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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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Collegiate Tip-of-the-Month: Closing the Academic Year

— Many campuses are now in the midst of their usual end-of-the-year crunch: final exams, summer planning, fall scheduling, and more. (And a few have just finished and are breathing a sigh of relief!) At the end of every academic year there are a multitude of ways in which residential colleges can enrich the life of a university and can bind its members together with one another, with the past, and with the future. I’ll offer two simple ideas that you may wish to consider this month. You can even carry them out over the summer if your school year has already come to a close.

First, appoint a Welcoming Committee from among your current students and charge them with planning events for the new students who will be arriving in the fall. The Welcoming Committee should stay in touch with each other and with the college office over the summer, and the office should coordinate the work of the Welcoming Committee and provide general guidance by means of a private webpage with planning details and contact information. Assign ten incoming fledglings to each pair of Welcomers, and have the Welcomers write or email their fledglings over the summer to answer questions, offer advice, and most importantly just to act as a new friend. In my experience, many current students will relish serving on a Welcoming Committee, and the incoming students will truly benefit from this kind of contact: it reassures them that the college already knows who they are and cares about them as individuals even before they arrive.

Second, have this year’s graduating students write a letter addressed to the incoming freshmen who will take their places next year, incoming freshmen they will probably never meet. The letter can contain words of advice, stories about old times, a challenge or two, some reassurance, a warning not to screw things up, or whatever the outgoing class may choose. At the beginning of the new academic year present these letters to the freshmen, either individually or at some public event. Many of them won’t appreciate it at first, and some never will, but others will learn from it that they have just become part of something larger than themselves, a collegiate society that will look after them and that will in turn depend upon them for its own future. If you’d like to see a sample or two to get a feeling for the genre, pay a visit to the Strong College Archives where I have preserved two of the letters written by the class of 1999 to their successors in the class of 2003.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021