Guest Column: What’s in Your Backpack?

Rebecca Washington-Lindsey

By Rebecca Washington-Lindsey 

The last few years of school have been challenging; virtual learning, wearing masks and taking a COVID shot. 

But this year promises to bring some measure of normalcy. I remember the excitement of going back to school in my formative years. I got new shoes, outfits, a backpack, writing instruments, and a journal. Most of you will follow the same patterns. Students, your parents have already planted seeds for how to be a successful student:

  • Stay focused
  • Be organized
  • Study hard
  • Prepare each evening for the next school day (put your clothes out and pack your backpack)
  • Develop a positive teacher relationship
  • Have a positive mindset

But, I have found that other factors will make your school year successful. Below are samplings of what I also packed and what I pack in my backpack today. 


It’s a challenging skill to learn. It is the ability to control your actions, feelings, and attitudes, especially in any interpersonal communication. For example, when you are assigned a group project, and it isn’t done to your specifications. Or when planning a sport and team member didn’t use the winning strategy you thought they should. Or when your teacher spends too much time on a topic you deem unnecessary to the class. 

Instead, try this.

*Breathe deeply

* Count

*Chill out

The world does not revolve around you, and the sooner you pack this in your backpack, the better you will be in school and the workplace.

Kindness in words and deeds 

Kindness and compassion go together like a glove to a hand. Doing an act of kindness to someone who may be upset, distressed, sad, hurting, or disappointed can be exhilarating and will make your day and theirs fruitful. How do you act out kindness?

*Kindness is whispering a word(s) that uplift another

*Doing a well-thought-out deed that encourages or builds someone else up. For example, your classmate received a “D” on a quiz. Instead of saying, “That’s too bad, try harder next time.” How about saying, “We can get a study group together, and I’ll be glad to study with you.” 

Those are words of encouragement

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch (friendly), a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a world around.” ~ Leo Buscaglia


It is often said, “to have friends, you must be one.” I maintain, “to attract one who is friendly, you must first be friendly.” There is a differenceBeing friendly is a learned behavior. It means being amicable, fair, cooperative, and nice. 

Students, I understand that there are days when events in your life drown out being friendly. But you can try these tips.

* Smile at people.

*Introduce yourself to new people.

* Invite a new student to join your conversation.

* Give a sincere compliment.

*Be polite.

* Offer to help someone else

*Be a good listener.

* Control your temper.

Sometimes taking your mind off yourself and focusing on how to be friendly really helps your day go along much smoother. 

Accept others who don’t look like you – be cross-culturally friendly 

As our country increases in international growth, it becomes ever more important to be friendly to those from diverse ethnicities, also called being cross-culturally friendly. This means being brave and taking bold steps out of your “comfort” box. In the end, you will build character and leadership skills. So, what steps should you take? Let’s identify five simple ones:

* Introduce yourself (so basic).

*Be authentic.

*Be open to acknowledging differences and focusing on similarities. We all smile and cry. We all matter.

* Be respectful.

* Be inclusive in your gatherings and be genuine. These steps are life-changing.  

Show Gratitude

Students, there are times when your life will get caught up in the hustle and bustle of student life. That happens, and if it hasn’t, just hold on because it will. It’s challenging to show gratitude. Remember there are a lot of folks who will do good for you in your life: parents, teachers, and other students, and it’s incumbent for you to show gratitude. 

What does that look like?

* Just say “thank you.”

*Do a random act of kindness.

* Give a gift card.  

Remember, “it is not happiness that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” ~ David Steindl-Rast

Be positive

Don’t let school get you down. Whether you’re frustrated with your outcome or sweating an upcoming exam, having a positive mental attitude towards school should be in your backpack, it will carry you a long way. Below are seven steps to having a cheerful outlook.

*Think positive by using affirmations. For example, I know I can nail this exam.” Turn I can’t into “I need the teacher or friend to explain this concept.” 

Complaining about your teacher is useless. This is so common. Instead tell yourself, “The more homework I have, the more practice and review I get.” Or, “I know the teacher wants me to do well.”

*Be proud of yourself without boasting.  

*Use the “that-a-boy” affirmation.

*Take a pause.

*Be grateful for how it ended. It could have been worse. Besides, you will have another try at it.

*Surround yourself with positive classmates.

*Take time to reflect on “what happened.”

*Develop a new plan or strategy.  


Many students use laughter as a form of smiling, and they are different. Laughter usually occurs because of a stimulus, like a joke or something funny. In contrast, smiling is conscious, intentional, and done with or without a catalyst. Both are beneficial for your mental health. 

They are “good” medicines for the soul. 

Let’s discover why smiling or smiles are beneficial.

*Help you live longer.

* Relieves stress.

* Elevates your mood.

* It’s contagious. 

You smile at someone, and they will return it.

* Boosts your immune system

* May lower blood pressure.

* Reduces pain. This is so true. I run, and when I feel knee pain, I smile wide.

* Makes you attractive/handsome.

* Suggests you are a success.

* Helps build positivity.

A day without laughter is a day wasted. Similarly, life is short. Show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.

Your backpack is filled with invaluable resources for your success. Use them, and have a great successful school year!

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