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1,447 Miles


Hello, my friends, cohorts and professors. This is to be my last post for the "Choose Your Own Adventure" assignment. However, I thought I might shake things up a bit because that's one of the things I've had the most fun with since enrolling in this program and being met with enthusiasm for thinking differently.


As you are all aware, Tulane sent out a request for student speakers at the graduation ceremonies. The requirements were asking for three instances where the candidates would need to be available in person on three occasions. As a remote student with a full-time job, this, of course, was less than feasible, but I applied anyway. I was not selected. However, I did want to share with you what my speech would have looked like and I hope it serves as a snapshot of some of the things I have learned from all of you on this journey. Here we go.


My name is Coach Carlson and I am a graduate of the Labor and Employment Law program at Tulane University. Today, I want to speak to you about some critical numbers in my life that I hope help you find the numbers in yours.


1,447


This number is the exact number of miles from my address in Connecticut to the door of the Tulane Law School in New Orleans.


124

This is the number of miles I travel roundtrip every day to the campus of Quinnipiac University. Here, as an employee of Quinnipiac Athletics in higher education I am seen as a coach.


I am viewed at Quinnipiac as someone with limited knowledge to offer outside of my sport.


I am viewed by my superiors as someone who wields a whistle runs practices and attends games.


I am viewed as someone whose impact is only considered when the judgment of win-loss performance is in question and very few see our profession as anything beyond this limited scope.


I have advocated for coaches, athletes, and more importantly, reform in our system of college athletics much to the chagrin of those I work with and for. Standing up in higher education, especially as a female is a guarantee for becoming unpopular in perpetuity.


Ideas about how we can be better are often unwelcome or insulting to those in charge unless they come from a male coach or a revenue sport. Conversations of honesty are frowned upon and transformation is welcome only at the pace of those who are in charge.


Fourteen years on the grounds of a college campus with 60-hour work weeks, yet I had to travel 1,447 miles outside of that sphere to find people who believed that what I had to offer, held value.


I believe there is something to be said for entering into the workforce and circling back to your education to have the opportunity to experience a stark contrast between motivations as an 18-22-year-old, compared to now at my age of 42.


Admittedly, my undergrad felt like I was checking a box. My classes were more like tickets I needed to ride the train to be able to compete in two Division I sports. I recall there being some courses I didn’t care about largely because I sensed my professors didn’t care about me. Or maybe that did and that was my excuse for not being interested in Geology. Back then, despite not being engaged as much as I should have been, I sat in the front row of my classes. Today as a college coach at Quinnipiac University, I encourage all of my athletes to do so as well.

I wasn’t aware then that my indifference to certain subjects was just a combination of immaturity coupled with desperation in trying to find some connection and purpose in what I was doing and why.


I couldn’t see my next job in front of me, I didn’t dream about it the way we were told we were supposed to. I didn’t know what I was working for and the roads and paths I ended up taking made me grateful I never forced myself to plan and allowed my passions to present themselves organically.


I traveled my path without a deep connection to my first alma mater and when I began my trek through the process of going back to school, I was hopeful it would be different.

When I started my classes at Tulane I knew I had cohorts who cared about me and about what they were pursuing and to feel that connection deeper through a screen than I ever felt in person during my first college experience, is no easy feat.


But Tulane did it.


The feeling of attending the summer immersion program and experiencing the gratitude and culture of New Orleans was an introduction to the idea that what I was doing had value beyond absorbing content, applying it, writing about it, debating it, and then earning a piece of paper. Through this program, I have come to develop relationships with my cohorts whom I will be friends with for the rest of my life. Although our professional industries are far from related, it was a breath of fresh air not to be recycling the same conversations and learning that there are vast similarities in the deficiencies and strengths of different departments all over our professions.

In an age when we are desperate to connect because it could be that some of us, or perhaps more than some of us, may even go full days being limited to speaking to the one “friend” in the form of a cell phone who is always no more than 2 feet from us, commanding our attention and stealing us away from genuine human connection...isolation is easy and available.

In 2016, I started my organization Fearless Coach LLC because I was witnessing a backslide in our progress as educators and our female coaching population was continuing to take its hits in the areas of discrimination, disparaging treatment, Title IX, and Title VII. The ever-present conversations about the evolution of our profession with NIL, athlete classification as employees, and collective bargaining were very much steeped in an urgent need for our population to increase our inventory in legal literacy.


