November 12, 2012 by Skyler Paltell
Today I was casually giving a tour, walking backwards as usual, when a car almost hit me. I was crossing Jamestown Road at the crosswalk, as I’ve done dozens of times before, when a car just didn’t stop. If my tour didn’t yell that a car was about to hit me, I’m not sure that I would still be able to walk backwards. So thank you, anonymous prospective students and families, for saving my butt. Which brings me to the topic of my post: prospective student appreciation! With tour guide interviews ongoing and college admission season in full swing, I feel like it’s important to talk about why I became a tour guide and what talking with prospective students has done for me.
I applied to be a tour guide last year, as a freshman. Ever since my W&M tour a few years ago, I have wanted to be a tour guide so that I can inspire students to come to W&M as well. When I applied, however, I had a secret—I was terrified of public speaking. It was all I could do to keep my voice from shaking during the first round of interviews; I’ve been fighting butterflies and blushing cheeks when speaking in front of people for most of my life. So when I got the position, the first thing I felt was excitement—and then utter panic.
Throughout tour guide training last semester, my tours patiently waited for me to stumble through the dictionary of facts and stories that I had memorized in preparation for tours. Veteran guides coached me through the basics, stood by me and caught my mistakes if I misspoke, and taught me the art of walking backwards without falling on the bricks. Prospective students took my advice, praised my efforts, and whenever I finished a tour breathless and relieved they were there to clap for me and tell me that they liked W&M better than UVA. And finally, after three months of practice and anxiety and some amazing prospective families, I had earned my name-tag.
Giving tours gives me one day out of every week to relive my own college application process. When the semester gets rough and commitments pile up, I have 75 minutes to talk about everything that makes W&M amazing and to tell others why I chose to attend. And in turn, I have 75 minutes a week to hear about these inspiring prospective students, their dreams and hopes and anxieties regarding college, W&M specifically. Most are juniors and seniors, and all are hesitant to ask questions. The parents have funny anecdotes, the students worry about SAT scores, and almost everyone wants to know where the Cheese Shop is. While prospective students look to me as a knowledgeable college student, I look to them as the unique, talented W&M students of the future. Prospective students have inspired me, given me confidence in my speaking abilities, and reminded me every day that as a tour guide, I can effectively change lives. It is a big responsibility, but I feel lucky to have it.
I won’t lie—I still get nervous before every single tour. I doubt the butterflies will ever fully go away. But without my last year as a tour guide, I doubt that I would be the same person I am now—and I have prospective students, families, and the deans of admission to thank for that.