Why I Chose To Dedicate My Career To Building The Next Generation

by LySaundra Janeé

I am closing out more than three months of living in Miami and working with my students.

I did it. I took one of those quarter-life crisis leaps of faith that many in my generation are doing.

Some take the adventurous route and splurge on a backpacking trip around Europe, or visit every country in the world.

The way my bank account is set up, however, won’t allow for that.

Instead, I’m using this next year of mine to serve middle and high-school students through AmeriCorps, and I’m certain I am experiencing no greater joy.

It may sound weird, but I’ve always had a desire to serve others in some capacity. In college, I got into a bit of a debate with the president of my organization for taking our volunteer efforts a bit too seriously: almost like a job.

I knew it wasn’t a job, but the fact that we were taking time out of our schedules to contribute to highway cleanup, tutoring or building houses required (to me) an attitude of diligence, compassion, excellence and most importantly, commitment.

I didn’t want our organization to give half-assed efforts just because we weren’t getting paid. I wanted to encourage my peers to give 100 percent for the sake of helping other people.

I suppose leaving a full-time job for a year of service isn’t much of a surprising career change for someone like me. It’s sort of second nature.

I love people, and I love being able to make even the smallest difference in our generation through mentoring.

I would much rather be doing this than spending money to make my peers #InstaJealous due to my international excursions.

The feeling I get when I get to help a student figure out fractions — and realize I need to relearn seventh grade math — is exhilarating.

It's even more exciting when I’m not merely giving answers, but helping a student who has been cast off for having a learning disability fully grasp a mathematical concept.

The feeling I get when I sit down and have a heart-to-heart with one of my sixth grade girls and — in the midst of awkward pubescent changes — encourage her to be herself by not finding her worth in what kids at school say about her is priceless.

I wish someone had told me that when I was her age.

The feeling I get when I use my previous work skills as a domestic violence advocate to help a teenager walk through life and rebuild self-esteem is irreplaceable.

My kids know through the activities we play that I am highly competitive, and anyone who is on my team will receive non-stop encouragement to excel beyond what he or she believes is possible.

My kids know the only reason I’ll stop hounding them about their grades or homework is if I don’t care about them. My kids know I don’t get paid enough to not care about them.

So I continue to sacrifice my vocal cords and make literacy and math fun because I refuse to let them see themselves as failures.

My kids know I take academic excellence very seriously.

Many labels and stereotypes have already been placed on my students, as they were placed on me.

But I’m living proof they can beat the odds. Many of them will be the first in their families to attend college, and I get to be a part of the preparation — academically and socially — to get them there.

I do not serve just because I have a soft spot for disadvantaged communities.

I serve because I’m one of the kids who made it out of one of those similar communities.

There is no greater joy than choosing to dedicate my time to becoming the mentor I wish I had. There is no greater joy than choosing to impact the lives of these kids.

Our generation is known for being incredibly self-centered, and I hope to change that perception through my choice to serve.

There is no better mid-20s adventure to take than to pour into young lives and help raise the next generation.