I don't know where I would be without the impact that the educators in my life have played. Sure they teach us a lot about specific subjects or often fall into their specific role but the good ones, the ones you remember, have a much deeper influence on what you do with your life.

So that day at Graduation, I stood next to Mr. Bailey, looked out at all the excited kids, and finally got to say, "Thanks."

Do you have stories about Mr. Bailey? Feel free to comment with your stories but don't feel limited if you don't know him. I'd love to hear stories about any educator that has had an impact on your life.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

I sought out Mr. Bailey's guidance per the advice of an upperclassman named Vaman who told me that Mr. B. was the man to see if I wanted some serious college advice. Despite being nervous about talking with this sage, I set up an appointment over the summer before my junior year. He helped me focus on what was important during 11th and 12th grades, called me out when I was slacking off (similar story...), and helped me navigate the college application process. He also encouraged me to apply for a ton of scholarships (which really helped because my dad lost his job in the spring of my senior year). Nice post, V!