A Little Goes A Long Way: Lessons In Paying It Forward


Illustration by Maryrose Ceccarelli

Emma Andrus

Illustration by Maryrose Ceccarelli

Recently, I had an interaction that not only made my entire day, but strengthened my faith in humanity. 

I’ll be the first to admit it: the past few weeks had been stressful and overwhelming, and it seemed I just couldn’t catch a break. Despite this, I was still searching for glimmers of positivity. One day, I stumbled across a glistening beam.

I had just completed a wonderfully insightful interview and was looking to reward myself with Starbucks before heading to a meeting. This time, I opted for the location on the corner of Main and S. Lincoln Streets as opposed to my usual library location for the first time.

There was no line. I ordered my warm caramel macchiato and handed over my Flashcard. The barista told me they don’t accept declining balance at that location, and I didn’t have my wallet on me at the time.

I apologized, feeling my face getting flushed. So much for trying something new, right? Or so I thought.

“Don’t worry. It’s on me,” she said.

I was pleasantly surprised and taken aback that someone could be so kind to a complete stranger. Mine was a rookie mistake, and it would have been so simple for her to wish me a good day and send me on my (relatively embarrassed) way. I thanked her profusely, waited for my drink, and went about my day.

I couldn’t stop sharing about that act of kindness. My one regret is that I didn’t catch her name to thank her in this post. 

I was so inspired. I’ve been hearing about the idea of “paying it forward” for years. I’ve seen news articles, tweets, and the like, but I’ve never experienced the feeling of being looked out for by a total stranger until then. And goodness, did it feel good.

It’s so easy to go about your day worrying about yourself and focusing on what is going on in your life alone. But it’s also easy to take some time for others. Here are some suggestions of ways that you, too, can give back to those around you. The website Random Acts of Kindness has a list of 50 different ways that make it simple to pay it forward and start a chain reaction. In addition, here are some affordable suggestions that any college student (or anyone, for that matter) can use to engage in passing on kindness.

Roommate kindness

Coexisting with other human beings in close quarters is one of the hallmarks of the college experience. If you’ve noticed your roommate(s), neighbors, etc. being exceptionally busy or overworked, bring them a treat to brighten their day. Surprise them with their favorite coffee, tidy up the room while they’re away or in class, or offer to help them with whatever it is they’re studying or working on.

Peer kindness

If you have any classes with a relatively low headcount, pick a day to bring in cookies or baked goods to share with everyone. (TAnd the best part is, you don’t necessarily have to bake them yourself!) Just make sure you’re cautious of allergens to show some additional kindness. Compliment a classmate’s new haircut. Tell someone their handwriting is pretty. If you’re analyzing someone’s work or commenting on a discussion board, leave a note to tell them they’re doing well or remind them face-to-face. A little pick-me-up goes a long way.

Kindness is for strangers, too

While you might be comfortable and familiar with your roommates, neighbors and classmates, take the chance to show total strangers some love, too. Smile when you’re walking past someone. Give someone you don’t know a compliment. Hold the door open for someone who’s behind you, even if they’re a little far away. Wish someone riding the elevator with you a good day when you depart. Or heck, pay for a total stranger’s coffee.

Paying yourself forward

While you’re working hard on being kind to others, don’t forget that the most important acts of kindness are ones you can show yourself from time to time. So blast that favorite playlist of yours, slap on a face mask and treat yourself, too.