A Letter to My High School Guidance Counselor

This is a cautionary tale about my formative high school years and one person who had a tremendous impact on my life. I thoroughly enjoyed that time period, but certainly could – and should – have done things differently.high school, guidance counselor, advice

Dear Mr. Craigmile,

I wanted to thank you for being a great guidance counselor during my senior year of high school. We didn’t talk much, but you gave me some advice that has served me well since that last conversation so many years ago.

I remember you pulled out my transcript with all of my grades and college entrance exam scores, and told me several things I didn’t want to hear, back in the spring of 1977:

“You’re in the bottom third of your graduating class.” (out of approximately 700 seniors). “Your GPA is 2.2 [just barely over a C average].”
“You should REALLY consider a trade school, because you will probably not be successful in a college setting.”

Time stood still for what seemed like five minutes.

I remember thinking, at the time, how much your comments hurt my feelings. Most of my friends were going on to college. My grades weren’t THAT bad. I’m totally capable of making it at a university. Trade school … REALLY??

And then my mind drifted back to reality. I didn’t work hard in high school – at all! So many classes skipped – at Burger King, golfing, anything else – when I should have been in class, actually learning! I had squandered those three years as a sophomore, junior, and senior. That time had flown by … in a blur of wasted time and wasted potential.

You. Were. Right, Mr. Craigmile:

I hadn’t done anything to put myself in a position to do anything after high school. Sure I knew how to bag groceries, change the oil in my car, and shovel snow. But I had no real skill. At the time, I left your office thinking that I would prove you wrong, Mr. McGuidance-Pants!

I would take your words and make you eat them (at least in my mind)! As days turned into years, I learned something completely different, kind sir. It wasn’t at all that I needed to prove you wrong; I needed to prove myself right. To actually live up to my potential. And if that was trade school, or college, that would be fine with me. As long as I did what I was meant to do.

I wanted to let you know what’s happened since high school:

– Faith, family, and friends are the most important things in my life. I married my lovely bride more than 25 years ago and it continues to be a great adventure.
– Through some miracle – in spite of my, ahem, stellar below average entrance exam score – I was able to actually get into college.
– With a lot of effort, and catch up from missed learning in high school, I earned a bachelor’s degree in business, and then later on, a master’s degree.
– I proudly served as an officer in the Air Force for eight years.
– I’ve had a successful career in the business world.
– I recently started blogging, and rekindled my love for writing.
– Learning has been a life-long love of mine since we “chatted” in your office that day, and learning excites me!

Looking back on that meeting with you, Mr. Craigmile, I can’t help but think that maybe you said all those things on purpose. Maybe you knew that your words would motivate me. That’s how I like to see it. Whether you did, or not, I want to thank you for inspiring me to do something more; to live up to some of my potential.


A Very Grateful Student

Love to hear from you.

  1. Bravo! Congratulations on your success Michael.

    The letter you wrote to your guidance counselor sounds like mine would have. C student, no desire or inspiration to attend college, pretty much wasted my school years playing sports and chasing girls. Well, I’m not a pro athlete and I married a girl from a different state that never even heard of my high school. But I have since, graduated Summa Cum Laude with my B.S. in Information Technology, made the deans and presidents list every quarter, and earned an academic excellence award, served in the military for 8 years, just got promoted after being with a company for only 1 1/2 years, and am currently raising three beautiful and wonderful children. Like you said, take that guidance counselor!

    Again, bravo Michael!

    • Joe, thanks for the comment, my friend. What a similar experience! I probably should have also added that while my parents never pushed me to go to college, they always said I could be and do whatever I worked hard to achieve.

      You have had much success. I know it will continue for you and your family with your hard work and family support.

      Always a pleasure to get your feedback.

  2. What a tale, very inspiring!
    My primary school pretty much wrote me off as dumb because I wasn’t very good at maths, and I was average at everything else. But when I entered secondry school I proved them wrong, I passed Maths and ended up with 10 GCSEs and I’m currently studying my ALevels and looking towards University. It feels really great being able to prove people wrong. :) But I really wish that some teachers would realise that their actions have really big consequesnces. Fitting someone into a box can effect them for the rest of their life, and it’s not always a posative outcome. They should never doubt someone’s potential, because everyone is good at something!

