At this time of year on America's college campuses, seniors are counting the days until graduation -- always a multi-layered moment filled both with celebration and with sadness.
But what our seniors may not realize is that their professors, coaches, and mentors are counting down too, often with similarly mixed feelings.
It's still March, but already I find myself feeling wistful about the approaching graduation of students I first met three short years ago during their first year at Franklin & Marshall College. There's the young man whose passion for astrophysics led him to discover a rare extragalactic pulsar. There's the young woman who founded a new forum for students to pursue intellectual inquiry. There's the sociology major teaming up with a professor to present papers on criminology at scholarly conferences.
Each of these students -- and countless more -- have taken full advantage of our academic resources while developing themselves personally through community life in our College Houses, performing arts, sport, work, study abroad, and campus citizenship.
When I reflect on the meaning they have made from these experiences, I feel a great deal of gratitude for the many influences that brought them here.
That's why I like to spend a few minutes writing short notes to the high school counselors who helped our soon-to-be graduates chart their course to F&M. If you think about it, these educators are the unsung heroes of so many college success stories. They listen to students' aspirations and motivate them to consider carefully what kinds of institutions can help them grow and achieve their goals. They educate families about sources of financial aid and help them complete the necessary forms. They spend hours writing thoughtful recommendations that showcase each student's unique strengths and assets. And they inform themselves about everything relevant to their students' college choices and constantly research the qualities and resources of all the schools their students might attend.
This year I wrote to one counselor, who replied:
"As an educator...I can only hope that the students I work with move forward and grow and lead in powerful ways. I am thrilled, but not at all surprised, that Caitlin has been such a change agent on your campus. You and I will both watch in wonder as she takes on the world after she graduates this spring!"
"Sara remains close to my heart - she was my academic advisee as well as my college counselee...The young woman you describe is the one I remember so well - thoughtful, kind, proactive and unafraid to assert her views (even when they diverged from popular sentiment)."
Of course, late March brings a whirlwind of work for high school counselors. Emotions run high as seniors hear from colleges -- not always the news they hoped for -- and weigh their options. Counselors take part in many long conversations as students try to make the right decision. Some students struggle to carry the weight of their parents' expectations about what college and career path is best for them. Others may be the first in their family to attend college and worry that they are leaving their family or community behind.
Each counselor has to have the poise, expertise, and understanding to guide very different students through one of the most important transitions of their young lives.
The value of having a great college counselor: priceless.
When students find the right school for them, their world expands. They grow exponentially and begin to see new possibilities for their adult lives. Of course, their high school counselors rarely get to see the day-to-day dimensions of this growth because they need to focus on the next classes of students. All they can do is trust that many months of listening and planning and care will work out well.
Maybe that's why so many counselors write back when I thank them. I hope it's rewarding to know that the students they helped have gone on to flourish and that they made a difference.
So, in that spirit, as college admission letters arrive in mailboxes all across the country, let's remember to thank our college counselors, those tireless educators and advocates who propel our students forward.