As the mom of a high school senior applying to college, the fall of 2012 has been a busy one — not only helping my kid stay focused and optimistic, but also fielding curiosity and fascination from well-meaning friends and family and helping anxious buddies try to hang in there and keep a calm, reasonable perspective about the whole process.
With early decisions imminent, I wanted to share some words of love, comfort and wisdom with my first baby to leave the nest. While a bit of the letter I wrote to him is somewhat heartfelt and personal, much of it might be helpful to other families in the same boat waiting for college decisions. So with Ben’s permission, here it is:
It’s been both an exciting and excruciating journey over the last couple of years, helping you evaluate, choose and apply to colleges. You have eagerly driven this adventure based on your own goals and qualifications, using us for loving support (and at times reassuring sanity!) along the way. As you await the first wave of news over the next couple of weeks, there are 10 things I want you to know:
1. Regardless of where you end up going to college, I could not be more proud of the person you have become. When I look at you, I still see the beautiful baby with the long eyelashes and big watermelon head, but you have exponentially eclipsed all the hopes and dreams I ever wished for you so many years ago as you flashed that toothless grin at me while I rocked you to sleep in the dark of the night. You are smart, responsible and more hardworking than almost anyone I’ve ever met. You are kind, polite and respectful. You possess admirably deep conviction and a thick, resilient skin. Your sunny, cuddly disposition and silly sense of humor make you a pleasure to spend time with. All the amazing accomplishments you have so far achieved have been because of you — your enthusiastic pursuit, your commitment, your passion, your energy, your leadership, your industriousness, your persistence, your never-ending dedication. Doesn’t make a bit of difference to me where your eventual college ranks in US News & World Report or whether or not there’s ivy growing on the walls. YOU ROCK. No. Matter. What.
2. I am overjoyed that you found the courage to take the risk to apply early. A year ago, you didn’t believe you were worthy enough or had strong enough fortitude to put yourself out there, but you developed the confidence to pull the trigger, and that shows tremendous strength and growth. There will be many, many, many times throughout life when you can’t quite grab the brass ring — but if you don’t reach out and try, it’s guaranteed that you’ll never grab it.
3. I am infinitely inspired by the fact that you’ve never used your hearing impairment as an excuse. When you were diagnosed at six weeks old with severe-to-profound hearing loss and got your first pair of hearing aids, we were told that you would likely need to be educated at a school for the deaf, and that speech and language would be a considerable challenge — if you were able to develop meaningful speech at all. Your hard work and deserved success throughout the years makes that limited prognosis beyond laughable now. But there’s never been a day that you’ve held up your hearing loss as a reason for failure or as an excuse for not attempting something. You have always been fully accountable for your actions and behaviors, as challenging and exhausting as living with hearing loss has been. Never forget how monumental an obstacle you’ve so surpassingly overcome, and use that as motivation to always dream big — because, baby, you’ve already proven that you can achieve the seemingly impossible!
4. I am impressed by the high standards you set for yourself and the great lengths to which you push yourself to achieve whatever you set out to do. You know that all we ask is that you do your best — we’re never disappointed in the result if you’ve done that. You have taken that to heart, and you’ve set an even higher standard by which you relentlessly challenge and measure yourself. The ridiculously late hours you commit to your studies and activities, the effort and care you expend to go above and beyond, the time and self-advocacy you devote to seeking out extra help when needed are all remarkable qualities that will serve you incalculably well throughout life. And they’re also an outstanding example to set for your brothers, who hold you in such impeccable regard.
5. You packaged yourself brilliantly in your applications. You did the best you possibly could with your grades and your test scores during high school. The activities in which you have invested yourself throughout the years have been genuine and well-chosen, and portray a talented, passionate, thoughtfully sculpted human being. Your essays were honest and moving, wise and compelling. You have interviewed with alumni who were wildly enthusiastic about your candidacy. And while you don’t know what was written about you in recommendations, you were blessed to have some exceptionally special people reach out to you and graciously offer to write on your behalf in addition to the teachers you asked. All that should give you the comfort to have no regrets about how you’ve presented yourself as an applicant.
6. Remember, you’re waiting to find out where you’re going to college, not if you’re going! Keep it in perspective. The news you’re anxiously awaiting may be momentarily disappointing, but in the grand scheme, it won’t come close to qualifying as devastating or tragic. Be grateful for that. Heartbreakingly, there are plenty of people waiting for news about potentially grave life-or-death circumstances. Thank your lucky stars that you’re not in their shoes at this time, and know that even if the admissions process gets dragged out for a few more months, you’re going to wind up with stellar options. The worst that should happen is that you should have to decide among a few phenomenal choices next April.
7. Wherever you don’t get accepted, keep in mind that it’s not an indictment of you and your accomplishments. You’re simply not the right fit for the Class of 2017 at that particular school. And like so many of your “fans” have told you, that college’s loss will be another college’s resounding prize.
8. I’ve told you this since you started looking at colleges: trust me, you will end up at the right place! Everything happens for a reason, although that reason might not be immediately apparent. You yourself have said that ultimately you would be happy at any the colleges on your list, and be sure, you will end up at one of them!
9. Don’t wish away the time. Don’t live your life in a holding pattern, biding your time until you hear from schools. Or until graduation. Or until you move into your freshman dorm, or whatever the next major milestone may be. Life is what happens while you’re waiting expectantly for the next big thing on the horizon to come to fruition. Savor the everyday. As we know all too well, life is not a dress rehearsal.
10. Finally, please know in your heart (with thanks to Robert Munsch):
I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be
Update 12/12/13: Turns out Ben wasn’t accepted to his early decision school last December. And wouldn’t you know it but his other top choice was the verrrry last school of the bunch to send admissions notifications at the verrrry end of March. By snail mail! And he was—wait for it—wait-listed. He chose to remain on the wait list, and was eventually placed on a super-small EXTENDED wait list. Agony! However, on a Friday afternoon in mid-June— one week before graduation—he received the best phone call ever: an admissions rep gave him the news that he had been accepted! He’s just about finished with his first semester at Georgetown University, and every single day, he is grateful about how things worked out for him. It’s the perfect fit, and he now can’t imagine himself anywhere else.