Beyond Admission

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Recently, our family took holiday pictures. The photo shoot was scheduled for a Saturday morning and neither of our kids wanted to go. To be honest, I was not looking forward to it either. Thankfully, the session was only scheduled to last 45 minutes and it was at a local park. How bad could it be?

Actually, it was terrible. It was exhausting, frustrating, and maddening all at the same time. Our son was super-hyper (thanks in no small part to my rookie mistake of making pancakes that morning) and he kept running or falling down during the staged walking pictures or trying to climb on top of me from behind during the posed seated shots. Meanwhile, our daughter could not muster anything close to a natural smile, which was driving my wife crazy. I guess on some level this sounds reminiscent or uncomfortably familiar. Happy Holidays, right?

In the end, of the hundreds of pictures the photographer took that day, we were able to find 3-4 usable images for the requisite collage holiday card (granted, one of them is my daughter literally grabbing and pulling my cheek, but we are selling it as playful not annoying).Director of Undergraduate Admissions

Ultimately, what message goes out to our friends and family? The Clarks are doing great! They look really happy and unified.

This is also the story you see every time you go to social media. People post their best pictures (or edit and filter them until they are close to perfect). And we all post comments, quotes, articles, and stories that make us look smart, cute, funny, popular, (insert adjective you are trying to be known for here).

Almost comically, colleges do the same thing in our brochures and websites. When was the last time you saw a student crying in a viewbook? You won’t find a shot of a grungy dumpster or a dead squirrel or roommates arguing. The message is always, “come here and your life will be amazing!”

What is so unfortunate, especially this time of year, is when you feel lonely, unconfident, insecure, or depressed, it is easy to look around and believe you are the only one struggling. It is easy to think everyone else has it all figured out and their life is perfect. Here’s the truth: they don’t, and they’re not. At any age, we need to be reminded of that fact.

So before the holidays get even more rushed, consumed, and complicated by travel plans, shopping, and obligations, I want to close 2018 with two very simple messages—not  about college or admission–we’ll get back to that in January.

You are loved. Look around you today and this week. Take note of the people who text you, want to spend time with you, give you cards or gifts, go out of their way to help you, or simply offer a kind word in this season. Too often we brush these gestures off and become desensitized to what a gift it is to be part of a community. At times we mentally or physically isolate ourselves as we question if we are truly accepted, known, understood, or loved. YOU ARE!

Check out this article featuring a graduating senior who initially left Tech due to substance abuse, depression, and apathy. You’ll read about his detachment and isolation, as well as an unwillingness to seek help. This is not a unique story. It occurs every year, at every high school and college, all over the world.

If you are going through a tough time right now, I hope you will be reminded people are all around you who want to help—and they can relate, even if they’ve never acknowledged it before. Your friends are not too busy. Your parents love you more than you could possibly know. If you are struggling right now, don’t do so alone. Reach out because you are loved.

You are called to love. I have been a part of interventions for friends who were deeply depressed. I have been through QPR training. Even with those experiences, training, and knowledge, I still feel ill-equipped to initiate conversations with friends and family I know are hurting, isolated, or depressed. It is never easy. It is never comfortable. The good news is we are not supposed to feel “ready.” We are just supposed to feel love.

I’ve talked to several Georgia Tech seniors in the last week who, on the surface, have it all together. They lead clubs, held prestigious internships, and excel in school. Yet each of them has talked about rough and lonely times. Importantly, each has also talked about one or two people who have been their rocks and their solace in those moments.

If you know someone who is hurting, reach out to them. You don’t have to have all the answers. All you need is the time and desire to be available. This is not complicated. We are called to love.

Happy Imperfect Holidays, friends. See you in 2019!

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A Few Words…and a hug!

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I LOVE Thanksgiving because it’s simple. The entire purpose is to bring family and friends together and provide a time to pause from our busy lives and breathe. Thanksgiving does not have the buildup of other holidays that become consumed with parties, shopping, music, and obligations. It does not demand presents or greeting cards or fill the skies with fireworks. “Just show up.” “Bring a side.” “It’s all good. We’ll see you when you get here.” Thanksgiving language is calm, easy, encouraging, optimistic, and unifying— all qualities that are too rare in our culture right now.

Importantly, Thanksgiving also has a few admission lessons to teach:

Seniors: This THANKSgiving, give THANKS.

Just as with life, it is easy to be caught up in the frenzy of the college admission experience— especially in the fall of your senior year. By this point, you’ve likely taken a bunch of standardized tests (sorry about that, by the way). You have probably submitted a few applications and are now considering if or when you need to send in more. You may be waiting anxiously for December when many schools release EA or ED decisions. Forget about all of that this week. Enjoy the fire. Eat too much food. Take a long nap. Go see a movie. Read something for fun. Whatever it is, just make an effort to PAUSE and to breathe (seriously. Do that. Don’t keep reading until you’ve taken at least three long, full breaths).

I love youBack with me? Okay. Sometime this week, I want you to go find your parents (ideally individually) and give them a huge hug. Tell them this: “Thank you. I love you.” Don’t worry about expounding–a hug and those five words will do. This is Thanksgiving after all. Simple is best. But if you are looking for some reasons, here are a few:

For driving me to all of those practices; for using a snot sucker to de-congest me when I was two; for paying for (insert instrument or sport of choice here) lessons– and making me stick with them; for always trying to make my life better; for the sacrifices of time and money I’ve never known about (and for not viewing them as sacrifices); that I’m the last thought on your mind before you go to sleep (or the reason you wake up in the middle of the night); for all of those nights you sang me to sleep; for the copious loads of laundry and endless carpool lines and countless teacher conferences. Thank you for caring enough to argue with me, remind me, and continually check in. I know all of that comes from a place of love. 

This is your last Thanksgiving living full-time at home. Your parents love you more than you could ever, ever possibly imagine. Five words and a hug. My friend and colleague, Brennan Barnard from the Derryfield School (NH) suggests that if you will be intentional to do this regularly everything else will take care of itself. “Thank you. I love you.”

Parents: This ThanksGIVING, GIVE.

No. I’m not suggesting a new sweater, a gift card, or another slice of pie (all welcomed, however). Instead, try this: “I trust you, and I’m proud of you.” The truth is that all “kids,” whether five, 15, or 50, long for their parents’ approval. We may find increasingly effective ways to hide or mask that desire, but invariably it is there. Sometimes in the college admission experience, your kids are seeing your love and concern as nagging. It causes friction when you ask repeated questions about deadlines, essays, and checklists, because they infer that as a lack of trust. I’m not telling you to completely step away, but step back this week. Hug your son or daughter and tell them, “I trust you.”I'm so proud of you

Don’t forget the only reason you are reading this is because your kid has worked incredibly hard to this point. They have taken lots of tough classes and done well. They have achieved outside the classroom. You are worried about admission decisions and financial aid packages because those things are imminent. What a great problem to have! (As someone who is just hoping my kids make it to middle school, I think you’ve already won). You are the only one who can say it, and they need it more than they’ll ever let on, so be sure you tell them this week, “I’m proud of you.”

THANKS. GIVE. GIVE THANKS.

Is any of this going to help you get into your first-choice school? Absolutely not. It’s not going to give you an edge on that merit scholarship or ensure an honors college admittance either. But a “great” or “successful” Thanksgiving is not about turkey or pie or football. Sure, those things are all nice, but they are not the heart and purpose of the holiday. The best Thanksgivings are about family, memories, and unity. At its core, so too is the college admission experience. “Getting in” is what people talk about but staying together is what they should be focused on.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy those hugs.

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