A High School Guidance Counselor's Lasting Lessons

Originally published on November 24, 2011 4:45 pm
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GUY RAZ, HOST:

As many of you listening today will know, around this time of year, we take part in something called the National Day of Listening. It was launched by the StoryCorps project, and every year, the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps encourages everyone to sit down with someone, anyone and talk. And this year, StoryCorps is hoping we will honor our teachers. And over the coming days here on NPR, you'll hear conversations between some of the folks you listen to regularly and the teachers who made an impact on their lives. And recently, I had the chance to speak with my old high school guidance counselor. You know, I'm 37 now and...

WALTER ROIG: Oh, my goodness.

RAZ: ...I was wondering - can I call you Walter?

ROIG: You better.

RAZ: OK. All right. Fine.

ROIG: Otherwise, you're going to make me feel much older.

RAZ: All right. It still feels unnatural but - like, I'm breaking the rules.

ROIG: No, you're not breaking...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROIG: ...any rules.

RAZ: I last saw Walter Roig in 1992. I can still picture his office, though. It was small, a desk and two chairs, but his door was always open. How many kids did you sort of look after? I mean, I would never have known.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROIG: My wife asked me that the other day, and I would say approximately 500.

RAZ: Wow.

ROIG: And, you know, and every year, you know, you would get maybe about 100, 150 who were new. You know, and I always had the fortune to be able to feel that I always felt that I was needed that kind of kept me going for 37 years.

RAZ: The thing about you that I remember you were really empathetic. I had some conflicts with teachers, and you were my guidance counselor. You were the guy who was supposed to kind of, you know, put me in line, and I really always felt like you were in my corner.

ROIG: Well, thank you, Guy. It's very kind and generous for you to remember that. And, you know, it's important anytime a youngster walked into my office to make sure that they felt free to say what they wanted to say.

RAZ: You may not remember this, but I was - I ran the student newspaper.

ROIG: I remember you were very much involved with the school newspaper, yes.

RAZ: I wanted to be a journalist. I always wanted to be a journalist. And I clashed with a teacher who ran it. She - and I don't know if you'll remember this, but eventually, she actually kicked me out.

ROIG: I don't remember that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: And...

ROIG: Well, I'm surprised you didn't come in and tell me.

RAZ: I did. I did. I did. You (unintelligible) help me.

ROIG: Oh, you did. OK. I don't remember that.

RAZ: And she kicked me out because one of the editors on the paper I felt he did a shabby job, you know, on his page, and I redid it one night, before we sent the paper to the press.

ROIG: Oh.

RAZ: And my - the argument I made to you was, you know, look, I just, you know, I want to make it good. I wanted - that's all I cared about. And you said something to me, and it stuck with me. You said this is what you need to remember about power: The less you use it, the more of it you have. And I've always remembered that.

ROIG: That's exactly right. I'm - gosh, over 20 years ago, and you still remember that.

RAZ: Mm-hmm. And is that how you kind of went about your life and your career?

ROIG: Always. As a matter of fact, you know, I play a lot of tennis. You know, power is something that you want to kind of keep in storage, and that it lose when it's necessary but not in an abrasive manner. But, you know, when you're dealing with people, if you don't use your persuasiveness and you just use power and clobber them over the head, eventually, it's going to leave you. You're right. I'm so glad that you remember that.

RAZ: Well, Mr. Roig, sorry - I mean, Walter...

ROIG: Walter, yes.

RAZ: ...thank you for everything you've done for me.

ROIG: You're very welcome, and I thank you for being so generous acknowledging that.

RAZ: Well, I will hopefully see you - look you up when I'm back in L.A. next time.

ROIG: You better do that now. Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: Thanks, Walter.

ROIG: Take care.

RAZ: My conversation with Walter Roig is part of the StoryCorps National Day of Listening project. We're hoping you might thank a teacher tomorrow on Twitter with the hashtag #thankateacher, or you can write your appreciation on the StoryCorps Facebook page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.