My weekend started pretty rough on last Friday evening. After finishing a day-long meeting in Chicago, I rushed to the airport only to find that my flight had been delayed. “No problem,” I consoled myself, “it is better this way than missing the flight.” After a wait, we all boarded the plane only to be told 45 minutes later that the plane needed to go back to the hangar and that another one was on its way. Another wait at the gate before I learned that the flight had been cancelled altogether. I headed to the Service Center to see an agent. The agent tapped his fingers on the keyboard while I tapped mine on the counter. Then, he lifted his gaze and said, “I can rebook you on a flight tomorrow.”
“WHAT!!!!” I screamed, “Tomorrow? No, please, I want to go home and I want to go now.” I must have looked either so pathetic or so overbearing that the agent looked down and started to tap his fingers again. Two minutes later, he looked up, “Oh, I found you a seat in the next flight but it leaves now.” I was overjoyed, “I will take it.” I literally snatched the boarding pass from the agent and ran, once again, to catch my new flight. But no sign of any airplane at the gate! Delay, wait, more delay, more wait. Finally the plane arrived and everyone boarded the aircraft. We pulled about 20 feet from the gate and stopped again for a wait that seemed like forever. Finally the plane got airborne and I breathed a big sigh of relief. I was hungry and exhausted when I arrived in Houston very late that night.
I was still feeling sorry for myself the next morning when my alarm went off. Oh, shoot! I have a 7:30 am event on campus. I grumbled for a moment but had no choice but to get up and go. Upon arrival on campus, I saw that the place was buzzing with energy. A crew of 600 volunteers was busy handling the last-minute logistics (Over 300 of them were UH students, staff and faculty in red shirts). Outside under a large tent, hundreds of little children, their eyes still heavy with sleep, were standing in line with their parents. I learned that 15,000 kids were expected to come to campus that day!
The event was Mayor Parker’s “Back to School Fest,” designed to give school children ready for the new year, and it was the first time for the University of Houston to host the event. Mayor Parker arrived and cut the ceremonial ribbon. The Cougar marching band filled the atmosphere with Cougar spirit. And there wasn’t a sleepy face to be seen anymore.
Kids were pulling on their parents, wanting to touch Shasta while parents were pulling on their kids, wanting to grab a photo with the Mayor. It was a festival like none other. Multiple booths catered to every need a child may have on the first day of school: Immunizations, eye screenings, dental exams, and basic health check-ups. Volunteers were handing out backpacks filled with basic school supplies, uniforms, and bags of food. Lots of games, lots of fun, and lots of happiness in the air!
Then, someone reminded me that most of these kids had probably never been on a college campus. As I talked to parents, I soon learned that was true for them too. College, to both parents and kids, was someone else’s dream, a cold and intimidating place where “others” went.
But not today! They seemed happy and comfortable. Had this one visit started to melt the ice? Has this one visit made them realize that college could be “their” dream too?
I stopped some kids and asked, “Do you think one day you would like to come here, to the University of Houston?”
“Yes!” they said without the slightest hesitation. ”I hope so, I hope so,” nodded their parents. “You know you have to work very hard in school,” said others to their kids. I knew then that, for many, the dream had already started that today.
Did I start this blog with the words “my weekend started pretty rough”? Well, even if it did, it turned out to be a pretty special one. Don’t you agree?