Someone has to go last

I have a series of things I preach from semester to semester and year to year. Most of them (I hope) are well received. There are a few things that are not necessarily popular, but they are both true and necessary to hear.

Today’s topic: someone has to go last.

No one wants to hear that, of course. Whether that is getting food in the Pit before it closes for the night, registering for classes, or signing up for housing, there is always someone who goes first, and someone who goes last. In a school of 5,000 undergraduates, it is normal to think the odds will be in your Deac’s favor and they won’t be last in the queue for something they want. But the reality of life is that someone has to go last. It’s not about merit, or how hard you work, or whatever. Sometimes life is being assigned a number and it’s the luck of the draw.

Now is a good time to start getting comfortable with the possibility that at some point in your Deac’s time here, they might go last.  So if it happens and your Deac is upset about their draw in housing or registration or some activity with limited spaces, I’d ask for two things: your good grace and your help in framing the situation for your student.

First, don’t react. Your student might be unhappy to have a late housing/registration/whatever time, but if you chime in and express your displeasure, that can make it even more stressful for your student, or can negatively color their experience. It’s like when they were little kids and skinned their knee – if you didn’t react and say “oh poor baby!” they didn’t cry.

Second, listen and sympathize. We all need to vent sometimes. And you can help them by saying ‘I am so sorry. I hear your frustration and I understand it.’  That helps them feel heard and affirmed. You can enhance this learning moment if you add something like ‘Unfortunately the reality is sometimes you end up last, through no fault of your own.‘ And help them see this decision wasn’t personal, it was just the luck of the draw.

Finally, help provide perspective. Help your Deac see we all have to adjust when circumstances don’t work out the way we hoped. Share a time when you were disappointed that you came up last in something – and survived. Or when they overcame a similar challenge in high school.

One of the important out-of-the-classroom lessons of college is how to deal with the circumstances life hands you. In life, sometimes you’re first, and sometimes you’re last. Help your Deac learn to take either situation with good grace.


— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)


Categories: the daily deac