“You can judge a person’s true character by the way they treat those who can’t help them.”
In Fall 2014, I joined the accounting club on campus. With over 300 members at the time, the organization had the aim of connecting students with professional firms. I went to a speaker meeting for a Big 4 firm and that was the beginning of a small – but important – lesson. With my little grey blazer and my black jeans, I came early to the meeting. I remember the feeling of excitement and curiosity tinged with nervousness. Looking around, I noticed the ‘board members’ – students walking around with name tags on their jackets.
There was one board member. She had on thick makeup and looked bored. Dressed in a blazer and trousers, the glint of her name tag under the lights caught my attention. I don’t remember her name though, but it was either Chloe or Candy. Every time I tell this story, I call her Candy.
Back then, I didn’t really know what board members did exactly. I knew that they had committees but that was about it. I walked up to her and introduced myself. “Hi!” I said brightly. “I’m Ophelia, that’s a really cool badge you have. Are you a board member?”
“Yup,” she said, looking like she’d rather be anywhere else from here.
“Oh okay, how do you like being a board member?” I asked her, genuinely curious.
Zero eye contact. “It’s ok.”
She eventually faded away into the crowd and I took a seat in an audience filled with faces that I didn’t recognize.
Later on, we ended up being in the same team for a team-building exercise the firm wanted us to participate in. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Candy for those twenty minutes. We sat in the same row in front of other students with shiny badges on their lapels. When she was introducing herself to the group and talking about her interests, she seemed very excited and shared about how she enjoyed salsa and dancing.
After everyone introduced themselves in the group and there was a lull in the activity that provided for small-talk, I decided to give it another shot and ask her about her hobbies. “So!” I said. “Salsa! That’s a really cool hobby.”
She was staring off into the distance like a dead fish. Eventually, I realized she just didn’t want to talk to me. Her answers got shorter and shorter, and she never once asked me anything about myself. She turned her back to me altogether and spoke to other people in the row behind us who did not seem interested in the least in getting to know who I was. And they’re not obligated to, obviously, but imagine sitting by yourself in a group of people who all know each other and no one even looks your way. She remained like that for the rest of the entire session.
About a year and a half later, she was a mentee in our mentoring program. The same one that I chaired last year. The same one I’ve participated as a mentor in ever since. I received an offer from the same firm that presented during the meeting in my sophomore year and graduated with a full-time offer in hand.
It took me a while to recognize her at first because she wore glasses and minimal makeup. But I did recognize her.
Since our last face-to-face meeting, I not only became a board member myself but I became an officer when the club had over 600 members. I created programs and guides and systems that helped people.
Now, I was a mentor and the tables were turned. She was waiting for me to help her this time.
I don’t harbor any anger or bitterness towards her, but I just think that it was a funny experience that taught me two very interesting lessons. The first, I learned one of the most important ways that you can tell the true quality of a person’s character. You look at the way they treat their peers or people who are ‘beneath’ them.
When I got more involved and became both a board member and an ambassador (which means I had a lot of influence in the organization), I did my best to make everyone feel welcome. If there was anyone ever sitting by him or herself, I would introduce myself to that person and try to establish a relationship. The experience with Candy, among others, inspired me to create the Buddy System so people wouldn’t feel left out or like they weren’t wanted – especially by the organization’s board members.
And also, I learned that you never know where someone is going to end up in the future. That’s a hard lesson I had to learn for myself.
Wherever I go, I do my best to treat each person I meet the way that I would want to be treated. After all, each of us are only trying to survive in this world – whether it’s you, me or Candy.