Surprises land on my desk all the time. That's just the nature of a job that has "other duties as assigned" built into the job description.
Sometimes the surprises are a bit terrifying (there's a horrible, garish painting that gets passed around our office whenever someone is absent for a while that made its way into my office last February and was perched on the filing cabinet, RIGHT ABOVE MY EYE LEVEL, for about three hours before I looked up and screamed).
Other times they are wonderful (like the time my colleague left a bagful of Patricia C. Wrede books on my desk to read over Winter Shutdown. Liz, I love you forever).
But mostly they are downright magical.
Case in point: Last December, I received an email from two elementary school teachers at a dual language school in Texas. They were starting a conversation with their second graders about college and wrote to ask for materials for their classroom. I sent a poster, some bookmarks, a few other materials with lots of pictures, and thought I was done.
January arrived and reading season happened. And committee. And then the madness of April with all of our programs for admitted students. And then we heard back from our admitted students, went a little bonkers in the office as we grew increasingly excited about the class of 2018, and started in on waitlist activity. I went on a trip to Texas, Louisiana, and Florida (where, by the way, I managed to crash the inaugural conference of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. Talk about surprises!).
When I returned to the office, I was mentally cringing. Would that hideous painting be back in my office? Would I find my desk decorated entirely in post-its? Would there be streamers of scrap paper dangling from my ceiling? (I did that to another coworker in April, so I was half expecting revenge.) But no: no such tomfoolery to be found.
Instead, I had a packet of letters waiting for me. The second grade class in Texas had given presentations on the various colleges that responded to their teachers' letters--and then picked their favorites and wrote a version of the "Why College X" essay.
I got a total of seven "Why Oberlin" essays from second graders. Seven! They are charming. They are wobbly and earnest and misspelled. They detail how, at a small college outside of a big city, students can "meet their professors more." They'll be able to "lay on the grasse" and "do their homeworks." One wants to play college basketball "because it is a sport." Another wants to be an "artest" in college and "draw all the characters of Frozen."
Most importantly, they are looking at college not as a far-off, crazy, random, foreign thing, but as something probable and reachable. They're building imaginary landscapes for themselves, writing themselves into a narrative that includes college and higher education. In a school district that sees a 4.6% dropout rate among Hispanic high school students, these students are thinking about the communities they want to find and the directions they intend their lives to take. It is magical, and this is why I work in admissions. Inspiring this--encouraging conversations exactly like this--is the meaning I find in my work, and the joy that fills my days.
The two teachers will be working with the same students next year. In the packet of letters from their second graders, the teachers included another letter, this time asking if our admissions office would send a reply:
Students wrote a persuasive letter to admissions offices in order to explain why they chose the college and what they plan on doing in the future. They worked on these for several weeks! They are very excited to be sending these letters. We would really appreciate a response so that we can share it with our students when they enter third grade.
I am so delighted that these scholars wrote us letters and that they took the time to imagine themselves at Oberlin. And I want to encourage them back, and perhaps send them a surprise of our own.
So join me, please, in sending an awesome message of inspiration back to these rising third graders. Leave a little encouragement in the comments section, and I'll compile everything in August and send them a packet from the Oberlin family.
In joy and in love,