This is the eleventh installment of Coffee Chats, where The Paly Voice gets to know staff members over a cup of coffee or tea.
The Paly Voice sat down with the temporary Class of 2019 guidance counselor James Hamilton to discuss why he became a guidance counselor and his career path to Palo Alto High School.
Hamilton is currently filling in until Paige Johnson, Class of 2019 guidance counselor, returns. Johnson has been on maternity leave since April.
Growing up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Hamilton originally planned to be an English teacher.
His career path took a roundabout path, as he initially began working towards his English major at the University of Massachusetts, before 13 years in the workforce dealing with finance. He eventually finished his degree at Boston College, and subsequently enrolled in Lesley University for his master’s.
“I was in finance for 13 years, but I hated it for 11 of those years,” Hamilton said.
After receiving his degrees, Hamilton realized his passion for counseling, rather than teaching. His interest in counseling stems from his difficulties in high school, where he was inspired by two of his English teachers, who also served as his mentors.
“Those two guys saw me through really hard times and kept me as focused as possible, but also helped me with my self esteem when I was feeling bad,” Hamilton said. “I just thought, wow, what a cool job, helping teenagers through hard times.”
As his first job, Hamilton worked on the the Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona as a guidance counselor.
“I worked with some students who were really disenfranchised … [in a] very poor area,” Hamilton said. “I dealt with homicide, gang violence and teen pregnancy, just really heartbreaking stuff.”
He eventually moved on because the job was not a right fit, and he hoped to work with a team in the future.
“It was an amazing experience, but really tough place to live,” Hamilton said. “I wanted to learn with people who’ve been doing this work… also to have people to relate to the hard stuff in this job. Counselors take a lot of stuff on with them, we really do care about you guys.”
After three years, Hamilton made his way to California, working in the East Bay at Clayton Valley Charter High school before transitioning to Paly when the opportunity arose this year.
“It [Paly] felt like it was a good place for me, because it seems like such a stressful, competitive environment, and I am not that,” Hamilton said. “I am a counterbalance to that. We all need to take it down a notch and be serious about what’s really important. I want kids to go to colleges that are right for them.”
Now that he has settled into this school year, Hamilton is looking forward to adjusting to Paly, and familiarizing himself with the area.
“First and foremost is getting to know kids,” Hamilton said. “My office is a safe space. I am here to make your lives better and to help you out. So the more people come in, the happier I am. The second thing is, I want to get to the point where I can drive around without GPS.”
In his free time, Hamilton enjoys spending time with his girlfriend and dog, as well as listening to music.
“I used to play a lot of video games, but I have a girlfriend and a dog now, so that doesn’t happen as much,” Hamilton said.
While Hamilton is impressed by the academic rigor at Paly, his advice for students is to enjoy being teenagers without rushing to grow up.
“A lot of times, people look at adolescence as a time to prepare for life, but adolescence is life,” Hamilton said. “Sometimes do things just for the sake of doing them, because you’re going to have a good time.”