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A Letter to My Best Friend’s Baby

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Faculty Graduate Mid-Level New Professional Senior Level VP for Student Affairs
August 22, 2021 Alan Acosta University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School

JCC Connexions, Vol. 7, No. 3, August 2021

Fostering Moral Development: An Ongoing Column in JCC Connexions

 Dear Best Friend’s Baby,

Welcome to the world! Having spent the last seven months talking to your mom and dad about you, it is fantastic you are finally here. I am biased, but I can already sense you are destined for great things. My partner Danielle and I will be a huge part of your life—you are family now! So as the newest member of Familia Acosta, I want to give you some sabiduría, or words of wisdom.

Your dad and I, along with your Aunt Danielle, work in the higher education industry. That in and of itself is a major advantage for you. You are going to hear us talking about our experiences as you get older, so you will grow up thinking and believing attending some form of postsecondary education is normal and expected. That is a great thing. It means you are likely to attend college because we will coach you through the admissions process, will have multiple people you are super close with who have knowledge and experience that can give you advice while you are there, and will be equipped with most of what you need (physically, financially, emotionally, intellectually) to be successful. Many of your friends and peers will not have that same kind of support, so cherish it.

Now that you are here, I am just starting to realize how much work your aunt, dad, and I must do in our field to make your first day on campus a great one. You do not know this right now, but the higher education field is struggling. Our enrollments are dipping, our resources are fading, and public faith that a higher education is a pathway to a better future, one that turns people into thoughtful, critical thinkers, is lowering. As higher education practitioners, we are worried about our institutional futures. We are worried we can remain financially viable and attract bright students like you. We are consumed with finding the most efficient processes, the most updated technology, the strongest faculty, and the optimal out-of-class experience to help you have the best holistic experience possible. And know that right now, your dad, aunt, and I are thinking about what we can do today to shape the experience you will have in 18 years. We are trying to figure out what trends, dynamics, and issues will be most relevant to you when you start college so we can tell our colleagues and start working on them now. We cannot possibly anticipate them all, but that will not stop us from trying.

For us, like most higher education professionals, we think about and obsessively (over)work for students like you. We are worried about how best to support your socialization and connection with your peers, how to encourage you academically, and how to ensure you get the most out of college. For your parents, aunt, and I, going to college was one of the most transformative experiences of our lives. It is where we first started figuring out who we were, what we believed in, who we cared about, who we loved, and why we get up every day. We do not want for you and your friends to have the same experience that we got—we want you to have a better experience. We strive each day to address all the challenges, struggles, concerns, and issues that plague students. And the measures of our success are not found in a bottom line, a shareholder’s report, revenue generated, or profits earned. Every individual student success story, every time a student thanks us for the work we do, every student, especially from marginalized populations, who walks the stage at graduation and gets their diploma—that is the greatest reward in our business. That is why we get up every day.

I often tell my students I give them advice in a way I would if I could talk to a younger me. Now I will tell them I will give them advice as if I am talking to my best friend’s baby. Because I am going to do for you what I never got: give you real talk from someone who has lived the experience. Someone who has been a person of color on a college campus. Someone who will not be mean but will not mince words. Someone who will share with you the hard life lessons I learned in college and beyond. Believe it or not, most people, even your parents, aunt D, or I, do not have it all figured out. We are still learning about ourselves, still making mistakes, still trying to be our best selves.

Please know that you should never, ever be afraid to lean on me when you are stuck, anxious, scared, have questions, feel awkward, want to celebrate, or need a laugh or guidance. Know you can never screw up too much, and there is never, ever a reason for you lie to me or be dishonest. I will always help you out, always look out for you, and always talk about what is on your mind and give you the best advice I can. The closest person I ever had that I could do that with was my grandma Margarita—and she did not know anything about higher education, so she did the best she could. And do not worry—I will not go running to your mom or dad to tell them about our chats.

I am here for you. Learn from our time together. Every once and a while, listen to the ones who love you, but please do not ever forget some of the best life lessons are when we take our own hard knocks. Do not be afraid of anything, for you are well prepared. You will hear me say this phrase a lot (because it was said by Yoda in one of the greatest movies ever that we will watch a gazillion times): “Already know that which you need.”


Tío Alan