It is 4:45 am. My cat hollers in unison with my alarm clock. Eyes struggling to open, I shuffle my way around as I get ready. Grabbing my coffee cup, I head for the door, and then climb into my car. It is 5:45 am. Even the morning radio shows have yet to start. But as I turn the key to start the ignition I feel a surge of energy burst through my veins. No, it’s not the coffee. (Good guess) I tap my fingers on the steering wheel and do a little dance. “Going back to the Swamp,” I sing.
My trek to the Swamp is long. It involves winding roads, animal crossings, and yes, it does include going over an actual swamp. (Okay, so it’s technically a marsh, but swamp sounds more adventurous). At 6:30 am I pull into the parking lot and smile. I, Lexi Michalski the College Adviser, have made it once again to The Swamp.
Yes, Algonac Junior and Senior High School is lovingly referred to as “The Swamp”. Even better, our mascot is a muskrat. Yes, that’s right. I said a muskrat. Which is literary a swamp rat. (I have included a picture of a muskrat in case you’re wondering what they look like.) The students have even taken to printing “Skrat” and “Rats” on their school t-shirts. Needless to say, this town has a great sense of humor.
As 7 am comes around, the students begin trickling in. By 7:30 I have talked to at least five students, each one asking for something different. A college fee waiver here, an ACT question there, confusion over applications everywhere. If they are willing to give up their lunch, I can see them that day. But for the most part, my day is already booked from one minute to a next with student meetings and college representative visits. When I’m not in my office, it’s because I’m running reminders to student that they have an appointment the next day. Watching me matrix my way through the hallway, one probably wonders what’s wrong with me? Why on earth would you get up at 4:45 in the morning just to dodge bony, teen elbows and have students bombard you with questions?
The answer is my job, my students, and my staff. Being a College Adviser is probably one of the most awesome jobs ever! You get up, go to work, and tell people “Yes You Can!” everyday. That’s it. And it’s fantastic! Especially now, during application season when I have students flooding into my office saying “Well I can’t get into that school”. Why not try? You never know unless you try! Or “What am I supposed to put on this application? There’s nothing special about me.” By the time that student leaves my office they have a list two miles long of all their accomplishments. Not only is that application now kicking, but the student leaves holding their head a little higher.
Most of my students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Life for them is full of frequent ups and downs, yet they keep holding on to their dreams. As a College Adviser, this makes my job of helping them achieve those dreams easy (Okay, maybe not as easy as I’d like, I am currently writing this after spending sixteen out of the past twenty-eight hours at the school.) My staff is equally awesome. They are supportive and welcoming of my college initiatives. More importantly, they work their hardest to lift the students up every day. Many of them encourage students to research and apply to colleges by making college activities like applications, scholarships, and FAFSA completion a classroom assignment.
Perhaps most exciting, as a College Adviser, I stand as a gatekeeper of sorts. I am the person waiving my students through the portal. “This way Skrats! The outside world is on the other side.” For many of my students, college is their first real adventure outside Algonac. It is shiny. It is new. It is both terrifying and exciting at the same time. College is an education that opens the door to the rest of the world. To people and cultures that my little “Skrats” could have never imagined. Hopefully a job that will connect them to the resources they need to continue expanding their world views. And yes, it is awesome to be that person. To watch your students’ faces light up as they tell you all about their exciting discovery of study abroad programs. “Ms. Michalski, you like, get to leave Michigan!” Said one of my Skrats the other day. It’s statements like this that make my day. Not because they’re hilarious, because they are, but because I can see how pumped my students are about the future. I might not always have the answers they want. (Contrary to popular belief, I cannot make scholarships fall out of the sky.) But as long as they can see themselves having a successful future, I know that my being there is making a difference.
People say that college helps you grow as a person. My students begin growing the moment they start their college search. Last year, I got to watch the Class of 2015 undergo these changes. I cannot be more proud of them. They went from being freaked out by the future, to totally owning it. I happy cry every time they contact me, which happens very often, to tell me how well they are doing at X college. The difference between the Class of 2016 when they had their first Junior meeting with me, and their Senior meetings this year is impressive. They are more confident and outgoing. Some of them are even taking on ambitious leadership roles in the school. The ones who have already received acceptance letters are floating about the school like they own the place. I can’t wait to see how they continue to change over the upcoming year. I know that one day, my students will change the world (we just have to figure out FAFSA first).My goal for this year is to continue what I started. Last year around this time, I was the first CAC member in my school. Can you say yikes!?! But with automatic support of my staff and students I was able to take off running and build the program. Last year we went on a grand total of three college visits. I hope to get in at least three, if not four tours this year. I want my students to apply and be accepted to more places. They are for sure going to be doing more with scholarships and FAFSA. This all means a lot of hustling on my part. But I’m ready for it. I spent a good chunk of my summer applying for grants, so hopefully we’ll get at least one. Perhaps most pressingly, Algonac is having its first MACRAO, state board, approved College Fair this fall! It’s both a great opportunity for the community and a source of stress for me. Even so, I could not be more thrilled for this fair. Right now there are thirty-two schools that are planning on attending! If you’re in the area, it’s Wednesday October 7th from 6-7:30 at the Junior and Senior High School. Everyone is invited! Please check it out!
Finally, being the College Adviser at the Swamp has changed me too. Let’s face it, living on your own as a twenty-something isn’t always easy. Case in point, there’s a whole entire section of the internet devoted to this topic. Even so I’m rocking these years. Just like my students, I have become more confident and willing to take on the world. Ever since I was a child, I wanted a job where my main purpose was to help others. This job not only allows me to do this, it has also given me a sense of family when I’m over a thousand miles away from the town in Texas where I attended high school. (Shout out to the other advisers to being the best co-workers ever!) I couldn’t be happier! I cannot thank the Michigan State College Advising Corps, St. Clair County KnowHow2Go, and Algonac Junior and Senior High School enough for taking a chance on me.
So its Monday morning again. 4:45 am. There goes my cat wailing again, but it’s all worth it. As I go back to the Swamp, I can’t help but think, “Whose life can I help change today?”
P.S. To all of you reading this, I hope are able to find a job that makes you happy! That is, after all, some of the best advice I can ever give my students.