Over the past few days, I have enjoyed extended conversations with a several 2013 high school seniors who are within mere weeks of graduation. Throughout their senior years, I have always tried to be careful not to pester my student choir members about where they plan to go to college. Sometimes, they report that they get weary of people bugging them about it, and I don’t want to join the ranks of the pressure-cookers. At the same time, I want the juniors and seniors to know they can talk with me about if they just need a sounding board or perhaps someone to bounce ideas off of … someone who isn’t family and does not have a preset agenda for what they should do with their lives.

In each of these conversations this week, I have felt the freedom to go ahead and ask, “How’s the college search going? Any decisions?”

In three conversations, the students replied with something like, “Yes, I think I’ve decided to go to _______.” In each case, there was still a tentative note to the choice of schools, as if they are still trying out the sound of it to see how it rolls off the tongue and whether they will look good wearing the school colors. Of course, I replied with something similar to, “Hey, that’s great; I know you’ll do really well there and I hope you’ll be very happy … and, if you’re not, there’s certainly no law against transferring somewhere else!”

Trying to be supportive and yet hoping to take some of the pressure off.

The reason I try to be so affirming is because I know from experience – three of my own through college in the past decade – that these kids and their parents have been through an ordeal. It’s not been an easy or light decision, and everybody in that house is by now bone weary of the process.

Yes, it’s true that some students know by Christmas of their JUNIOR years – some even sooner – where they are going to go. However, that scenario is becoming more rare, because these decisions in 2013 are more complicated than they once were. Where to go to school is a huge decision for most families, tantamount to purchasing a new home. For one thing, the tuition and living expenses have increased astronomically in recent years, and most students and parents, even the sharpest ones, engage in at least a year of hoping to be accepted, then “shopping around,” scholarship research, and price comparisons. It’s an emotionally-draining, energy-exhausting, and financially-depleting process just to arrive at a consensus.

Two of the students with whom I spoek are National Merit Finalists and were accepted to and courted by schools all across North America. They have made driving and flying trips and have already spent a lot of time and money in the search. Both NMFs (very sharp students, FINE musicians, and some of the most prized student choir singers in my career) have decided to stay a little closer to home than they originally thought they would, although they considered universities many hundreds of miles away. They are still leaving home for college, but the transition will not be quite as traumatic or distant as earlier planned. And everyone, especially the students themselves, are relieved and “so glad to have made the decision!”

This is just one more of those crucial rites of passage when we as student choir directors make ourselves available to encourage, support, minister, and listen. An understanding ear at just the right time in this process is something the students and parents may never forget.

Even after many years of working with students, I find this work utterly invigorating and forever on the cutting edge of where people are living, working, planning, managing, struggling, transitioning, and dreaming. It’s a pure pleasure to be included in the process of helping such marvelous students find their places in the world. 

And, I find it ironic. As I open up and seek to help others find their places, a miracle occurs in my own life … I discover my place in the world, as well.