    • Thank you, sapphy! It was great to accomplish something that I thought I could do, but I did understand how the teacher didn’t think I could based on my three years of poor performance.

  3. Despite that you took Mr. Craigmile’s speech as motivation, I wonder how many other kids hopes plummeted with that same negative prospect on life? There are kids out there who often don’t have the courage nor the self-starter attitude that is sometimes needed to forge forth. They don’t have the luxury of parents who care enough to take an interest. Others may feel overwhelmed socially, or by the financial burden. I feel Mr. Craigmile was probably very inept at his job, and I think it’s awesome that you were motivated despite his lousy prospect of your life. Good for you!!

    • Unfortunately, there probably are quite a few kids that slip through because they get defeated by what they think they can do and what the counselor says they should do. I think part of the issue at my school was that the counselor had SO many kids to counsel. At best they only got to give a cursory review with each student.

  4. Mj this has really struck a chord with me in so many ways. I absolutely love your writing style, and the thoughts and wisdom behind that humour. Those conversations are like pivots in our life – and it can go either way. You could have left your Guidance Officer’s office and taken many paths based on what he said to you. Maybe that is what they teach in Counselling 101 – tell them they can’t and watch them ‘do’. I especially love what you wrote about your wife in your achievements list – simply beautiful, too many people don’t look at their family as a great achievement and only measure in terms of work/study. It was lovely to learn a bit more about you.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comments, vixy! You are a great encouragement. In a sense it was faith, believing in what was not seen. But then again, I put myself in that position to begin with. And yes, I’m very grateful for my family as I can tell you are as well. Thanks again for, my blogging friend!

  5. Oooh. Guidance counselor and 700 students… Was he the only one for that many? I do not even remembering having a guidance counselor in high school, though I do recall several influential teachers.

    I look at the teenagers whom I have contact with now and wonder how to try to encourage and influence them toward finding their adult lives. I cannot imagine accomplishing this in a 15 minute conversation. I guess part of becoming an adult is realizing that we are responsible for ourselves, regardless of what advise others might give us.

  6. Perhaps we are twins. Only I was the worse twin, high school wise. Because I barely got through. Yes, I got As in English, but I had decided in 10th grade that I would become an actress, a star. Who needs Algebra? Geometry? HIstory? I FLUNKED GYM — twice. But it’s all ok, because I am a famous actress now. (In my dreams). Which reminds me of the story of when my acting career was, ummm, mislaid. I will write that now — and post it later on tonight. Any excuse for a good story!

    Thanks for the nudge. You’d make a great guidance counsellor!

    • We might be twins, is right! What I didn’t say in the post is that the only class I really did well in was English. I would have gotten A’s but because I skipped class so many times, I got C’s – woops!

      I’m looking forward to reading your post on Ethel, I mean Elyse Merman!!

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  8. Your story is amazing and it appears to me that both boldness and maturity was I play in the writing of this letter!!! However, I find myself asking the questions of old for me and it’s this….how could I have done everything right and end up where I am!? I am learning that God gives us wilderness tests and for what it’s worth I’m trying hard to learn during the journey.

    • You got that right, my blogging friend! Our path is not always the one that would be the easiest, or the one free of problems, is it? I do believe we become the people we become because of the circumstances we experience. Sometimes by our own doing and sometimes through the actions of others.

  9. What a fine example of destiny in the making and the choices we make at life’s crossroads! The GC was probably just one of the many people placed on your path to move you to choose whether your life would become just the easy tech school journey or a destiny that would challenge you to go higher and work at greater achievements thus using and expanding your God given talents. Way to go MJ!! :)

    • Yes! I believe there were probably other ways people tried to get my attention to use my talents and I wasn’t paying attention, but the GC certainly got it, and through him, I was motivated to get on with things.

  10. It amazes me how perspective changes over time and with experience. Perhaps, had it been some other person who was told he belongs to trade school or that he may never experience success, he would have taken that to heart and stayed mediocre. What’s interesting is that, from within yourself, you’ve acknowledged that – It wasn’t at all that I needed to prove you wrong; I needed to prove myself right.

    Insightful post, Sir. This is one I’ll be looking back to when someone tells me I’m not good enough.