For years, I had been engaging in daily dialogue with professionals in our industry trying desperately to explain to my coach colleagues and those in my network what the future held for our athletes and us. I was doing so with a solid but limited glossary armed only with a basement level of knowledge of the legal landscape in employment.

I learned in this chapter of my life that trying to awaken others to what can hurt them, but also protect them, is harder than choosing to stay asleep. Many days I feel like our house in higher education is on fire and no one who has power is making an effort to put it out.


When I told my family, my team, and friends my plan to expand my education they were puzzled. Most of the world had just spent the last 2 years sitting on Zoom staring at people through a screen, working remotely with our pets, kids, and life swirling around us in the background. Many people would ask me what would possess you to voluntarily want to do this when you already have so much going on.

My answer was always: I want to do it because it is an opportunity to do something different and expand on my education while still being a full-time college coach, tending and nurturing two medically complex toddlers from foster care while fighting the legal system to adopt them.


But my biggest question back to them was, if I don’t do it now when will ever be the right time? I participated in several other forms of marketing for the program including seminars for future students interested in the same trek. Speaking to new prospective students, offering advice, and listening to reservations seemed to be the most common theme of these conversations. I realized not through my classes, but through these extra forums for the future of the program that so many of us as professionals had quite a few things in common despite being from different industries.

There were CEOs of non-profits, medical field specialists, higher ed employees, human resources officials, customer care, and countless other professionals seeking to add some letters to their resumes. Regardless of background, the most common theme was a level looming level of self-doubt that seemed to dissipate but was there throughout the journey when life would hit us from the outside world.

I ventured through my classes and completed numerous assignments often with a set of fever-ridden toddlers at my feet at 2 am. Our cohort lost a classmate to a tragic accident in year 2, while another lost his mother suddenly in the thick of the semester. Counting pages of assignments seemed to pale in comparison to obituaries and shocking email announcements. The things we all went through for 3 years following a global pandemic will not likely be duplicated again.


The vanishing connection with people I mentioned earlier, started to show its face again. I was learning to connect with the cases and human conditions that, while they didn’t impact me, had an enormous effect on others.


We were committed to wrestling with the complexities of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII case modules, not just to memorize content to earn a grade, but to learn to care more deeply about issues that may not directly affect us. It helped me to see the world differently for those who may not have the ability to see, walk, or hear along with the long list of those disabilities we cannot see just by looking at someone.


The frustration and temporary discomfort from validating and crosschecking the knowledge I initially believed I had was challenging. Before Tulane, I had gained knowledge only from seminars, journals, and other sources, but this was understandably a different animal.

This journey was littered with brilliant witnesses in our professors and cohorts keeping me in check and reminding me that there was always more to learn.


I made mistakes. I lost negotiations. I got feedback I didn’t love but appreciated.


Rarely did I get the right answer the first time around and the times I got the answer right were not what made me a more critical thinker, debater, or listener. The moments I got it wrong were the ones that forced me to stop making statements and start asking more questions.


I was not only gaining a better understanding of the law, I was learning how to translate the more complex terms to the average employee. I was speaking about the law in a way that they could understand to move them into action or at the very least, prompt them to ask more questions about their trek. I was provoking thoughts amongst my peers about their future as an employee in a career so many of us profess to love.


All of us came to this school because we have a gift of some kind hopefully coupled with a desire to do more with that gift. I am grateful for today and the work that has led up to it but more importantly for Tulane Law my cohorts and its team of professors who gave me no other option but to unwrap my gifts and share them with the rest of the world.


Every step of that journey was worth it for me even if I was uploading a paper at 1 am and having to get up at 4 am to travel to morning training.


For me, and likely many of my cohorts, our challenges will not end with getting a degree. As a result, I say we make a pact to never forget the reward of stepping outside of the familiar to find new perspectives and faces that we may never have otherwise been exposed to. Working hard to be seen and heard in our respective spaces, is exhausting and our spheres can be kept intentionally small by our life experiences and our desire to recycle and exercise our belief system.


I hope through this experience that each of us has seen at least in some small way, the rewards of choosing to take risks.


I have.


Be Fearless,

Coach Carlson


1,447 Miles © 2024 by Coach Carlson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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