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Spence Perry

Thick envelope brought good news, and was a sign of things to come

April 15, 2013|By SPENCE PERRY

Spring is the time of the thick envelope if you are lucky, the thin envelope if you are not.

April 14 used to be the day that top-tier colleges let the humble petitioners know their fate — in or out. Now, the information dribbles out from early March to May.

It was a cool spring afternoon as I walked home from the bus. (Few, if any students had cars in 1959). I followed the winding brick walk to the front porch, and there in the basket my mother had bought on a North Carolina vacation was the mail. I picked it up, sorted through the routine bills and fliers, and there was a letter-sized, intensely white envelope with the Harvard College return address. Thick!

I ripped open the package. There were letters, forms to fill out, pamphlets on housing, options, course selection and a form for the university health services to start my file. Even now, 54 years later, I can feel the warm sense of a life on its way that I felt that afternoon.

I had no way of knowing what had happened when I opened the envelope. There was no way I could know what adventures I would have or where I would travel as a result of that afternoon’s mail.

Looking back now, I can see that envelope was the key to a world beyond imagination. I would be a lawyer, a journalist, a naval officer, a husband, a father and, hopefully, a dutiful son. I would know and be a part of war and peace, economic crisis and prosperity, and disaster and emerging peril.

All these things and more fell from a thick envelope on a spring afternoon.

Most everyone these days has a thick envelope of one sort or another. Sometimes it takes the form of an enlistment packet from the Marines; for others, the notification comes from a union training program, a university, a law enforcement or fire training program. It does not matter where the thick letter comes from, we all are put on notice at one time or another, in one way or another, that our lives are now beginning and it is time to pay attention.

Now, in an ideal world, we would all take our letters, do as directed and have perfect lives as set out in the student materials. Of course, this does not happen. People get wounded, have illnesses, become addicts and alcoholics, get fired, have family problems. Others will be informed of challenges and opportunities they never dreamed of before. Because we have these interruptions (or at least most of us do), we will likely receive multiple letters throughout our lives, letters of varying thickness and importance. We will be constantly required to “meet the mail.”

As we look back, however, we will be able to discern where it all began, where we assumed responsibility and whom we need to thank.

There have been reports that colleges have been abandoning the mail for the Internet to get out their admissions decisions. This is particularly true in the case of denials. This seems to me to be an unfortunate trend. The college admissions process is strenuous, demanding and carries with it all the vulnerability of a lover declaring his affection. The petitioners deserve a respectful, tangible result.

While there are envelopes, thick and thin at the start of the race, they also come at the end of the journey.

About a week ago, I opened our RFD mailbox, and there among the usual flotsam and jetsam was a thick, shiny white envelope with a Harvard return address. I opened it to find my invitation to the 50th reunion of our class.

As it was at the beginning, Harvard was thorough and complete. There was a cordial letter of invitation, health service form, rooming suggestions (if you were truly crazed you could stay in your old dorm room) and an outline for a week of nonstop nostalgia (you could get a library card).

In looking at the program, I realized that little had changed. The people who were teacher’s pets a half century ago remain so today. They are the speakers, panel leaders and those who will apply the subtle oldschool squeeze. Finally, there was an earnest solicitation: “We realize that many of our graduates have had careers in fields devoted to public service (teaching, clergy, government) and that the reunion may be a financial burden for these classmates.”

The brochure goes on to assure one and all that financial aid is available on application.

Spence Perry, a resident of Fulton County, Pa., is active in Washington County affairs.

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