    • Wow, Nel! You are too kind.

      You’re right that there probably were/are kids who go the other way when they hear words like that. It’s too bad, really. I always wanted to be a guidance counselor, but things just didn’t work out that way.

    • Awesome job MJ! One more coming to you as well. I’ve nominated you for the 7 x 7 Link Award that Melissa (happykidshappymom) just nominated me for. Put on your Sunday’s best and prepare those acceptance posts.

    • I wonder if you could send this to your guidance counselor — provided he is still around — as I think it would make his day.

      I’ve found that with memories like this, the person who said the “important” thing usually forgets completely that they said it, even if their words had a life-altering effect on the recipient. So he may not remember, but this post struck me as one of those “guest speaker” inspirational speeches to deliver to high school students.

      This line was really powerful, and something more people should realize, “It wasn’t at all that I needed to prove you wrong; I needed to prove myself right.”

      • You know, I probably should send it to him. I really didn’t even think of it that way, but he would probably appreciate it (I think I will see if he’s still with us). I’m sure he won’t even remember it as you say. I don’t blame him for what he said, I was the one who got me there. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, as always, my friend.

  11. I have not thought about my high school guidance councelor in a while. He was so quiet and calm. lol Although, he definitely steered my in the correct direction. 1coffeehouse.wordpress.com

  12. Thank God you actually allowed those words to inspire you to do something with your life instead of allowing it to be the death of your potential. You have done incredible things with your talents–your guidance counselor should be eating his words. My boyfriend got a similar speech as well, and was told that he was dumb because of his dyslexia and ADD. Now, he is on the verge of revolutionizing this country and bringing back manufacturing to the United States. He is amazing. We should never listen to what negative things others say to us and only believe in that voice inside of us that tells us anything is possible! Loved this so much, MJ!!!

    • Good on your boyfriend, Cara! That was a lot for him to overcome. Having learning issues is so difficult without someone telling you that you “can’t.” I’ve always been positive that I can do anything because of my parents. Sounds like BF is the same way.

      BTW, I want to correspond with you about his manufacturing idea. I’m mfg professional for a living. I know, it should be writing, right?? :) hehehe

        • WOW!! There’s two things I love about leadership:
          1) Concern for the human aspect of leading, coaching, and working with people.
          2) A real commitment to excellence.

          The two HAVE to be in equal measure or you will not have good morale and/or satisfied customers.
          I have seen more of one than the other; and mainly more of #2 and far too little of #1.

          It looks like Greg has both going on there. We may need to talk via email more about this.

        • Email me, M-Dawg (I can say that because I am hip). haha. myforkandbeans@gmail.com
          P.S. I was on the 405 today and there was a guy in a van next to me who looked like what I think you look like based off of the little picture next to your name. I thought to myself, Hey that *could* be MJ! I was going to wave but quickly realized where I live and know that behavior like that could get me shot :)

  13. Inspiring story MJ. :)
    I am also on my way not to prove everyone wrong, but to prove myself right, I wish one day i will proudly write a post just like this, to thank all those people who inspired me; intentionally or unintentionally, it does n’t matter. You are a nice man and a winner in life. Keep doing all those things, which you want to do, i am sure you can do whatever you want. :)

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments and encouragement, my friend! You are a beacon for others to follow, like a lighthouse bringing ships out of the storm. Your positivity is infectious.

      • Mj, at last I got the pleasure of nominating your blog for an award. :) Congrats, i passed “Candle Lighter Award” to your blog. :) Check my blog for details. :)

  14. Your story really hit home with me. In high school, I was rejected by 3 nursing schools. Turns out, my English teacher wrote that I “didn’t have the stick-to-itiveness to make it thru college.” I did go to college – a few years later. Over the years – as I went part-time – I graduated from a community college, earned a bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University and a Master’s degree from UCF. So, if I could go back to that teacher, I’d say “thanks for steering me away from nursing – which I probably wasn’t cut out for.” I was bummed about her “recommendation,” but I’m just glad I discovered what I was excited about – writing. I did that for a number of years as a reporter. After I got into teaching, I continued my passion for writing. Keep up the great work.

