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Youth Editorial

How Powerful Are Words?

Chadwick Sapenter

Words are so powerful that the two-letter word no can stop and start nations from going to war.

Words are so powerful that the “N-word” stirs up memories and emotions of pain, rage and embarrassment for some; and for others the “N-word” is a reminder of how you can take what was once meant to hurt you and use it as a term of endearment.

Words are so powerful that the “F-word” symbolizes a variety of images: an inappropriate four-letter word, a derogatory term towards the sexual preferences of another person or a label placed on children who are removed from their biological parents.

Of all the words, the “F-word” has had one of the most tremendous impacts on my life.

I was 17 years old and entering the last semester of what was supposed to be my senior year of high school. I walked into my high school guidance counselor’s office, and she immediately greeted me with open arms, a big smile and what I assumed was the willingness to give me guidance. Boy, was I wrong. The conversation went like this:

“Chad, it’s so good to see you. How can I help you?” she asked.

I began to explain to her that I was getting offers to go to college on an athletic scholarship, and I wanted to know what I needed to do to graduate on time. Because this was a small town in Texas and football is as important as air to some people here, she was initially excited to help me with whatever I needed. She told me that if I gave her some time to look at my file, she was certain she could help me.

As she began going through the file, I noticed her demeanor change. What was initially a look of joy was turning into one of sorrow, doubt or disgust. Several minutes had passed, and the silence in the room was eating through me like a maggot through a carcass. Uncertain as to what she was reading that was causing this shift, I sat patiently, awaiting her guidance.

What seemed like an eternity had passed when she finally turned to me, pulling off her glasses. What came out of her mouth was totally unexpected; she dropped an F-bomb on me. My high school guidance counselor looked at me and said…

“You’re a foster kid…right?” she said with a look of disbelief and a sarcastic tone.

“Yes ma’am,” I replied, ashamed.

“Well you should just drop out right now; it’s not realistic for you to ever do anything,” she commanded.

I was confused, embarrassed and angry. I had no idea what happened. How could that “F-word” change so much? How could that “F-word” guarantee that I no longer had potential, that I no longer should dream and—worst of all—that my life was now worthless?

As I walked back to my class, the words of my CASA volunteer, Leslie Foster, echoed in my head. “Chad, don’t let this situation define you. You can do anything.” Over and over I heard his voice, and it began to drown out the conversation with my counselor. As soon as I stopped allowing the situation to define me, I was introduced to an opportunity to take as many classes as I wanted as fast as I wanted, with the only caveat being that I had to make at least a B in every class. I got the remaining 18 credits I needed and graduated on time.

As I was being handed my diploma, my guidance counselor looked at me as if she’d seen a ghost. The only thing she said was,

“Oh, you made it.”

We have to learn to appreciate one another’s differences whether we understand them or not. You have no idea what someone had to go through to get to where they are, and what you may assume based on your experiences with a particular group isn’t necessarily what applies to the whole group. The one word that we all deserve is the “L-word.” Love is a gift that we are all worthy of, and all are required to give. Words matter, what you say matters, and what you don’t say matters. Choose your words carefully, and use them wisely.

Chadwick Sapenter

Chadwick Sapenter, 29, entered foster care at the age of 15 along with his two younger brothers and aged out at 18. He went to college initially on a football scholarship and will graduate from Texas State University in the spring. Sapenter is the CEO and founder of Little Book of Words Publishing, LLC, based in Austin. He also authored the company’s first book, The Little Book of Words Every Foster Kid Should Know. One of his greatest joys is speaking to people involved in the child welfare system at all levels to provide hope, insight and inspiration. Visit chadwicksapenter.com and littlebookofwords.com.

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Anonymous @ 1/12/2011 5:36:32 PM 
I commend you. God had a plan for your entire life....to make a difference and to be the one everyone looks up to! Imagine that! You have made a difference in not only your own life, but lots of others and God sees everything you have done for yourself and others. I cant wait to be your friend in Heaven and live eternally with you! You are in my prayers now. Thank you for touching my heart!
Anonymous @ 1/6/2011 10:12:02 AM 
Thank you for all of your kind remarks. CASA remains one of the most consistent influences in the lives of foster children. let me know How i can help any of you www.chadwicksapenter.com
Anonymous @ 12/21/2010 8:52:08 PM 
Chadwick, I was so glad that you did not let that "Guidance" counselor get in your head. You should be very proud of yourself for setting your goal of graduating on time and accomplishing it. This world needs more strong young men as role models, especially for those children who are still in the system. I think that your story will inspire them the rise above their challenges, and not allow the "F-word" be a negative thing.
Anonymous @ 12/7/2010 6:44:00 AM 
Chadwick....I love you my friend!!
Anonymous @ 12/2/2010 1:19:36 PM 
Thank you Chadwick for your story. As President of my local CASA Board of Directors, I will be sharing your story this evening as my "message minute" with which we start our meetings. For every negative word there is a positive one. The "N" word is NICE. The "F" word is FASTASTIC.
Anonymous @ 10/26/2010 10:20:21 PM 
Thank you all for your kind remarks. We have a big fight ahead of us but that doesn't make it an impossible one. -- Chadwick
Anonymous @ 10/21/2010 5:52:06 AM 
Dear Chadwick,
So glad that you chose to ignore the hurtful and demeaning comments of that "counselor" and continued with your studies and successes. Congratulations! May that strenght continue to encourage you every day of your life. Indeed words are powerful and through my experience as a CASA volunteer sometimes I wonder how certain people are in positions of authority dealing with our children. May God bless you always.
Anonymous @ 10/21/2010 2:22:37 AM 
WOW! As I was reading your editorial I said to myself "He has a gift of writing". I am delighted to read in your bio that you are indeed a writer! Every child, including foster children has a God designed purpose and are no less valuable. Thank you for sharing your life story.
Anonymous @ 10/20/2010 2:10:37 PM 
As a former "foster" child...I can completely relate to this story...I remember dating a guy when I was in high school and while at his house a news story came on about foster kids and my boyfriends' mother turned to her husband and said " I would never have one of those kinds of kids in my home"..."you never know where they come from"...it made me feel Sooooooooo small....and regrettably I kept my mouth shut....I am now an insurance fraud investigator for the State of California and am going on 20 years of civil service.... I have always believed that we have the choice to be either prisoners of our past or pioneers of our futures!!!!!
Anonymous @ 10/20/2010 1:21:38 PM 
I think the first sentence captured me. NO can stop and start nations from going to war. I can not believe there is someone in a school that would treat you in such a way to make you feel less than a human. "You made it" should have came long before the diploma from high school if those were the words she chose to use.
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