NOTE: I'm attending the annual NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) conference this week. I'll be seeing many of my admissions counselor and school counselor friends so I thought I'd reflect on a time when I was of that world more specifically. I originally wrote this for a project that a few friends were working on focused on stories of the storm but it never got off the ground and this ended up in a notebook in a box in my closet. I found that notebook when I moved to Arlington and have been revising some of the work. I hope you enjoy it. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled Island musings this weekend.
March 14, 2006
March 14, 2006
Banner. Nametag. Rolling bag. Prospect card. I have never thought I’d have a profession that was at once so identifiable while being so anonymous. If you were to pass me in an airport you would think that I’m just another member of the traveling business class with my rolling bag and permanent cup of coffee. If you followed me to my rental car you would see a standard, non-descript colorless (is beige really a color?) mid-size, two door car. Probably a Dodge Stratus or a Chevy Malibu. Follow me on to my hotel and you’d find me at a Marriott or Courtyard or whatever by Marriott. I’m a Marriott girl (at least for now). No fancy suite, just your average room, hopefully there’s wifi and a king would awesome. I like to sleep in the center; it’s like sleeping on an island.
If you were to continue with me over the course of the evening you would see a fairly typical life of a person who travels mainly for work. I like to order room service and watch cable (I have neither at home). I like my hotel room cold. I try to neaten things for the cleaning staff. Up to this point, I’m traveler Jane in a sea of traveler Janes. Nothing special or unique.
If you followed me after my Starbucks run the next morning you would soon see the traveler Jane persona fade away. I have a banner and a nametag. I have a table to set up and I’d prefer a rectangle. Circular tables and my banner don’t get along.
I am the face of my university. I am my banner and my nametag. A roller bag accompanies me everywhere. I am on a quest for a fully completed prospect card and the mythical oboe player from South Dakota. I am an admissions counselor! I help shape the university classes of the future. I have begun to take my job a bit less seriously.
Admissions counseling seems like a subculture in higher education.We’re the black sheeps of the university family. No matter what, we will never be good enough for the rest of the family. I’m hoping someone will research this phenomenon one day. Maybe it can be their dissertation. We have our own language and gestures and rituals. There are hierarchies and hierarchies within hierarchies. There are lifers and the rotating masses of 20 somethings in their first job. When I first started I described the job (the road part at least) as being a lot like high school only with slightly more money and way more alcohol.
What happens when that identity is removed? During my first travel season I wondered that all the time. We had been trained that forgetting any of the items for our table would be considered a huge sin and we would be reprimanded upon our return to the office. My ODC constantly kicked into high gear every time I packed to travel. I checked for my badge and banner at least twenty times before leaving. Yes, I have a compulsion. That’s the way it goes.
As I finalized my travel for my second fall season I was a bit more relaxed. I knew that nothing too horrible would happen to me if I forgot my nametag and prospect cards are easy to photocopy. I had a new rolling bag this time around and it wasn’t as heavy as my parents’ Corgi (without the materials). My trips were, in my opinion, better planned and a more efficient use of my time. I was determined not to get lost. I left work on August 26th with all my trips booked and ready to go.
Friday night was nothing special. I had errands to run over the weekend but no plans to evacuate as of Friday afternoon. I woke up on Saturday and a lot had changed. I ran my errands, packed up my bag, the cat and headed to Birmingham. I threw in my day planner (awesome). We thought we’d be home by Wednesday.
Pretty soon we realized that we would not be home on Wednesday. My friend and I made our ways to our parents’ houses to figure out what next. By the time I got to DC, I got the call “Buy some suits, you’re doing all your trips.” I spent the next three days frantically rearranging flights, buying clothes and photocopying prospect cards (see?). I would head out on my first trip once week after the levees broke. My on the road identity became something I really never wanted it to be: hurricane college.
The biggest issue with being “hurricane college” is that there is no way to stop people from thinking that ever. No matter what you tell someone, they will not believe you. I tried my hardest to clarify and explain but images on CNN speak a whole lot louder than words.
For the first two days of my first trip to Omaha, NE for Catholic Colleges Week, I had a maroon tablecloth, photocopied prospect cards and college fair flyers and nothing else. Compared to my colleagues I was plain, no frills, not that interesting. They had nametags and pretty banners and fun photos of their campuses and students. I had horrible images in a 24/7 news cycle and a sad computer generated sign. The staff at one of the local universities had to photocopy the one business card I had for a counselor breakfast (thank God my mom always has one of my cards at home). The whole thing made me feel very out of control. I just wanted to go home (and I mean home to New Orleans).
I thought things would get better when I got my “banner” (a plastic temporary version) but I only got yelled at by seventeen year olds and became a bit of a target. Whoever said Midwesterners were all nice has never been to Omaha following a catastrophic hurricane.
As I continued to travel that fall I became even more aware of the trappings of the admissions industry. I liked not having so much stuff (viewbooks, junior pieces, etc.) but missed the reliance on the pictures. I started to hate my colleagues; they didn’t have any hard questions to answer like me. While they answered questions on GPA and scores, I had to answer questions like “Is you school even there?” or “Do you offer a major in scuba?” People are not particularly sympathetic or sensitive to events like these. Basically, people suck.
It doesn’t seem to matter how much times passes; we will always be “hurricane college.” We can rebuild our city and not have another storm for a 100 years but the label will still be there. It doesn’t matter if I have my nametag and banner, I’ll still be identified that way. Not as traveler Jane, not as an admissions professional—just as hurricane college. People will never realize the pain and the hurt and how awful and hurtful their comments and “jokes” were. They don’t really know what it means to miss their home like I did. And I hope they never do. They will never have the desire to punch a 17 year boy in the face for asking if everyone in my city was dead and then laughing about it. Again, I hope they never feel that way. I guess I rather be traveler Jane, anonymous and plain, then hurricane college any day.