"Taking Stock of What's Good" by Director of College Placement Kate Ramsdell
In last weekend’s New York Times there was an Op Ed on “choosing to be grateful” by Arthur C. Brooks. In it, he quoted Epictetus, “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.” As I imagine he hoped it would, Brooks’ ideas got me thinking over the Thanksgiving holiday.
A few years ago, as I sat with my extended family over dry turkey and awkward political conversation, I was struck by how quickly my youngest cousins had grown up – at that point, a few of them were in Middle School. Their parents who are, by most measures, people who tend to keep it all in perspective, were already asking me questions about how tough the college process had become. What I said to them, and I’ll write again here, is that there are so many good schools out there, and that their kids could be happy at any number of them. Fortunately, the apple pie came out of the kitchen soon thereafter, and I was off the hook.
Fast forward three years, and almost all of them are in college. Those who are in college have chosen divergent paths: one is at the Naval Academy, another studies English at a mid-sized liberal arts university, and yet a third has enrolled a pre-professional broadcast and sports journalism program at a much larger university. Based on what I knew of them when they were just starting high school, I’d have had a very hard time predicting any of those landing pads, and I think their parents might agree. Yet, all three are wildly content with their college experiences, and only one of them was admitted early decision to her “first choice.”
As colleges roll out decisions (for early applicants) over the course of the coming weeks, it’s so easy to feel like the world has come to a stunning halt when things don’t work out as hoped. We talked to the seniors in the last Class Meeting about treating one another well regardless of their own outcome – that many of their classmates won’t remember where they went to college, but they will remember how they acted when the news arrived. What we do ask is that they take care of one another as news arrives and the winter break begins. We ask you, as their parents and guardians, to help them remember that, too.
From my perspective, one of the aspects of December that is most difficult is that it is a “feast or famine” out there in Gleason Hall. Seniors who garner acceptances are thrilled and, in many cases, finished with the process. Others must launch themselves into yet another round of applications. Of course we are urging all students, even those who have filed early applications, to continue working on their various regular decision apps and to be cognizant of impending deadlines.
And while it’s hard to remember to be grateful for all that we do have, sometimes it helps to take stock of what is and what’s good before falling off into the deep abyss of what we cannot ever have or what might not be. Now, I’m no philosopher, but I have watched hundreds of Nobles students travel the roads of the college process. By no means do I know everything (though my husband may tell you I think I do) but I can tell you this: the world doesn’t end with a denial letter from a college (even a “first choice” at that). Is it hard? Certainly. Will it make mid-December feel unbearably unpleasant? Most likely, at least for a little while, and particularly for parents who become the target of often displaced ire and frustration. Might it send a senior into a bit of a tailspin of self-doubt? Perhaps.
But we will do this together, as a community. We care about your kids and want for them all the good things life can offer. We are beyond excited when they are happy with the news they receive, and we feel their – and your – disappointment and pain when things do not work out. But we also know that these feelings are necessary and often short-lived. Sometimes just hours after stomping into a bedroom, slamming a door, and weeping, kids end up in our offices laughing, bright-eyed, and ready to forge ahead. It just takes time.
As always, we’re here for support if you need it. To use the words of my wise mentor and Nobles dean of students for almost three decades, please do not “worry alone” in December. Right now, I am grateful to be a part of a community that won’t let you.