Letters of recommendation: the aftermath + excerpts

Two months ago, I wrote about letters of recommendation. The post meandered, but it was fun to think through. The seriousness with which I’ve begun thinking about my writing was at its core.

Since that post back in October, I’ve written 16 letters of recommendation. This is the first time in any year that I’ve counted, but that has to be a record for me. I had a goal to change how I think about writing these letters. Instead of producing them casually, I wanted them to be more personal and directed. I wanted to throw myself into them and elevate their status above all the other rudimentary writing I do for school purposes. I spent a few hours on each, some more. I stayed up late and woke early. I grew more patient with what and how I wrote. I steered myself away from the immediacy of copy and pasting — which can be tempting with this type of writing. I strived to really find each student and give voice to their journey. I also jostled with opening paragraphs a lot, trusting delayed ledes more and more as the weeks passed. I tinkered with analogies, searching for the perfect match. I followed up with students on the details that I knew would pack a punch.

While demanding, my change in mindset never felt burdensome. Mainly because the letters went from being a task on my To-Do List to being a unique writing opportunity and means of expression for me. I used the letters to offer my thoughtful perspective on students for the faceless admissions officers who might spend 90 seconds reviewing it, but I also wanted to be critical of my own writing. With each letter, I stretched who I was as a writer. I’m proud of that. Interestingly, in the midst of grinding out my little cornucopia of letters, I began reading Becoming by Michelle Obama. Because of its eloquence, I found myself flipping through its pages often, stealing words, adjectives, and phrases to use in the letters. To pick up such a well-written book, while at the same time thinking deeply about my own writing, was an unexpected blessing.

Despite my newfound allegiance to them, the letters still weren’t as sharp as I would’ve liked. I would have liked to nibble on many of them more, help make them better. Oh, well. These things called due dates run the show. Nonetheless, because writing them swallowed so much of my time over the last eight weeks of my life, I wanted to capture bits and pieces that stood out. I combed through the 16 that I’ve written so far and found an excerpt that I liked or found meaningful. I’ve included some of them here.

  • It is uncommon to find to young person so concerned with bettering the world through community service. ____ is academically driven and ready to dedicate her life to serving others, but she needs exposure to and experience in the workforce in order to fully blossom into the giving adult she wants to become. This is where the ____ comes in.
  • Yet as valuable as words are, few humans, let alone high school students, understand their worth. Most use words boastfully or neglectfully, never thinking twice before allowing whatever it is that is on their mind to spill out of their mouth. I say all this because I want to tell you about a student who challenges this norm.

  • Usually, it is the teacher’s job to inspire his students. But with ____, I think it is the other way around because she has motivated me in profound ways. Her grit, tenacity, and strong-willed nature has taught me a great deal about what it means to be a young person today, to search for oneself, and to do things that you never thought you could.

  • Doing good and helping others with intention, not for attention. That is what ____ is about.

  • The fact that she asked me — her math teacher — to write this recommendation letter is further evidence of her willing embrace of her troubled mathematical past. She is using her struggle as a slingshot to launch her into the next stage of her life.

  • You should ask him about Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. We bonded over the importance of that book after I loaned him a copy late in the year.
  • Sport plays a pivotal role in _____’s life. This is why she has worked tirelessly to become both the captain of her basketball and softball teams. She not only gets leadership, but views athletics as a great unifier of people.

  • If there were a such thing as a professional learner, she was in my class last year. Her name is _____.

  • Brazen in her ability to see things not the way they are, but how they should be, _____ continually embraced the discomfort that math caused since elementary school. Truth is, she holds nothing back when it comes to this, her greatest academic challenge ever. I wish more students had _____’s resolve.

  • She reconciled with vulnerability and failure, two parts of her life that, despite her beaming positivity, she largely ignored.

  • Sadly, there is no way that this abbreviated letter could ever come close to capturing ____’s qualifications and profound growth through the years. It fails miserably. But as she prepares for college and a career in photojournalism, I am left thinking about her transformation since walking into ninth period algebra. So much has happened. Her nervousness has evolved into readiness, her uncertain world now filled with direction.

  • This is supposed to be a recommendation letter, but instead, I want to tell you a story of courage.

  • Who am I? What do I stand for? Why am I here? Whether consciously or not, it is these questions that fill the minds of young people. While a lot of my students — mostly out of fear or neglect — ignore these questions, there are strikingly few who work relentlessly to answer them. These are students who are exceptionally self- aware and always seeking to reinvent who they are. One such student is ____.



One thought on “Letters of recommendation: the aftermath + excerpts”

  1. Thanks for sharing. My favorite from your list was: “This is supposed to be a recommendation letter, but instead, I want to tell you a story of courage.”

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