When turning the page from February to March, I was reminded of what many college-bound high school seniors face at this point in the year: an anxiety-filled waiting where students collectively hold their breath as colleges and universities send messages of congratulations to some and condolences to others.
As first period opened on Monday morning, I did not have any plans of discussing this time of anxious waiting. But, per usual on Monday mornings, the router and the internet were not communicating with one another, and the web access my students needed was not yet available. Needing to stall while the network did all of its beeps and boops to grant us access to the world wide web, I took the opportunity to address this expectant waiting many of my students were experiencing.
After first period, I decided to give the same talk to start each class. My fourth draft was far better than my first, and I would like to share it here in case it may be help to any one else.
“Most colleges and universities give themselves a March deadline for informing you and your peers of whether or not your application has been accepted, and they would like you to enroll for their fall term. Having taught seniors a number of years, I know how anxious this time of year can be for many of you. Some of you may have already heard back from schools you applied to, but most of you are waiting.
“As I have watched my students wrestle with this period of waiting these past few years, I have two thoughts I would like to share with you today. First, when you get word that you have been accepted–that you have achieved the goal for which you have worked so hard these past four years–please share with me! I want to celebrate with you because this is a great achievement!
“But before we erupt with shouts of praise, I have one more thought. It will take a bit of explanation, so stay with me.
“Every year there are students applying to colleges, some get accepted, and others do not. And just as a number of you will receive the great news that you have been accepted, others among you will receive word that they have not been admitted to their college or university of choice. And in some cases those individuals were staking their future on attending a particular institution of higher education, in their heads and hearts painting vivid pictures of a path they were destined to take. But, in the moment they receive word they have not been accepted, that picture will feel like it has been taken from them, crumpled, and discarded.
“This is a strange experience, and it is one that is difficult to put in to words. It is one that I and my wife can relate to. Though our story is very different than learning we did not get into the university of our choice, it is one that could give voice to what some of your peers may go through in the coming weeks.
“Without getting into all the details, let me tell you about a critical moment during my wife’s first pregnancy. About midway through, my wife was informed by the hospital that our son had Down’s Syndrome. When we learned of this, a big weight fell upon us and we experienced a profound sadness. A lot of tears were shed during that time (we received the news on December 23rd, if you could imagine).
“The vision that each of us had cast in our hearts about our future was completely different from what we actually would face in the coming months. I had started to come to terms with the reality that I would not watch my boy grow into a self-sufficient man who would launch from the nest, strike out on his own, and start a family. My wife and I were experiencing the weight of a reality where we would, in all likelihood, care for him the rest of our lives.
“Now, I need to tell you, that there was a big twist of fortune in our story. As it turned out, there was a rather large miscommunication between the hospital and my wife. They were calling to inform her that when they had taken her blood in the early weeks of her pregnancy, the sample was flagged as having a higher than normal chance that our son had Down’s Syndrome. As we gathered more information, it looked like she would give birth to a healthy baby boy… and she did! We were so relieved and excited!
“After some time passed, I started to reflect on the lived experience of believing my yet-to-be-born child would have Down’s Syndrome. I mused over that profound sadness my wife and I experienced. I wondered what it was? How does someone name what we were going through during that time?
“Here is the conclusion I have reached: I was mourning a loss. But it was not a tangible loss, as if I had lost someone close or something of deep significance. I was mourning the loss of a dream, of something I had hoped for, something that had become an expectation. It was a hope that did not exist, yet had become so real in my mind and heart that I believed I already had it.
“And now we come to the situation that some among us will be facing in the coming weeks. In time, some of your peers may learn that the gateway to the path they were planning to take has been shut to them. They may find themselves in the space where my wife and I were during her first pregnancy, mourning the loss of a future that may never happen.
“And if any of you become discouraged to the point where you feel like you will come apart, that’s normal. And it’s the kind of experience that may require time for healing. If you feel you need to descend into a spiral of Netflix and ice cream, then I say ‘dive in.’
“And if that happens, please let your despair be short lived. Don’t let it take over as you’re nearing the finish line, causing you to disengage and risk what you have worked so hard to attain. I need to tell you, I knew students who came undone and nearly lost everything they had worked so hard for over the years. Because they weren’t admitted to the school of their choice, they stopped doing work, and started wondering, ‘Why should I even bother?’
“As sad as you feel, there is still plenty of hope for your future, and there is a path forward. You may not see it at the moment, but when you’re ready, you can find the way forward.
“For those of you who will receive acceptance letters, I celebrate with you. We celebrate with you! But when you’re celebrating, I want you to keep something in mind: at this time, not all of your peers will feel like celebrating as you do. And for those of you who experience that loss of your dream, I mourn with you while I celebrate with others. It may feel crushing now, but you will find a way through this difficult time. As we all face the anxiety of waiting to hear, I only ask one thing: consider one another.”
QUESTION: When it comes to the powerful experiences your students experience each year, how do you help the young people you teach process their thoughts and feelings?