Little did I know that, when I received my acceptance letter from Western Michigan University on October 21, 1989, as a 17-year-old, there would be more to this letter than just my welcome into college.
I am probably among few people worldwide who has kept his college acceptance letter for 17 years or more. I kept it because at the time it was representing a rite of passage for me as a first-generation college student. Also, it was my first college acceptance.
However, this story isn't just about still having the letter. It's about what it means now. You see, it was signed by Stanley E. Henderson, director of Admissions at WMU at that time. Henderson is now my boss, the vice chancellor of enrollment management and student life at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where I serve as the director of admissions and orientation.
In other words, my name is now going out in the same fashion as Henderson's letter did back in 1989. I often wonder, who is the student I am accepting who may become my colleague in the future?
His name, title, and signature meant little to me 17 years ago. It was merely my ticket into college. Today, I'm proud to still have that letter; it symbolizes my beginning connection to this field of college admissions that is now my professional career.
As I reread the letter, I note some major differences in how Mr. Henderson communicated to an admitted student compared to how we do it in 2006.
First, mine wasn't even personalized. It began with "Western. You belong here." In fact, it wasn't even dated! It was basically a photocopied form letter. Of course, back then, did I care? Probably not. Today, I'd be mortified if we sent a letter like that out.
Second, the congratulations message doesn't appear until the fourth line of the letter. Today's students wouldn't even read that far to know they had been accepted. And, the photocopied letterhead logo doesn't match the university logo on the window envelope. In our world of marketing and brand management, it would be suicide to send out such correspondence!
While being a form letter, it does communicate a friendliness and emphasis on me. For example, it contains phrases like, "our invitation for you to become a part of the Western family," "You are what we are all about," and "We are proud to welcome you to our community and look forward to the contributions you will make to your university." And, of course, it ends with my favorite way that Henderson always signed his letters, "Yours for Western."
Not many people have the chance to know a director of admissions. Those who do have probably appealed an admission decision, worked in an Admissions office, or had a neighbor with the title. Students tend to just see their own names on the endless letters from an Admissions office.
I'm grateful that my director of admissions became more than a name on a sheet of copy paper. He became my mentor in this field. I offer this article as a salute to the man who, as his letter to me said, belongs here. You're right, Mr. Henderson, I do belong in admissions!
Christopher W. Tremblay is director of admissions and orientation at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.