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Keep Calm and College On

Keep Calm and College On
Chris Teare

As we all make our way through this challenging time, and I reflect on how it feels in continuing to do my job as a college counselor, I am recalling moments – odd as it may sound – from my brief time as a television anchorman. As the students know from laughing their way through a bit of Rams Center earlier in the year when they saw a 1987 clip of my last night on the news, I once did read a Teleprompter for a living. What I am remembering in this strange, shocking, and sometimes frightening time is that some nights the Teleprompter broke. Live on television, suddenly everything changed, and I had no words to read to viewers at home. One night I literally said, "Whoops!" when I lost the script that only I could see. The shift to Zoom School has been a bit like that. And, just as our viewers stayed with us to keep Channel 7 No. 1 in the ratings, students and parents have rallied to this new reality, too.

Indeed, I've recently felt new appreciation for the tenacity and resilience of my students, their parents, and my colleagues. The college process carries plenty of anxiety and stress in normal times, and these are not normal times. The juniors in my college counseling sections have been showing up for class, participating well, asking smart questions, researching colleges that might be right for them, and starting to fill out their Common Applications, including drafting their personal essays. They are, in short, on task and even ahead of schedule, despite the disorientation of their lives. Parents of juniors are making time to sit beside their children for college planning meetings with me via Zoom, and parents of seniors are doing the same to make decisions on which offer their child should accept for college. Such efforts could perhaps be captured in a phrase like "Stay Calm and College On." 

When it comes to making admissions decisions, colleges certainly use quantitative measures such as grade point averages and standardized test scores as factors. Yet they also use qualitative indicators of potential for success, matters of character such as grit, determination, flexibility, resilience, and empathetic concern for others. Numbers don't capture these qualities. They are found in essays, interviews, and especially recommendations. I have for months been writing such letters for juniors seeking summer programs. In August, I will write for all the students in my care in support of their applications to college. Two teachers they will each ask will also write to support them. The best thing our students can do right now is carry on to the very best of their abilities. Adversity does not build character so much as reveal it. Recommendation letters will be our way to testify to what we see from our students, who are earning our support in new ways every day in this unfamiliar learning environment. When it comes time for us to write in support of our students, we will have great new anecdotes to share, because they will have met this moment.

So, from where I sit, no longer in front of a Teleprompter but now in front of a Zoom lens, I see Wardlaw+Hartridge students, parents, teachers, and administrators rising to the occasion. When I signed off the news a generation ago, I used to say, "Good night now," because my father used that phrase. Were this a newscast, at the risk of a cliche, I might instead offer, "This too shall pass." Though it may take a while, it surely will. And, if we keep doing our different jobs as best we can, we will be stronger for it.