Young alumni show how Keystone has prepared them for college and beyond

Jan 14 2022

Young alumni show how Keystone has prepared them for college and beyond

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
–Randy Pausch

On the first day back in class from Winter Break, I watched and listened in admiration as recent Keystone alumni spoke to current students and offered excellent counsel on their final years of high school, the college application process, and the transition to post-secondary education. Every January, Keystone welcomes back alumni to speak to upper school students as a group and in their grade level classes on a variety of topics.

For the second year in a row, we were unable to meet as a large group in person due to COVID restrictions. However, we could gather by Upper School grade levels in a variety of places around campus. A huge thanks goes to Director of College Counseling Sara Christiansen and Upper School Head Bill Spedding for organizing the day’s activities.

Each grade level hears from a panel, and a Keystone faculty member facilitates the dialogue. I had the good fortune to moderate the 11th grade meeting, and know that the excellent advice I heard was echoed in the other conversations. Perhaps one of the strongest reasons to hold these sessions comes from the enhanced credibility that recent Keystone alumni have over those of us who attended college many years ago. These younger alumni offer comments that current Cobras hear with more immediacy and relevance.

Listening to the alumni speaking to the juniors, I was struck by their wisdom, their sagacity, and their sense of perspective. To prepare themselves for the Advanced Placement tests, the alumni recommended studying all along and keeping up with coursework rather than trying to cram at the end of the year immediately before the tests. They also advised students to write their college essays over the summer so they can work with their teachers on revisions at the beginning of senior year. One refrain from current college students to Upper Schoolers: you are prepared for college, you will do fine.

Regarding the college search, they advised students to approach the process with an open mind and a willingness to avoid all the noise and hoopla around a small number of schools. They recommended students be open to a variety of colleges. One alumnus who is a senior in an honors college automotive engineering program at a large Southern university and spent the past year studying in Germany said “I never thought I would end up where I am, but now I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else.”

The former Keystone students also guided the juniors to look beyond the obvious. “There are many great colleges out there.” “You get out of college what you put into it.” When asked if any of them regretted their college choice, they all said they didn’t have any second thoughts and told their younger schoolmates to “Listen to Ms. Christiansen.” They also pushed the juniors to attend the summer orientation preceding the first year of college. Some pointed out that this was where they met some of their closest friends and discovered clubs and activities to join.

Perhaps the most impressive advice for the juniors from the alumni came in the form of recommendations for life. When asked how they handled the demands of the Keystone academic program with extracurricular activities, the alumni spoke emphatically and convincingly on the need to maintain a balanced life of work and play while understanding that nobody is perfect and does everything flawlessly. They pointed out this is good preparation for college and life; just as importantly, this improves one’s mental health in the short and long term.

Lastly, the former Cobras strongly encouraged the 11th graders to go out on a limb and try new things. They pointed out that college is about classes, but it can also introduce students to a plethora of activities and causes that may develop into new passions. A current junior who studies history at Southern Methodist University and has demonstrated amazing courage in overcoming physical incapacities put it succinctly-”if you’re not failing sometimes, you are probably not trying hard enough.”

As so often, I left discussions with Keystone alumni inspired and moved, and have a personal message for the alumni who returned to campus last Tuesday for College Alumni Panels and today for Alumni Day: Thank you. Perhaps more than anyone else, by your example and your words, you demonstrate to current students all the great things they are capable of achieving, the exciting work they can accomplish, and the difference they can make in the world.

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