A Letter from a Counselor to High School Seniors


Editor’s Note: National School Counseling Week, sponsored by ASCA, is always celebrated the first full week in February. Learn more about this year’s celebration and use the comment section below to let us know what you hope your students learn from you.

Every year, I say goodbye to a group of students I’ve shepherded through the college application process. We’ve spent a lot of time together. Obviously, we’ve talked about college. But we’ve also spent a lot of time talking about life, their hopes and dreams, the challenges they’ve faced. As I brace myself for the inevitable separation, this is what I hope they’ve learned from me.

Dear Seniors,

As you embark on your final semester, I can’t help but look back fondly at the years I’ve spent with you. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of your life. I’m grateful to have been a part of the awesome, happy moments you’ve had. But I feel a deeper sense of privilege when I remember the times you’ve shared the pain, challenges, and difficulties of your life. For when people share their pain, it is the greatest gift, bestowed with the highest sense of trust.

As I think about the fact that you’ll be leaving here in just a few months, I hope that you’ve learned some things from me, as we’ve journeyed together in the college application process. Honestly, I hope your takeaway has not just been about how to write a cool personal statement or put together a solid college list. These things, while good things, are not the most important things.

What’s more important?

Never forget that you are enough. Always. Without condition. Frank Bruni is right when he writes, “Where you go isn’t who you’ll be.” Where you go ISN’T who you’ll be. Research bears that out.

But I want to also tell you that where you go isn’t who you are. Going to a certain school doesn’t make you better or brighter. Each of you is important. You are special. You have enormous, limitless potential. Comparison really is the thief of joy. I hope you have learned from me that you are enough.

Never forget that you always have a choice. You can’t control everything that happens to you in life, but you always have a choice in how you respond. Being able to make choices is what makes us distinctly human. It’s the only thing in life you have absolute control over. As Randy Pausch said, “You can’t change the cards you’re dealt, just how you play the hand.”

Pain may be inevitable, but misery is definitely optional. Will you choose to be bitter or better? It’s entirely up to you. When you understand and embrace this truth, it will free you.

Never forget that pain can be a gift. I often used to wonder if this could actually be true. Most of us spend tons of emotional energy and time trying to figure out how we can avoid pain. But if we move into it and even embrace it, we will find that it can be truly transformative; it never fails to change us. I’ve shared the story of the diamond more times than I can remember with your class. It still moves me.

The diamond begins as the most common element: carbon, or as we know it, a piece of coal. Through intense heat and pressure, it transforms into a beautiful and rare gem. Its value increases exponentially. If we want to be people of value, we need to let the heat and pressure of life change us. I hope you will remember to be open to the gift of pain.

Don’t just remember these things, live them. They are not just for school, but for life, the life that you are well-prepared to live.

 NACAC Member Christine Loo is the director of college counseling at The Stony Brook School (NY).

4 thoughts on “A Letter from a Counselor to High School Seniors”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I presently have a head cold, sore throat etc. and this reminds me of why it matters. To touch a life- in a potentially positive and mindful way- to have them see what sometimes they cannot. To let them know that they do not need any answers right now- only the desire and will to seek them. It is sometimes painful, and that’s okay.

    …..time for more Dayquil.

    1. Such a needed message – not only applicable to high school seniors taking their next steps, but as a college counselor – it can also use reinforcing when they’re here at university and beyond – thank you for these important life reminders!

  2. This column makes me think as a high school student. Also, it takes pressure off from my shoulder as a mom. Thank you for your story and wisdom as a college counselor.

  3. Great insight and wisdom! Thanks for sharing. This is something I hope we can all instill in our young people. I love your reference to a diamond – wonderful analogy!

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