Melissa Warehall: College counselor leaves legacy of comforting students

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Maria Shaugnessy

Melissa Warehall is known for her compassion for students in times of need.

Grace Holleb, Reporter

Rushing into college counselor Melissa Warehall’s office in early spring, senior Donna Tong was feeling incredibly overwhelmed about the college process. Ms. Warehall assured Donna that they were going to get through this process together, and she guided Donna with her warm and attentive nature. Feeling infinitely better about her situation, Donna knew she had left with a confidant by her side. 

“I can’t really express how much better that made me feel,” Donna said, “and I’m truly grateful for her guidance this past year and a half.” 

After finding her professional calling at Lab and using curiosity and care to help plan the next steps of students’ lives here for the past 13 years, Ms. Warehall is retiring from Lab at the end of the 2019-20 school year. 

“She loves working with kids, and she’s kind of like everybody’s favorite aunt,” Patty Kovacs, colleague and college counselor, said. 

Ms. Warehall loves to dote on her students and works endlessly to make sure their desires are met as much as possible. 

“Anytime you pass her in the hallway, she’ll go out of her way to ask you how you’re doing, not just how the college process is,” senior Alex Witowska said. 

Beyond the college counseling office, Ms. Warehall always offers an open ear for her students to catch up with her on anything.

“Whenever I would tell her college results, she was genuinely happy for me,” senior Stanley Shapiro said, “and it made me really happy to see how much she cared about my success.” 

Working as a college counselor, “has confirmed that I am in the right profession,” she said. “It took a long time to get to this place, but my years at Lab have taught me that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing in my professional life.” 

Over the years, facilitating throughout many high schools as the director of admissions at The Theatre School at DePaul University and director of publications and an assistant director of admissions at the University of Chicago, Ms. Warehall has been to hundreds of other schools, but to her, Lab is certainly unique. 

“Most high schools when you walk into them, the aura, the feeling you get when you walk into them is that nobody wants to be there,” Ms. Warehall said. “But you guys love learning, and that’s what has made my work with Lab students so enriching that I learn from you guys every day as well.” 

Ms. Warehall had a very thoughtful approach and tended to the needs of each individual student. 

“Melissa is a woman of enormous grace and kindness,” history teacher Susan Shapiro said, tearing up. 

Melissa is a woman of enormous grace and kindness.”

— Susan Shapiro

Ms. Shapiro and Ms. Warehall connected as friends, on their shared tradition of practicing the Jewish faith, and late last summer, when Ms. Warehall’s husband, Paul, died. 

“I could talk about things at a level that was particular to our view of the universe,” Ms. Shapiro said. “I could appreciate the circumstances she was in, and she could hear me for what I 

really intended.”

Ms. Warehall attributes lots of the feedback she gives on essays as well as her own writing skill to her interdepartmental studies degree from Northwestern University and legal writing classes in law school. 

Ms. Warehall’s expertise and thirst for knowledge has allowed her to open many 

students’ eyes to futures they would have not otherwise been exposed to. 

“Early on in the application process, I was dead set on only applying to a few colleges, mostly ones I had visited,” senior Ben Wolf said. “She sent me a list of five or six schools I didn’t have on that list, and by looking at them it was obvious how much attention she had put into picking schools she knew would click with me.”

Ms. Warehall plans to continue to help students with the college process at her next job. 

Melissa Warehall and her husband, Paul, at Connections 2009 in Navy Pier. Her husband loved attending Lab events.

After losing her husband nine months ago, Ms. Warehall has decided that, although it is difficult to leave a school she loves, she wants to spend time experiencing another culture and traveling while she still can. 

She’s accepted an opportunity in Beijing, China, at Daystar Academy, a K-12 bilingual, International Baccalaureate school, to create their college counseling curriculum. Ms. Warehall wants to open a new chapter in her life. 

“I plan to return to Chicago eventually,” Ms. Warehall said, “but spend a few years in a completely different culture and completely different environment.”

During her 13 years at Lab, Ms. Warehall’s impact will be remembered through individual relationships she fostered with students and faculty.

“I will miss the students terribly and my faculty colleagues,” Ms. Warehall said. “Some of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever encountered have been Lab Schools faculty from N3-12.”