“Good morning, Country Day,” college counselor Jane Bauman announces in the high school quad. “Today, we have two acceptances to Willamette University!”
She calls out the first student’s name, then the second, pausing in between for the loud cheers to die down. Both students push through the morning meeting crowd to get a handful of candy from the M&M man candy dispenser in Bauman’s arms.
Two years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing college acceptances was a staple of morning meetings—and had been long before Bauman became a college counselor at SCDS in 2013.
As part of the tradition, seniors got to choose which decisions to announce, if any, and were congratulated raucously for their 4-year efforts to get into college. Underclassmen, too, benefited; they experienced the highs of the college application process through the seniors and were introduced to potential colleges for their own applications.
For the most part, the M&M man was well-liked: in a 2019 Octagon poll, 66% of seniors supported the tradition.
However, there was also pushback in that year by a few ’20 seniors and then-counselor Chris Kuipers. As Head of School Lee Thomsen put it, announcing acceptances can have “unintended consequences of negativity, celebrating one student while possibly hurting another in the crowd.”
It was also an unusual practice that few other private schools like Country Day participated in, according to Bauman. So, once the COVID-19 pandemic shifted SCDS online in 2020, the tradition died a quiet death.
While an argument can be made for the possible detriments of the M&M man — as seen in an editorial published in the Nov. 12, 2019 issue of The Octagon — the positive and celebratory nature far outweighs them.
90% of seniors and 89% of all students polled on Jan. 8 and Jan. 20, respectively, agree: Country Day should bring the M&M man back.
First and foremost, the M&M man is an acknowledgment and celebration of seniors’ achievements.
For seniors, getting accepted into college is the pinnacle of their high school experience; significant amounts of work have been put into college applications — especially at a college preparatory school like Country Day. This effort deserves to be recognized.
Removing this recognition does not alter the emotions that occur from college rejections; learning to deal with failure and disappointment is an immutable part of life. It’s unreasonable, and impossible, to completely shield students from some possible negative consequences of a celebration.
Other SCDS achievements such as National Merit, Cum Laude, and the HS Awards are publicly announced. Do they not carry the same risk for those who did not make the lists?
In any case, the M&M man is more than just a congratulation to a senior. It binds Country Day’s unique community together. The seniors are quite literally bringing the high school along for the ride of their acceptances and the emotional highs of those acceptances. That’s not an act of division, but of unity. Announcing colleges after National Decision Day, ages after everything’s over, just doesn’t have the same effect as hearing decisions throughout the year.
Underclassmen receive a lot of information from the practice. They get to hear about many new colleges and begin to associate certain students with certain schools, which gives them an idea of where they might apply, or where they might get in. This is invaluable to normalizing the opaque process of college admissions.
Rather than emphasizing prestigious colleges to these students, the M&M man does quite the opposite. Every acceptance announced at morning meeting gets more or less the same cheering and accolades from the student body, regardless of the college or student.
In fact, the M&M man is a far more equitable announcement than word-of-mouth: few underclassmen presently know anything about decisions the seniors have received, and if they do, it’s only a few prestigious ones. Almost half of the senior class has already been admitted to a college, but without the M&M man, any acceptances from any school below the top 20 are massively de-emphasized, simply because no underclassman knows about them.
Keeping the underclassman in the loop, rather than completely naive to college admissions, will increase their own preparedness for starting the difficult process when it’s their turn.
The final piece of evidence in favor of the tradition is Country Day itself.
Our community is strong. What opponents fear the M&M man will bring out — envy, disappointment, bragging, ego — might become evident in a regular school, but SCDS is no regular school. At Country Day, a student in the crowd is more likely to applaud their friends than envy them. As Head of High School Brooke Wells often says during morning meetings, we have something special here. We are compassionate enough and intimate enough to honor each other selflessly and are capable of sharing our highs without bringing others low.
Clearly, students want it back. Believe in our community’s strength, and restore the M&M man.
Originally published in the Feb. 1 edition of the Octagon.