Chapter 5: A Different Kind of Day
[Editor’s Note: Amy Browender ’13, Kyle Ruedinger ’13, Elizabeth Brown ’13, and Jessie Lillis ’13 are writing alternating monthly entries for the Ripon College Newsletter chronicling their post-graduation experiences. We hope you enjoy their perspectives on Life After Ripon!]
At 7:30 AM on a bright Saturday morning earlier this month, I pulled on my College Possible polo and headed to our office in St. Paul to assist with an event that has recently become an organization-wide tradition: Prom Possible. As the name implies, and in similar fashion to other events across the country, Prom Possible provides our students with an opportunity to find a nearly new dress for free. Since our program serves individuals with limited financial means, eliminating the burden of purchasing an (often) expensive dress allows them to instead allocate those funds towards necessities or, for many of our seniors, their college enrollment fee!
While I can’t say I’ve had a legitimately bad day at work since I began my term of service, there’s also something to be said for doing something completely different from the norm. Instead of poring over financial verification forms, the FAFSA, or scholarship essays as I had been doing for the last few months, I was able to instead focus on making our students feel special… all while scurrying around our National Office in St. Paul.
Since I work so closely with my students, there are some days when it’s been difficult not to take their own disappointments to heart. Late winter and springtime is decision time, so we’ve been getting news back from colleges and scholarships in rapid succession. Seeing a few of my most inspiring and hardworking students be denied from their dream schools was challenging, and receiving news that unquestionably deserving individuals were overlooked for a (literally) life-changing scholarship they poured their hearts into left me emotionally exhausted and simultaneously furious. For these reasons and others, our event on that Saturday morning felt like the most welcome reprieve I never knew I needed. Spending six hours with our students talking about everything but college reminded me that my job isn’t just about helping them gain admission to a school; instead, it reminded me that what I do is as much about validating the dreams and aspirations of these young people as it is about helping them reach their educational goals after senior year.
We had about 200 young women come to our event that day, and I only saw a handful leave without a beautiful new dress for their prom. Many, including a number of my own students, showed up with their peers from school. Girls were assigned a “personal attendant” (many of whom were other high school Coaches like myself) who could find a different size or style for them when they were trying on dresses. As girls stepped out of their rooms to admire themselves in mirrors, there was nearly always a collective gasp followed by shrieks of excitement; students who attended rival high schools would shout words of encouragement across our office, assuring their peers that they just had to get that floor-length blue dress.
I saw many tears from students, and received words of thanks from mothers who accompanied their daughters to our event. Joy was unrestrained, both from our young women in attendance as well as from other Coaches who were volunteering that day. A dress can seem like a simple garment, but for all of us there that day, they became tokens of empowerment that will extend far past our students’ prom nights. Being in the position to make our amazing young women feel special, important, and absolutely worth it was a true privilege. While I’ve experienced much throughout my term of service with AmeriCorps and College Possible, that sunny Saturday morning in our office was among one of the best days of work I’ve ever had.
Amy J. Browender ’13