“You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.” ―Abraham Lincoln
One year I volunteered to help out with a nearby school’s Young Author Program. Students in grades 1-5 wrote and illustrated their own stories and then parent volunteers came in to help the kids bind their own books. The best part though was when professionals from the community – myself included – got to mentor the young writers by coming in to listen to them read their stories.
I was assigned a group of ten 4th or 5th graders. We had a small classroom to ourselves and our chairs were arranged in a circle. Each child took turns reading their story out loud while showing the rest of us their illustrations. It was an interesting experience. Some of the kids were very confident and read their stories proudly, sitting up straight and projecting their voices. Other kids were more timid and kept their eyes down and their chins tucked into their chests. I remember one girl in particular, a beautiful little African American girl, but she was so shy we could barely hear her read her story. I was instantly smitten with her – her story was charming and so was she.
Once all ten kids finished reading, we still had about 20 or 30 minutes left, so I decided to ask the kids a few questions to get them talking. One of the questions I asked was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” That’s always a fun one. Some of the answers were pretty amusing, although interestingly, some of these kids already had a clear picture of where they wanted to go in life. Going around the group , we eventually circled back to the shy little girl who I thought was so darling. I’ll never forget what she said that day. “I’d like to be an lawyer, but I know that’s probably not really possible, so I’ll probably just end up staying home and having kids like my mom.” My heart broke a little bit in that moment. How sad that this little girl already felt so defeated at the tender age of ten!
I remember looking that precious little girl right in the eye and telling her what my dad had always told me, “You can do anything, if you put your mind to it. You can be anything you want to be, as long as you believe it and work for it.” Powerful words that I’ve carried with me all of my life.
I’ve never forgotten this little girl or what I told her, and every once in awhile, when I think about her, I wonder if she remembers me. I wonder if she remembers what I told her, and more importantly, if she believed me.