Sunday, November 27, 2016

Highly Recommended

Back when he was 'Alex"--Sher's mentor and recommender extraordinaire Jim!

Here we go again. It’s college recommendation time! During the past few weeks I have become the belle of the ball, as student after former student woos me for a letter of praise. 99% of these kids I can give a glowing “thumbs up” to, it’s just a matter of filling out the requisite forms. They excel at public speaking, volunteering, you name it, and it’s a pleasure to give them a nudge towards the fulfillment of their dreams.

I really only had one instance when I was approached by a youth who literally had done nothing. He actually interrupted me during a church council meeting to hand me his application for whatever—and, what’s more, expected an instant response. I thought of an honest possible reaction: “Student A was rarely, if ever, in Confirmation class, and did zero in the way of outreach to the community. In fact, I am wracking my brain to even remember this person’s name. I wish him well in the future but, alas, it is a future that does not involve me.” In the end, I took the coward’s way out and checked the boxes that rated the applicant on a scale of “excellent” to “needs improvement.” I put him squarely in the (lower) middle. Let Penn State figure it out!

When I pen these notes, I do recall with gratitude all the wonderful folks who wrote letters for my personal children, God bless them. One particular sweet English teacher at their high school was the Queen of the Positive Letters. My gang all had her in 9th grade, so I’m sure she had little if any memory of them by senior year, yet the beautiful, rhapsodic prose she used to describe my offspring! I (their mother) could not have written anything more glowing!

And it doesn’t end with college. I am often called upon to boost this or that young person who is applying for a job. I reach again into my Big Bag of Adjectives (a bag usually utilized for our children’s theatre press releases): Delightful! Charming! Awesome! If I weary of writing these missives, I can only imagine the exhaustion of the recipients.

When Rosie was at Berklee in Boston, she worked in the international admissions office. The bizarre queries that top-tier music school received! Here’s one: “So what if, for example, someone can’t sing like at all—could they get in?” Ummmm. Huh? That one would require one heck of a recommendation letter.

Transcripts only go so far—it’s the personal touch that often makes the difference between acceptance and rejection. I definitely feel lots of responsibility when I pen a letter that may help determine someone’s future. People are much more complex than anything you could write about them, but I understand that there has to be a gatekeeper, or there would be an unmanageable flood of applicants. 

So go right ahead and ask me! I find you all dedicated, bright, compassionate and capable! Where do I sign? Next!

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