I think of you high school seniors, all you once and future college applicants! You have long since endured the Make Way for Ducklings exercise that is the campus college tour, led by cheery chattering student guides. You have worked on, or are even now working on, those fearsome college essays. What can I DO? you must wonder. Write about overcoming adversity? Speak of an inspiring figure in my life? Or should I do an ‘I Used to Think But Now I See’ piece to show how I have changed? Could be a good way to spin that D I got in Tenth Grade History, come to think of it.
I picture you with such thoughts as you sit there, agonizing! I feel for you, walking through these fires!
But now I must remind you of another whole section of your college application, largely invisible to you:
I speak of the college recommendation, written by two or three adults who have worked in a supervisory capacity over you.
I began writing college recommendations as a young teacher, when Richard Nixon was still shaking his angry jowls at a recalcitrant nation and I’m writing them still, as I find myself once again working with high school students – which is why I can say this with some certainty: Writing the letter of recommendation can be an easy, even pleasurable task for your ‘recommenders’ to take on, if, and perhaps only if, you have let your true self be known by them. Why? Because a recommendation shouldn’t be a list of glowing adjectives but rather a series of telling glimpses into the applicant’s true self. Let me give an example.
I recently spent an hour at a church rummage sale with a high school sophomore who is under my ‘care’. Though two long years will pass before I’ll be writing a letter for him, I note everything he says, even as I do with the other six young people I currently help supervise.
At this rummage sale, for a mere $5, you could take home whatever you could fit in the standard grocer’s brown paper bag.
I watched as this boy happily chose items not ynlu for himself but also for his brothers back home. Gym shorts, cool T-shirts, hoodies: all these went into his bag.
Then we climbed the stairs to the book-sale room where you could fill a bag for a mere $3.
Almost immediately, he spotted a gorgeously illustrated book called Egyptology.
“Oh no,!” he exclaimed. “There’s a whole series that this book is part of and THIS is the only one I could never find!”
He had looked and looked for it, he said, and, finally despairing, ended up giving the whole collection away.
“And now you can have it,” I said.
“And now I can have it,” he repeated, looking down almost reverently at the volume as he placed it in his bag.
“Maybe there’s a message for me here,” he added.
“What would the message be, I wonder?”
“If you want something enough, you will find it? “ he tried. “If you love a thing, it will come to you? I don’t know, really…”
He didn’t know. Sometimes a person can’t know a thing like that right away. But I knew something I did not know before. I knew that I had just had a glimpse into his young soul. And don’t think I won’t remember his letting me have that glimpse.
So my real message to you, you high school seniors, both for now and for later?
Let yourselves be known. Open yourselves and speak your truth. We are all watching one another, and we all gain strength from what we see.