Carl (far left) with students from a previous graduating class.
By Carl Foreman
None of the College Prep staff is old enough to have children entering college in the fall, even mathematically. Yet every year around this time we are treated with a slice of the bittersweet pie primarily reserved for the parents of these young adults we send off into the world and beyond our Teen Center’s doors.
Of course none of us can take credit for birthing, feeding and raising any of our teens, nor will we be receiving their bursar bills in the mail; but our investment in their future has been a consistent presence for two and in some cases three years now. We know a student’s tendencies. His propensity to procrastinate, her penchant for reach schools, his singular desire for business schools, her witty sense of humor. We’ve spent at least two school years growing familiar with entire life stories. We appreciate what it took to get to this point for each student: the hardships, the setbacks, the regrouping, and the persevering. We care.
Then the day to celebrate them arrives, and the mind becomes preoccupied with perfunctory concerns like the alignment of words printed on fancy-looking certificates, and whether or not the decorations hung will stick to the ceiling or fall and hit a parent in the head. Are there enough chairs? Do I have pit stains? I hope the parents can find the place. We want everything to be perfect, so they know how proud we are, and to show our congratulations. But there’s no time to think about that, the juice from the veggie tray has spilled onto my pant leg. We anticipate.
They clean up nice too, nicer than we’ve ever seen them, surely. Everyone is here it seems, peering into our strange window of existence. Finally we each have a few words to say directly to our students and the emotions begin to swell. While showering them with praise and encouragement, I realize that I’m more sentimental than I’d care to admit. This always happens. What doesn’t always happen is the cavalcade of students who have decided to return the favor at the podium. The biggest surprise? Our (by far) quietest student coming forth and speaking confidently to the audience in a way none of us has ever had the slightest inclination he ever would. We brim with pride.
We’ll miss them. We will remember them this way much longer than they will remember themselves at this moment. Within months demeanors will be unrecognizable, and “our kids” will be unmistakably adults. We hope they’ll visit.
Carl Foreman is a college advisor in our College Prep Program — a program that ensures that low-income students in Downtown Manhattan have the resources and support to access college and to succeed once they’re there.