Joliet Junior College students Shalma Marin and Aaron Wyncott are deeply appreciative for the support they’ve received throughout their personal and academic journeys. That’s due in large part to the power of empathy, the subject of their speeches to JJC employees during the college’s annual General Session on Jan. 8.
Faced with varying challenges growing up, both sought out JJC’s Adult Education program to earn their high school diplomas. They then enrolled full time at JJC, Marin as a political science major and Wyncott to study human services. What’s resonated with the two has been the collective compassion others have shown to them and investment made in them.
“While it was initially people in my personal life who began this work of building me up from a place of lack, it was a GED teacher, Mindy, who saw in that setting the potential that I did not see in myself,” said Wyncott, 21.
Due to what Wyncott called some unfortunate circumstances, his education had been on the decline since he was 9. But it was the combination of educators and friends who chose to invest their time in Wyncott that built him up.
For Marin, 20, her educational path showed promise through middle school. But as high school started, and her family fell on some hard financial and emotional times, it affected Marin’s focus and her attendance dropped. Marin said while it took a lot of self-discipline and hard work, she wouldn’t be where she’s at without those who motivated her along the way.
“Not just my family and close friends, but also all the teachers who took the time to listen to me and give me a boost of confidence when I had none; making it clear that even though I was having a bad school year, it didn’t hinder my capabilities,” she said.
Wyncott and Marin have been shaped by their positive experiences. With his degree, Wyncott wants to become a therapist or mental health counselor so that he can help people heal and encourage them to grow. Marin has become heavily involved on campus, joining Student Government and last year was selected to serve as JJC’s student trustee. She plans to transfer to a four-year university upon graduation.
In their speeches to JJC faculty and staff at General Session, Marin and Wyncott noted that showing empathy can come through simple acts, yet have large and lasting impacts.
“The investment into my life which those around me made was not an intentional and grand effort to turn my whole life around. It was people who chose to, on a normal, average day encounter, do things like encourage me with their words, or spend an extra moment with me, or just be a friend,” said Wyncott. “It was what we see as the average moments which changed the course of my life.”
Marin said that knowingly or unknowingly, educators have the power to inspire and make change.
“When we listen to each other and seek to understand one another, we create these small connections that make working together toward a common goal so much easier,” Marin said. “That’s empathy in practice, and that leaves an impression.”
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