Leaving It Better Than You Found It

There’s a woman in my neighborhood who goes for a nice long walk, maybe twice a day, and while she’s walking – sometimes with her dog, sometimes with her husband, listening to her music, she carries a plastic bag and she picks up the garbage along the roadside. Every day, her bag is more or less full. But this doesn’t damper the spring in her step as she walks, enjoying the day and the music. She just strolls and when she sees it, she’ll pick it up. Wrappers, empty cans, cigarette packages. Each time I pass her, in my car or walking in the opposite direction, I think about the idea of “leaving it better than you found it.” She does this each day, making her small but – to our neighborhood, vital – impact. At school we talk about this idea and when teaching moments arise, we demonstrate what small efforts like picking up garbage mean to those around you; pushing in a chair; taking up your plate; wiping down a table; offering a smile to someone who is having a rough day.

I think about how this can also apply to the newly minted senior in high school – how can you make it better than you found it? You are the leaders now, you are the captains of teams and presidents of clubs and while great burdens rest on your shoulders (what will the next steps after high school be? what colleges will you apply to? how will you get all your homework done along with sports and work and applications) so too exist great opportunities. So – how do you make your year better than you found it? How do you make your classes and teams and clubs, and at my school, dorms better for having had you at their helm? The answer to this question will ultimately play itself out – but what do you want your legacy at your school and in this last year of your adolescence to have been? Now is the time when you need to decide because your actions now will determine how you will have left it by the end of the school year.

The potential is infinite: You can launch a project or club that will gain momentum and improve the lives of others. You can set the example that it’s “cool” to work hard, play fair and show kindness to those you don’t call your friends.  It’s a daily choice – it’s one that’s yours alone to make. How will you leave it better than you found it?

Heather Cavalli is the Director of College Counseling at Hyde Woodstock and an independent educational consultant. She can be reached at hcavalli@hyde.edu