They come back to the hallowed halls, wearing a nicer coat than they had as seniors. Since it's November, this is a good thing; the first ten weeks of college have taught them the merits of wearing a coat when it's cold, a paradigm most of them hadn't embraced last year. The girls' hair is usually just a little longer, and they wear black sweaters with thick collars. The boys' hair is usually shorter; they wear nicer jeans, and a shirt that actually has a collar. Those who wore glasses no longer seem to have them, while those who had eagle-eye vision adorn the hipster frames of their college chums -- and nearly everyone has finally stopped peppering their sentences with "like."
That isn't the first thing you notice when you hear them in the hallways, talking to this year's seniors -- the first thing you notice is how loud they are. The excitement of attending classes that only meet twice a week mixes with the freedom to eat ice cream for breakfast and Cocoa Doodles for dinner, and you just have to totally tell someone how much this just totally rocks. Never mind the 65 on their first Economics exam; they are totally in love with their life, and they want to come back and tell the seniors that, because they remember college was some theoretical ideal they were writing essays about last year. College is real to them now -- college is who they are -- and they want this year's class to keep going, because college is totally worth it.
And then you realize that totally is totally the college like.
A handful will find their way into your office to say hello, many because they want to, some because they remember how nice you were to their application-deranged parents. You have to take care to ask them how things are, not how classes are; mention classes, and too many students feel duty-bound to report on what they learned on the Ancient History field trip. Ask about things, and they'll tell you what their roommate from Kansas learned about pepper rasam at the dinner after the field trip. That's the better story.
The conversation won't last long -- they have more seniors to inspire -- but it will finish with a brief thank you, a hug, or a promise to friend you on social media. One student broke all the rules; her conversation with me was long and high energy, sharing details about the glorious trivia of every class, the dining hall food made by a gourmet magazine's test kitchen, and how she couldn't thank me enough for all I had done.
"I just signed a couple of forms" I said, a remark which led to a long silence.
"No you didn't. You recommended that school to me. I'm only there because of you."
Canada holds Thanksgiving in October, to express gratitude for the harvest they've just brought in from the fields. Thanksgiving is in November in the United States, because the pilgrims decided that was the best time to thank God for -- well, everything.
Thanksgiving for counselors is somewhere in between, when last year's graduates come home for fall break, or sneak out of class a few days early to say hi before turkey time. They talk about Sartre, differential equations, how much smaller the high school seems to be, and their plans to study in Vienna or Burundi -- while the lilt in their voice and the poise in their words reveal just how well they are doing their job as young adults...
...and how totally well you've done yours.
Follow Patrick O'Connor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/collegeisyours