Thursday, August 16, 2012

Harvard, 3-D Glasses, and 2 Challenges for the New SchoolYear

A couple days ago I had a chance to give the UD student body a bit of a pep talk.

Of course my topic was COLLEGE.  shocker.

I started by quickly touching on our program, showing them the flow from start to finish, and how we try to get our students in the pipeline as freshman.

Our mission and aim has been the same the last five years.

To partner with families to discern for each student the best college fit.

This mission always involves a process.  And there is a fluid element to it.

Adolescence are the epitome of fluidity, aren't they?

One day they prefer hip hop music, wear neon Converse, and want to study to become music producers for JZ.

The next day they are into country music, sporting cowboy boots, and aspire to become oil/gas lawyers who wear large cowboy hats and smoke fat cigars like JR on Dallas.

One day it's a small lib arts college in the northeast.

The next day it's a big rah-rah university in the heart of SEC football land.

The end product is not the goal.

It's the process of exploration, discovery, and discernment.


I then switched gears and tried to bring it home (in the 5 minutes allotted) with two challenges.   

First challenge.  Give your teachers visions to narrate in their recommendation letters. 

We forget reasons.

We remember visions.

Ideas drain out of our brains.

Pictures stick like Velcro.

The former appeals to the mind as a debating hall.

The latter appeals to the imagination as a art gallery.

The best letters of recommendation ultimately are from teachers that tell stories that capture moments where the student demonstrated capacities, character, and depth.

It's the student who got a C- on the Billy Budd American literature final in December, but then worked tirelessly to improve their understanding of the literature, and ultimately earned a B+  on the Hawthorne-to-Salinger final in May.

It's the A+ student who took the C- student under the wing after the Billy Budd exam and helped them rally in the second part of the year, going so far as to reading long passages from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath as the Joads lurched across Route 66.  

It's the student who rarely speaks up in class, but when they do, everyone holds their breath in hushed reverence to absorb their insight into Hester's heroic virtue or Gatsby's tragic flaw.

Stories resonate.  Word pictures stick.  Narratives detonate, explode, and impact us like grenades.

So write the stories through your words and deeds that your teachers will narrate.

Second challenge.  Embrace this special place.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the individual and culture.

At all moments, the individual is making and shaping the culture they live in, while the culture is simultaneously making and shaping them.

At Casady, we have a long, venerated tradition since 1947 of educating mind, body, and spirit.

Our DNA involves three strands.

We are, in other words, a culture that creates and shapes a three-dimensional kind of person.

The kind of person that when an admission officer reads a Casady student's application, they have to put on 3-D glasses to absorb the breath and width and depth.

For we are scholars.

Lovers of words, ideas, stories, numbers, theories. 

For we are participators.  

In athletics.  In the fine arts.  In student government.  In our civic spheres.  And religious ones. 

And we are architects of repair.

Head-in-heart kind of people who have the courage and compassion to go where injustice has broken things down and bring forth order from chaos.

At the Harvard Institute this summer, Bill Fitzsimmons, the dean of admission at Harvard, provided a room of 500+ college counselors a rare "behind the scenes" look into the significant patterns that emerged in their admission cycle this last year.

In 2012, 34,302 applied to Harvard.

2,032 were admitted.  (Click here to read more about Harvard's admission statistics.)

Of the 5.9% admitted, 60% were in Fitzsimmon's words, "well-rounded" applicants.

3-Der's, in other words.

Mind, Body, and Spirit.

It's always encouraging to be reminded that our DNA, which has only been around since 1947, matches Harvard's DNA, which has been around since 1636.