“What kind of fish are you feeling like today?” I ask the ten freshmen in my peer group. It’s a silly question, but it is meant to be. On my laptop screen, they blanch in response to the day’s check-in. Nevertheless, one by one, they unmute themselves and deliberate about the qualities of various fish before selecting the one that sums up their emotional state. At the end of the five-minute activity, our group is composed of salmon, pufferfish, tuna, and minnows.
They’re feeling small, I notice. Hunted. Tired. No sharks, rays, or piranhas today. That’s alright. Under the pressures of Physics, Modern World History, and everything that’s stirring up the world right now, I would never expect them to be okay all the time. When they came into the meeting, I made sure to greet them all by name. I made sure to smile. They don’t have to feel happy or powerful, but my job is to make sure they know they aren’t alone, either.
I spend the next forty-five minutes utterly failing at mafia, but each accusation is followed by a vehement declaration of innocence and a lot of laughing. Everyone looks happier than when they first joined the meeting. This time is meant to be a small reprieve. It’s only 45 minutes on a Friday afternoon, but I’d like to think it counts. In a way, the weekly meetings enable me to do what every leader should do: Make people happy while doing what they love.
When I was first selected to be a Peer Leader during the summer before junior year, I struggled to understand the significance behind the group. Sure, it would be nice to get to know the freshmen and to assuage their fears about the future over family-sized bags of Hint of Lime chips and Boom Chicka Pop, but I couldn’t imagine that my role would be making a difference in anyone’s life.
It wasn’t until shortly before senior year when I was paired with my co-leader, Kylie Taylor, and we were given a freshmen group of our own that I truly appreciated the responsibility I was given as their leader.
Although I can’t ease every worry, I can offer assurance and guidance and answer questions. I can make time for others when I’m needed. I can play mafia, remember names, and smile. I can be present. Being a Peer Leader, being any leader, doesn’t mean I’m going to change anyone’s life. I’m simply there to make their lives a little better.
So, to anyone who’s worried about Physics, History, or everything that’s stirring up the world right now, take a deep breath. FaceTime your closest friend. FaceTime all of your friends, all at once. Talk about anything that doesn’t matter at all. What kind of shoe fits your mood right now? (Loafers. They’re clunky, uncoordinated, and yet, they’re somehow making a comeback.) How much candy corn is too much? (There’s no such thing. Anyone who disagrees is simply wrong.) Which famous dictator would defeat the others in the Hunger Games? (Mao, of course. He would seize the means of production in the arena and let his opponents starve to death.)
You don’t need to solve all the world’s problems today. Start small. Focus on the easy things. The rest will come. Because right now, it is the small, inconsequential things that matter most. They are the things that will keep us sane. Remember to breathe. Remember to laugh. Even if you feel like a minnow today, there’s a whole school of fish around you to protect you from the sharks. You’re not alone. You’re doing great.