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College Admission and Gratitude

Brennan Barnard
November is undeniably the crazy season in college admission. Early application deadlines, nervous high school seniors, often-frantic parents, and other demands of college admission all seem to come to roost. It was in the midst of this frenzy that I returned to my office, and on top of the clutter of paperwork, I discovered the following note:
Dear Mr. Barnard.

I remember our first conversation about the college process vividly. It was the end of my sophomore year and I was obviously very anxious about the year to come. What always resurfaces in my mind about this conversation is how you stumped me with two questions. You asked me: “why are you driven?” and “are you happy?”  Admittedly, even though it may not have seemed like it, I had no idea how to answer these questions. Fast forward to my senior year, and I can now answer these confidently. First I am driven not only by the true desire to learn but also by a hope to take full advantage of the privileges that my parents have given me. Second, yes, I am happy. I’m probably happier than I have ever been because I have learned to take a step back and appreciate all I have accomplished rather than worrying about what I wouldn’t. I have told you before that I’ve felt like an outlier in my class with respect to happiness; I enjoyed my junior year and senior fall much more than many of my classmates. This, I believe can be attributed to those two questions you asked me. For that and all your help during this college admission process, I would like to extend my gratitude to you! Thank you!

Sincerely,
“A Thankful Student”
Sincere expressions of gratitude like this buoy an educator for life. In an age when we worry about young people and their ability to communicate beyond an Instagram post or meme, a handwritten letter of gratitude was just what the doctor ordered during a busy time of the year.
 
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I have been feeling especially grateful for the power of education to nurture engaged, kind and curious students who will be change-makers in a world that desperately needs it. Despite the media hype, court cases and other wranglings about college admission, I am fortunate to share my profession with thoughtful educators who are purpose-driven and dedicated to young people, learning, and access. I asked these fine educational leaders, in their roles as admission deans, to reflect on gratitude. In this first of a three-part series leading up to Thanksgiving, they share why they are grateful for the work they do. Parts two and three will explore their thoughts on what students and parents should be thankful for in college admission.

Listen to their voices, as they say, I am grateful...  
For the incredible honor to be able to give access and opportunity to students from all over the world to thrive and achieve their dreams in higher education.  I don’t take this honor lightly. To give opportunity, cultivate it, and then watch students succeed - there is no other feeling like it in the world.—Angel B. Perez, vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College

I get to spend my workdays in the company of extraordinary, inspiring people, including great thinkers on my campus, colleagues committed to service, families seeking better futures, and - best of all - students on the verge of becoming extraordinary and inspiring people.—Richard Scaffidi, associate director of admission at Whittier College

I have spent an entire career in education and ‘meeting’ thousands of incredible young people through the admissions process.—Bill Conley, vice president for enrollment management at Bucknell University

That college admission is still about access. At the core, we're all about helping students and families realize the American Dream.—Gil Villanueva, associate vice president and dean of admission at The University of Richmond

For the chance to present live-changing opportunities to students. To see them grow beyond their zip codes.—Mike Sexton, vice president for enrollment management at Santa Clara University

For the support systems in place to help students succeed. Some supporters are employees of the college and others are friends and families. From the point of admission to when students walk across the stage receiving their diplomas at commencement, they do not take this journey alone.—Charles Lloyd, president of White Mountains Community College

For all the incredible prospective students I meet, and furthermore, for their families and teachers who helped them reach this point in their education.—Erin Kelley, regional admission counselor at Kalamazoo College

For the opportunity to interact with and also read about the students sharing their dreams and thoughts with us as they apply for admission. I have been reading applications for 41 years--over 100,000 of them and it is still my favorite part of the process--meeting students, listening to them and then doing my honest best to assess which ones will make the best use of the resources we have at our University.—Don Bishop, associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment at The University of Notre Dame

For dedicated colleagues on both sides of the desk who work tirelessly to help young people find their path to postsecondary education. I’m thankful that for many, higher education is still a catalyst for breaking cycles of poverty and helps to level the playing field in a world that is far from fair.—Cindy L. Barr, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at Appalachian State University

For the opportunity to match ambitious, curious, interesting young people with a comprehensive college education. And also to see them enroll and do amazing things during and after their time at Bowdoin- asking questions, inspiring others, investing in change, engaging with challenges, having fun, exploring... the list is long!—Whitney Soule, dean of admissions and student aid at Bowdoin College

My job is about dreams. I am grateful to have passing moments with students in person or on paper where I learn about their hopes for their future. This brief accompaniment is humbling and inspiring. I am grateful that I have this small window into a future world that is better and brighter than the one we live in today because of the optimism, resilience, and courage of young people around the world.—April Crabtree, assistant vice provost for undergraduate admission at The University of San Francisco

That I get to travel around the country to cities and states many people will never see. I get to read the applications of truly remarkable students who tell stories about innovative ideas, inspiring dreams, ambitious goals, tremendous impact, and amazing challenges they overcame. I get to spend months working closely with a caring, funny, smart, dedicated staff. I get to constantly meet new people and tell them about a college I love and believe in. I get to articulate the value of higher education and try to bring some levity and solace to the often-anxious college admission experience. I get to do this. What a privilege! What an honor! What an opportunity!—Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech
Hopefully, in these words, readers will appreciate the intentions of the individuals “behind the curtain” of college admission. While often they need to make difficult decisions, which can lead to disappointment for applicants and their families, they are grateful for the opportunities they can create and for the transformative power of education.

Brennan Barnard
Director of College Counseling
for www.forbes.com
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