Word Power! How quotes helped save my student

images (4)By Sabrina Bong — When I first started as the sixth grade counselor, I went around to each of the sixth grade classrooms to introduce myself.

In true sixth grade tradition, I did a “paper bag” speech to help my students get to know me. The bag contained a number of items: a coffee mug from Marquette, a cookbook, and most importantly, my high heel tape dispenser (for the record, this was probably the favorite item and the one my students remember the most. To this day, when new students meet me, my kids excitedly say, “Miss Bong has a high heel tape dispenser! Go see it in her office!”)

The reason I brought the coffee mug was not because of my love of caffeine. On the mug is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” To me, that is one of the most powerful quotes a person can hear. We all wish for something in life: more money, more happiness, less war and destruction. But if we do not stand up and attempt to change what we are unhappy with, we will get nowhere. We will stay stagnant, waiting for change and seeing nothing new.

I shared that quote because I love quotes. When I lived in my undergrad apartment, I made over twenty hand-decorated notecards with quotes on them. Some of them were funny, some were serious, but all of them had meaning to my roommates and I. Sometimes, I think those quotes were the reason we all kept our sanity. Whenever we needed to be reminded of who we were, what we wanted to accomplish, or those important life lessons, we looked at those quotes.

Recently, one of my students came to me in tears because she had started cutting herself again. She had been engaged in a long battle with depression, and she was upset that she had “given in” to her urge to cut. Her arms and shins were covered in angry red slits from a razor blade. When I asked why, she said that she was exhausted from trying to live up to who everyone wanted her to be: the “perfect” daughter, sister, student, and friend. I don’t remember exactly what I told her, but I remember that somewhere in the conversation, I quoted Charles Swindoll: “There is only one you. Don’t you dare change just because you’re outnumbered.”

She giggled, but seemed to really enjoy the quote. I offered to write it down for her, and she accepted. We called them her little “positive affirmations.” A few days later, she asked if she could have another quote, since she was again struggling to resist the temptation to cut herself. This time, I wrote a little affirmation that said, “You hold the pen, you control the outcome of your story.”

Yesterday, I saw this student. She told me about all the struggles she was having, but said she was proud of herself for not cutting in three days. I told her I was so incredibly proud of her too. As she reached out to give me a hug, I saw that she had writing on her wrist. When I asked her what it was, she smiled and showed it to me.

Written over her scars were the words, “You hold the pen, you control the outcome of your story.”

She then told me that the reason she was not cutting was because every time she picked up the razor, she saw the words. She knew she controlled her destiny. As a result, she would put the razor down.

I had never imagined in my wildest dreams that my simple act of writing and sharing quotes with her would be so powerful. I know that this is not the cure for her depression, but it is something that is helping. And at that moment when she explained why she wasn’t cutting, another quote struck me, “Be the difference.” Marquette had instilled this in me from Day 1, and finally, I was living up to that motto.

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