If you had asked me, this time last year, if I wanted to move back to a rural area, I would have laughed in your face. I sit here, a year later, in a small town in northern Michigan in a high school with less than 240 students, surrounded by woods and farmland.
My name is Andrew Jason and I’m a 1st year, college adviser at Hesperia High School in Hesperia, Michigan.
I’m originally from a small town about an hour away from where I currently serve. It was certainly not an expected choice of mine, to come back to rural West Michigan. The whole time in college, I assumed I would stay in Lansing, or move to another city, like Chicago or New York.
To many, living and serving in a rural area may not sound appealing. As a young, recent college graduate, typically you want to continue to be around people your age, and to be right in the center of the hustle and bustle of a large city, starting on a lucrative career pathway. Lots of my friends and peers from MSU graduated and moved to Chicago, New York, or Detroit. The nearest “large” city (Muskegon) to me is 45 minutes away.
Our entire district is in one building that is smaller than many high schools. Elementary, middle, and high school are all connected, not that far off from school houses in the past. This means that this school is the center of most of the community activity in Hesperia, everyone knows everyone and is connected to each other for better or for worse.
Living here, I live at a much different pace than what I did in college. Life is slower around here, we take our time out here. Time is spent recounting a weekend filled with a fishing trip or a good hunt. I’m not spending my time going out, eating interesting food, or going to interesting events. I don’t have internet in my home, so I mostly find ways to be outside or read more than I did in college.
Admittedly, there are not that many people my age out here, and I do look, sometimes enviously, at my friends social media feeds of their lives in exciting places, and I sometimes wish I could live closer to them and see them more. But one important thing I have learned, among the many, after taking this position is that practicing humility is important. Our founder and CEO of the National College Advising Corps, Dr. Nicole Hurd, tells us that advisers should practice two things before all else, grace and humility.
These are humble surroundings, and they have caused me to reflect more on humility and what it means to serve here. When I was making my decision to come back to a rural area to serve high school students, I kept thinking about how confused I was my senior year of high school, and the culture shock of going to a university that was so far removed from my experience in high school. I still have younger siblings in school who will eventually be making decisions about post-secondary pathways for themselves. There’s a lot of emotion behind the fact that when that time comes, I will be there to help them. That I have set a tone and example for them, a pathway that they can now see for themselves. My brother will be applying to colleges and filling out his FAFSA this fall. I plan on taking him on college visits, ensuring he makes a choice that best fits who he is as a person and his goals for the future.
I’m so proud of being able to be there for my siblings, but why should my family be the only ones who benefit from the help of having someone there to guide them? If I can be an older sibling example for other students, students who, like I was, are unsure of how to take the next step, unsure of what they need to do with no clear guides or examples, then I want to be that example.
This is about service, and it isn’t hip, trendy, or well-paying, but it is tremendously important. More important than me and what I want. This is about opportunity for students in low-income areas and creating a pathway for them that will give them a better life for themselves and their family.
Mr. Jason with Freshman at Hesperia High School
It is a humbling but welcome experience, to relive that high school space of uncertainty. It is humbling to hear my student’s stories and help them process what it is they want out of life, their concerns and misgivings.
I don’t always know what’s best for my students, I repeat often that I am no expert. But by accepting the fact, but trusting we can find a way forward, we create our solutions together. I certainly couldn’t predict how much I would gain from coming back to a rural area, but it has been such a powerful experience that I know has benefited me, and I know that many of the students that we all serve in the Advising Corps, are also benefiting just as much from all of our decisions to stay humble and to serve.