Wayne Sigler has been choking up at the sight of a University of Minnesota T-shirt.
For 20 years, he has led the admissions office, overseeing the U's shift from "safety school" to a selective one.
This week he leaves to become a vice president at George Mason University in Virginia -- 75 miles from the house he and his wife built on property her family has owned for decades.
"I truly know what the term 'bittersweet' means now," he said on Wednesday.
In 1992, when Sigler started, the U accepted enrollees until classes started. In 2011, nearly 40,000 students applied for 5,400 spots, forming a freshman class with record ACT scores and class rank.
That profile has been a longstanding goal, but much of it happened naturally, he said.
"An increasing number of students enroll here and are really happy with their experience," he said. "They tell their family, their brothers, sisters, friends. I believe that is what has really set this place on fire."
He thanked the parents: "It truly for me has been an honor and an absolute joy to work with their sons and daughters over the past 20 years."
In speeches and stories, Sigler, 68, is described as enthusiastic and upbeat. But he also worries -- about state funding, the competition for top students and the pressure students feel to get into their top pick.
"I am awful concerned about the feeling from students and parents across the country that the college process is live or die," he said.
Though it pains him to leave, Sigler said he trusts that admissions is in the strong hands of a "deep bench" he helped build.
He also admits to making sure his two grandsons, ages 5 and 2, will be taken care of.
"I've already got their high school counselor identified to keep an eye on them," he said. "I know their parents will stay on them about earning good grades. But I need to make certain they have all the motivation possible.
"I hope to be on Earth when they apply to college," he said, "but I won't be in this chair."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168