As I head home from my first SuperACAC conference I try to digest all that happened over three days seemingly trapped inside a smoky casino time warp, both in era and time of day. I learned simple things like the correct place to pin a name tag (your right side where it’s in better view while shaking someone’s hand) to more philosophical urgings from our organization’s leadership to publicly speak louder, so our opinions will be considered relevant on a grander scale.

Leading up to the conference I was excited and admittedly overeager (although I’ll leave the beaver jokes to WACAC President-Elect Jeff Morrow). I was armed and ready with new business cards to prove my promotion to Associate Director. I meticulously studied the Conference Guidebook to plan my daily agenda. And I wore something my boss told me was of utmost importance… a bright, big smile. But as equipped as I was, I also had what I learned was a healthy dose of anxiety because I would be leaving my own three kids at home for the first time. I was mostly sad because I knew they would be fine without me.

It’s the high school kids who need me now. I felt I could relate to what they go through anticipating their college experience, being both super excited for the looming conference but genuinely nervous about how it would all go. Would I choose to attend the best professional development sessions out of all 93 offerings?! Would I sit at the right table during lunch to expand my network and build relationships? Would I go home with some cool college swag for my kids?!

I quickly learned there is no “best” session to attend or “right” person to mingle with. Simply being present, absorbing the knowledge and contributing to the discourse was all it took to live up to my expectation.

I learned how to help students apply to college in the UK. Got suggestions on the most efficient way to schedule family meetings. Learned techniques to bring out a student’s voice and personalize our interactions. I supported a colleague who told me he made mistakes his first year as a counselor, and confided that I did too! I can now make a strong argument for liberal arts colleges and help students navigate changes in standardized testing. I also compiled a long list of recommended reading I hope to make time for this summer.

The collaboration, camaraderie and passion for higher education will be permanently stored and recalled often in my daily work and all I do professionally. Memories of tight orange jumpsuits, sparkling sombreros, and uplifting Taylor Swift songs will remain amusing for quite some time. My youngest child’s pure and simple recognition of “Mammy!” when he saw my image via FaceTime was enough to fill my heart for the three days I was away. And the way I was cheerfully welcomed back to school by some junior students was enough to make me realize I am doing the right thing for us all.

I leave feeling inspired by the difference even new counselors can make in students’ lives. I am motivated by those who organized, volunteered and presented; those who were brave enough to spark challenging but essential conversation. The true return on investment of attending SuperACAC may be hard to measure, but as one panelist mentioned you cannot focus solely on weighing your horse; sometimes you have to feed it. This conference fed my soul and passion for educating students and helping them through a time in their lives when they deeply benefit from a little guidance.

I think the best measure of my first conference success is to say it began with a flood of formal handshakes and ended with lots of friendly hugs… And even more hugs from my kids at home and “my kids” at school.

By Lisa Gruenbaum
Associate Director of College Counseling and Academic Guidance
Shalhevet High School