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MIT staff blogger Bryan G. Nance

The College Circle of Life by Bryan G. Nance

Nance starts waxing about some deep stuff.

Over the Memorial Day Weekend I packed the family into the car and made the 12-hour round trip from Boston to Ithaca, NY. When I departed Cornell 10 months ago I made a promise to return in each of the next three years to attend the graduations of all of the students that I admitted to that fine university. Here is the story of one of the very first students that I admitted to the Class of 2006.

In the fall of 2001 – Thanksgiving weekend to be exact – I sat in a dining room table in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn trying desperately to convince a young lady to apply to Cornell University. She was one of the first students that I recruited to Cornell and she is responsible for some of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned about how to recruit minority students.

Much to my surprise it was a tough sell. I thought that all I had to do was to show up and tell her a few facts about Cornell, and then I’d be money. I was sure that she’d be seduced by the allure of the Ivy League. I was positive that she’d just take me at my word because I was an admissions professional. I left her house not at all sure if I’d see her application.

Lesson One: Never assume that students are just going to take you at your word.

Lesson Two: Never speak condescendingly to potential applicants. EVER!

Fast-forward four months. Not only did she apply to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, but she was also accepted! Silly of me to think that she would attend Cornell just because she was admitted. The process began all over again. I was grilled on everything from where to get black hair done to the availability of urban radio stations. When she came to visit and saw cows on campus, you can imagine her response.

Lesson Three: Be prepared to discuss issues around race and ethnicity openly and honestly. Don’t just play up the school’s strengths, but also acknowledge its weaknesses.

Lesson Four: It’s not just about the academics for most minority students; it’s about finding an institution that makes them feel safe and comfortable.

Lesson Five: Student savvy grows exponentially throughout the college application process. The young lady that I spoke to in April was ten times savvier than she’d been just a few months prior.

As my granddaddy used to say: To make a short story long, this young lady did decide to attend Cornell and began her educational odyssey in the fall of 2002 as a Communications major. Over the next three years I witnessed a somewhat shy and sheltered girl blossom into a smart and beautiful woman. She was a constant fixture in my office. Although I complained about the lack of veggies in her diet (chicken fingers every day for lunch) and her keeping me from getting work done; I secretly enjoyed her presence and I credit her with keeping me up on my peeps.

As you can see from the photo, Kimberli is now a 2006 graduate of Cornell University. Kimberli, I am very proud of you! Somewhere along the way I realized that you did not need my advice, but you sought it anyway. Thanks for keeping me grounded and relevant. On those days when I wonder why I do this for a living I think of you graduating. God Speed! The circle is complete.

You are smart, hardworking, and destined for greatness. I will be very proud if my own daughters turn out to be just like you.

As a disclaimer it is important that I disclose the fact that Kimberli is my niece. Yep, she’s family… but in many ways every student of color that I admit to college feels like family.

Please take a moment and rejoice with Kimberli on this monumental occasion. Drop her a comment to wish her well.

22 responses to “The College Circle of Life”

  1. Sulinya says:

    Congratulations, Kimberli! Actually, my brother graduated from Cornell last year, so all the better grin I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors!

  2. Somebody'10 says:

    Congratulations Kimberli! You are awsome.

  3. AnotherMom says:


    Congratulations! I wish you all the best for the future. And your niece looks positively adorable in her dress! You have paved a way for many to follow. Be proud of what you have accomplished and will continue to accomplish in life.

  4. Timur Sahin says:

    Congrats Kimberli!

    Hehe, I love that the picture has the past, present, and future all wrapped up in the three individuals present. :D.

  5. Nur says:

    Congratulations Kimberli!

  6. Jess says:

    Congrats Kimberli! Best wishes :D

  7. Lerh Feng says:

    Touching post Nance, and congrats Kimberli!

  8. Congratulations Kimberli,

    My best friend is a Cornell alum and her degree has opened many doors. Best wishes for the future. Enjoy your achievement and continue to strive for the best life has to offer.

  9. adam talsma says:

    Congrats Kimberli,

    also, as an international student, the thing that seperated MIT from other top schools was their honest, and HUMBLE admissions staff

    thank you

  10. Christina says:

    This post was very sweet.

    Congratulations Kimberli! grin

    (The picture won’t show up on my computer!)

  11. Christina says:

    Oh, I can see the picture now!

    Your daughter is soooo adorable.

  12. Olga says:

    Congratulations Kimberli! You will go far.

  13. Vu says:

    Congratulations Kimberli! I’m sure you’re destined for a bright future.

  14. Man, I was wondering how you got to be recruiting at someone’s dinner table!

    Congratulations, Kimberli! I hope life continues to treat you well!

  15. Kimberli says:

    Thank you everyone for your congratulations and best wishes! I am very touched that so many people actually took the time to write warm greetings. Also, thanks to whoever blurred my name on my diploma – you’re such the computer guru! =)

  16. Laura says:

    Are you sure she was skeptical about Cornell because you were a big, bad admissions officer? Or was it just because you are her uncle? =P

    Congrats, Kimberli!

  17. Hello All (Especially YetAnotherMom)!

    Bye the bye, I really love when parents post comments.

    Kristin, just know, if I needed to sit at your dining room table to get you come to MIT, I would have done that to get you here!

    Laura, Laura, Laura…. me the big, bad admissions officer? Remember, the famous quote from The Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

  18. Timur,

    Stay away from my neice. You are too young! She’ll crush you like a jellybean. (Just kidding…maybe!)

  19. Anonymous says:

    This is a great new extended family and I love being a member.

  20. Timur Sahin says:

    Fine, if you insist.


  21. Daniel Sauza says:

    Hello, I just recieved “my first correspondence from MIT” that you sent me, and I just wanted to say that I enjoyed the amusing side-comments immensely (especially the part about dropping sodium in the Charles River). The letter seemed much more personal and light-hearted than the vast majority of college mail I’ve been recieving: a welcome relief in this turbulent and stressful time of trying to figure out which universities I want to consider attending.

  22. Mario Lanao says:

    Hey….same thoughts as Timur Sahin…the whole parking ticket thing was funny. I’m very happy to hear from MIT and its pretty cool that the admissions officers have there own blogs and we can talk to you guys. (I always thought that admissions people were mysterious entities/unknown being sorts) You seem like a really awesome guy Mr. Nance. I was wondering since I plan to visit MIT’s campus, is there any special day or time I could go and get to meet you personally? Thanks