  15. Awesome letter! I had a good relationship with my guidance counselor in HS. She was kind, but not the type to stroke anyone’s ego. “Self esteem” is an ironing setting in her opinion!

    Thanks for sharing this memory with us :)

  16. Very inspiring post, MJ! It took me back (farther than your story!) to my guidance counselor, for whom I worked during my senior year. I had not applied myself as I should have in HS. As I worked for him, he handed out little moments of “wisdom”, which I took as subtle, but pointed messages of warning to me! I did better in college and grad school, often with the image of him on my shoulder! Thanks for sharing this post!

  17. This post took me way back. Well, more than 2 years, anyway. That’s a long time! 😉
    I was really bad at science in high school. I did well in everything else, but science stumped me. It was one of those conundrums: I hated it because I was bad at it, and I was bad at it because I hated it. One day, as our teacher was handing back tests, he took each of us apart and spoke to us. Most awesome teacher ever, by the way! To me, he told me how disappointed he was when he marked my test because he knew I could do better. Just to see the disappointment in his face that day did more for me than if he had yelled at me a hundred times. I ended up graduating with a 70%, when I had started in the fifties and low sixties.

    • It is amazing how so few words can have such an impact. I’m the same way – yelling doesn’t motivate me. But someone knowing my potential and bringing out the best in me, is the way I’m motivated. I’m glad you’re teacher knew what to say to inspire you. Thanks for the comment.

  18. Is it okay if I still don’t like Mr. Craigmile after reading this, even if he did give you a kick in the pants? :) I wish the same worked for my classmate Laura after our choir teacher bawled her out in class and told her all she’d ever be in life was a waitress. Sadly, that ended up true.

    Seriously, good for you on what you’ve made with your life!

  19. Wow I loved this post. I’m glad that he was able to inspire you to try harder…. and maybe this was the only way he could have done it. But I hope that he didn’t have the opposite effect on anyone else. Congrats on proving him way wrong :)

    • Thanks, Catherine. He was definitely put in my path for a reason. He had a couple hundred kids to counsel, so it couldn’t have been easy for him. I, too, hope everyone turned out positively, but not everyone is motivated the same way.

  20. Wow! Well, you’ve done quite well for yourself- It happens, sometimes, I think- that gifted students don’t excel in rigid academia but they are still auto-didacts that glean lessons in non-formal settings that do make them successful. I don’t think these types of people are common- but it is good that you are one of them, Mike. :)

    • So … I had to go online and self-teach what “auto-didact” is! I’ve unfortunately – the geek side of me – been in books, libraries, and online learning my whole life. I thought I was just weird. Come to find out, the diagnosis is auto-didactism! Thanks, Tricia. :)

  21. Oh how I love this post! As it turns out… I AM A GUIDANCE COUNSELOR! So this really caught my attention…great story, well told, and good for you for proving Mr. McGuidance-Pants wrong or for proving yourself right. Sounds like you’ve had quite a cool life.

    So many times in my work with students I am faced with the challenge of how to frame things in a way that will support kids rather than defeat them. As I’ve heard many stories like yours from friends, they serve as a great reminder to me of the influence I may wield in my job. Thank you for the reminder to be compassionate, inspirational and supportive!!!

    • So cool that you are a GC! You have a tremendous influence on those young people. I’m glad to hear that you take it so seriously. I’m sure you do a great job at it as well, and your students will thank you for it.

  22. Well put. For me, the biggest motivation is someone telling me “I don’t think you can do that.” It just makes me want to prove them wrong. I remember running into one of my high school teachers, who, truth be known, knew me well, when I was a freshman in college. He asked how I was doing, and when I replied, “Very well, thank you,” he responded, “Really? I’m a little surprised.” (A__hole!) Unfortunately, it didn’t turn me into a great student. I didn’t have the maturity or discipline back then. But it did give me a little boost. “Well, I’ll show him!”

    • Nice teacher! Yah, some people just don’t have the faith in the potential of certain kids. Don’t know why – you’d think they’d teach you in teacher’s school (great grammar there!), how to bring out the best, not the worst in your students! What a concept. :)

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  24. I was really moved by this.

    You have a way with words. Thank you for sharing this and I wish you continued success, love, laughter, health and peace:)