Counsel of Guidance

Counsel of Guidance

Have you had an authority figure who helped change the trajectory of your life … by laughing at your dreams and goals? I owe a lot to my high school guidance counselor and his lack of support.


It’s the middle of a high school school day. My friend and I are wandering the halls. Neither one of us are typically the type to skip class, but it is nearing the end of our junior year so we are one year closer to ruling the school.

Sixteen years of obedience training have me on high alert as a high school authority figure rounds the corner.  We quickly evade into the nearest legitimate foxhole …  the career center.

An adult in an all-white military uniform is getting ready to push a video tape into the VCR. The flotilla of “Go Navy” propaganda floating around the career center advertises the fact that it’s Naval Academy recruitment day.

My knowledge of the Naval Academy is limited to the fact that my friend’s Dad graduated from there, which is all I need to know. But since the aggressors in the hallway outside the career center threaten my goodie-two-shoes reputation, I feel compelled to remain hostage to the Naval Academy recruiter.

He pushes play on his brainwash video. Nothing happens. 

He queues up the video of the Army’s version of the Naval Academy to pinpoint if the trouble is with the video or the video player.

West Point fails too. 

As a last resort, he tries the Air Force Academy video since their school is “just like the others.” 

The Air Force Academy video actually works and it is nothing like anything I have seen before. Up until this moment, my life plan has included following in my Dad’s and my brother’s footsteps into the Air Force via the same path my brother took: ROTC at Virginia Tech.

The thought of attending Seasick University or Hudson High has never crossed my mind, but that Air Force school? Now I want that.

Before the graduating Air Force Academy cadets can even ceremoniously throw their caps into the air, I am en route to my guidance counselor’s office. A visit to see him will both legitimize my time out of the classroom and give me the opportunity to tell him I am going to apply to the Air Force Academy.

I burst into his office and tell him my plan. My guidance counselor, cleverly disguised as the head football coach, laughs. 

He counsels me, “Miss Barrett. Your grades aren’t good enough. Your standardized test scores aren’t high enough. Community college is a more realistic goal for you.” He can not be more cavalier or patronizing.

My newly hatched college dream of the Academy resonates with me louder than his condescension and stronger than his letterman-jacket-wearing football jocks. It is an inexplicable magnetic pull more powerful than my compliance to this grown up’s advice. An adult whose very task, according to the sign on his office door, is to guide and counsel me on my future. 

I remember that this is my future, my goal and so therefore, my decision.

I start the lengthy process of applying to my new, first-choice school. Congressional nominations, interviews, essays, forms in quadruplicate, medical evaluations and physical fitness tests. Finally, the day arrives when I get to prove that my high school guidance counselor is absolutely … right.

My grades aren’t good enough, my test scores aren’t high enough and soon after high school, I am, in fact, enrolled at the safety school my guidance counselor predicted.

I wallow in self-pity as a failed college applicant relegated to living with her parents and attending the local community college. 

Since I have the same address I’ve had all my life, it isn’t difficult for a flyer to find its way to me in the mail. It’s an opportunity to apply for a 6-month service academy preparatory school. The flyer brags an 83% success rate of getting its graduates into the service academies. 

By this time, I’ve already secured a spot at another college, more prestigious than the safety of community college, but certainly not an institution with the allure of The United States Air Force Academy.  

Do I abandon my newly-discovered dream of being an Air Force Academy cadet and press on with the life waiting for me at a normal college? Underage drinking at college parties interspersed with optional attendance at the classes in a lighter-than-Academy academic load.

Or do I take this preparatory school up on its offer? A “gap” year with a singular focus of getting me and other persistent kids into a military service academy.  The reward of that year being 4 years of a rigidly-controlled life while carrying a 21-hour academic semester load.

My sister Barb sees and reads the flyer laying on the kitchen table and makes a casual comment about the promised opportunity, “If they’d accepted women at the academies when I went to college, I would have done anything to apply.”

One casual comment, from someone I admire, nullifies any question I have and makes very clear the only logical choice. 

I relinquish the commitment to the “normal” school. I launch OPERATION gap year. Six months later, I reapply to the Air Force Academy and become part of the 83% success rate.

Once we choose a goal or a path, the only way a naysayer has power over the outcome is if we give it to them. We may or may not ever realize that people are listening and weighing what we say and could very well be influenced by our inputs. 

People are listening, so make sure the counsel we provide is uplifting and encouraging. 

As we listen to others, make sure the loudest voice we hear is the one that speaks from our heart.