For Montclair Local

Pat Berry is a writer, editor, and college application essay coach. Check out the archives for her tips on building a college list, writing a meaningful essay, and more at For information on essay coaching, visit, and follow @college_essay_coach on Instagram.

As graduation approaches, I feel a responsibility to remind seniors to send thank-you notes to the people who helped get you here.

So that’s done.

Except, in case you feel that throwing two to three predictable sentences into an email and hitting Send isn’t quite enough, I have a few things to add.

Consider the handwritten, Forever-stamp-ed, snail-mailed thank-you note or letter.

Chances are you are on a high. You’ve done it. Maybe you feel a palpable sense of indebtedness for efforts made on your behalf — the counseling, the recommendations, the shoulders provided during stressful times. Notice the energy in that emotion? Well, tap into it now because, come July, that grateful spirit likely will have morphed into excitement over next steps as you peruse the aisles of Bed, Bath & Beyond for Twin XL sheets.

What should you write? As long as you are genuine, it almost doesn’t matter. It’s not about perfection — it’s about connection. Isn’t it so much easier to hit a thumbs-up reaction on Facebook or text a praying-hands emoji (the symbol for thank you) than to express what’s in our hearts and minds? Avatars, emojis, and, yes, by-the-book emails are, frankly, feeble representations of our real feelings. On the other hand, Perdomo said, people tend to believe in handwritten letters.

Thank-you notes should say thanks, of course. To feel personal, they also should show some emotion and include one or two colorful details.


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I was inspired to write on this topic after reading “Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom” (HarperCollins, 1988). Nordstrom was a children’s book editor who is credited with discovering and nurturing such authors as Maurice Sendak (“Where the Wild Things Are”), Shel Silverstein (“Where the Sidewalk Ends”), and Margaret Wise Brown (“Goodnight Moon”). Her letters are chatty, and they vibrate with gratitude for her authors’ creativity and her interest in them personally. Although these are work-related letters, Nordstrom’s correspondence includes funny observations, changes of heart, and self-deprecation. To me, they set a standard for personable correspondence and are a good reminder that letter writing is a life skill, as useful in business as in one’s personal life.

Last month, I marked my birthday with girlfriends. One friend organized a lunch, another offered up her home, and another baked a decadent three-layer carrot cake with not one but two (!) layers of cream-cheese frosting. One friend schlepped out from the city to join us; another, an artist, gifted me one of her stunning prints. I felt loved and celebrated, and afterward I wrote notes of thanks for each of these kindnesses, something I don’t always get around to doing. What I didn’t expect were the several phone calls and texts I received in return, each thanking me for my message, some pointing out the rarity of the gesture. One friend even told me she was suspicious — real handwriting almost never slides through her mail slot.

Now, I may be giving too much credence to the joy-producing ability of a note card, ink, envelope, and stamp, but the fact is we are used to not being thanked in heartfelt ways, and I feel sad about that. Call me sentimental (I’ll take it as a compliment), but I believe that the experience of holding in one’s hand a message created by another hand is part of a chain reaction with the potential to reimburse us in unimaginable ways.

I also believe in the notion that people may not remember what you said or wrote but they’ll remember how you made them feel, especially when you made them feel valued.