Guest Blogger: David Rosenblum

2 May

Today is the day most high school seniors have to decide where they will matriculate this fall and inform the colleges.  For those fortunate enough to have choices, the last several weeks will have been spent touring schools yet again and attending admitted students day.  My friend, David Rosenblum, is a parent whose son went through this a few years ago and I invited him to share his thoughts with us here.

What Do You Think?

We sat on a swinging bench, gently swaying back and forth.  My son was 18 and it was a few days before most colleges expected commitments from newly admitted students.  “What do you think?” he asked quietly.

I gathered my thoughts.  He had many great choices…amazing choices…but what did I think?  I flashed back to my own experience although it was three decades ago.

Times were different then.  I recall no pressure to seek a school solely for its brand name.  My kids know I’ve been there: how I turned down acceptance to an Ivy League university so I could go to a state school that I felt better suited my needs and offered unique opportunities for me.  When they first heard that story, they looked at me like I had thrown out a winning lottery ticket.  For my residency training I did choose an “Ivy League” system but that was a carefully thought-out choice and a means to attain what I strove for, not a destination unto itself.  How do I convey that?  How do you encourage someone to be true to himself without dismissing the realities of the world in which we live, with all its prejudices and inequities?

And who can blame our kids – or parents for that matter – for striving for what they think is “best”?  Many parents and students seem to be on a quest for that Holy Grail of Higher Education – the most selective school that few can get into – as if selectivity itself defines a good personal fit.  To this end, kids feel pressure to get the perfect SATs and GPAs, to take the most number of AP classes, to perform the obligatory community service and, of course, to search for the hook to make them stand out – some discovery, authorship, or national award.  As if attending a highly selective school assures success.

Of course, we know it does not.  And we understand that it is not so much where you go, but what you make of it when you are there.  Yet, how does one balance this against our societal pressures and realities of life, where name brands speak volumes to one’s peers, where fame, possessions, and where one lives may be more important to some than how one makes a difference in our world.  And what about brand name colleges?  Even our President transferred from a relatively unknown school, to an Ivy League university, followed by an Ivy League law school.  What impact did that have on his path?

We gently swung back and forth.  “What do you think?” he asked again softly.  How do I encourage him to look beyond the narrow view of US News and World Report college rankings?  How do I encourage him to have a healthy perspective on the “selectivity” of the schools he is choosing among?  My thoughts become more centered:  How do I give him the courage to say no to something that so many others are hoping for, or the confidence to say yes, regardless of others’ perceptions, if it really fits him well?

I choose my words carefully and told him what I knew to be true.  “Well,” I said, “You have some terrific choices, and I know you will do well in any of them.  The real question is,” and I searched for the right words, ”which one feels right to you?”

We chatted for a while on that slowly swinging bench.  He told me about his view of the advantages and disadvantages of each school he was considering.  He spoke of the experiences he had on his visits, the people he met, the opportunities each school presented to him and which school he was favoring.

It was clear he had decided.  And I was so proud of him.  Not for all the prep for getting into college, not for those SAT and AP scores, and not for the acceptances he had, but rather, for approaching this decision with maturity and balance.  To him, it must have seemed like the most important and influential decision of his life.  I knew, however, it was neither.  But it was an important step towards thoughtful and independent adulthood.

“I think it’s a great choice!” I said.  And just in case he was still wondering, I told him again just how proud we are of him.

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