Archive | January, 2012

Growing Up

15 Jan

Our local high school is known for its competitiveness, having been ranked twice as the top public high school in New Jersey.  The academic workload is heavy and close to half of the student body takes Advanced Placement courses.  The average SAT score is about 300 points above the state’s average.  No doubt the reputation of the high school has kept real estate prices from nose-diving as young families continue to move in for the schools.

Since freshmen year the students have understood the academic stakes involved.  Some underclassmen feel no compunction asking seniors about their grades and coursework as if to benchmark their own progress.  A junior boy whom my daughter didn’t know had asked her once point blank where she was applying.  After recovering from shock at his audacity, she brushed him off with her usual song-and-dance routine about not talking about colleges.  He threw up his hands as if offended and channeled Steve Martin: “Well, excuuuse me!”

It’s not just the kids either.  On Back to School night in late September, my daughter was approached by an unknown Chinese man in the school hallway who asked her where she was applying to college.  She wasn’t going to discuss her college choices with friends, let alone strangers, so she mumbled something about not having decided yet.  Since she is not an artful dissembler, I don’t know whether he believed her or not but he remarked that it was getting late in the application process, shouldn’t she have decided by now?  She felt awkward and uncomfortable.  The next day, a friend said to her, “So I see you met my father.”

So with this striving, achievement-oriented profile in mind, I didn’t know what to expect when early college notifications came in last month.  I have been pleasantly surprised and gratified by the supportiveness the seniors have shown each other, at least on Facebook.  When someone posts about a college acceptance, the congratulations usually roll in within minutes.  (Shows how often and how long they stay on FB).  They may use a combination of exclamation marks, all-cap lettering, or emoticons to emphasize their excitement:




After all the competing and achieving, it’s heartening to see the students come together, cheer on one another’s successes, and to feel happiness for others.  For those who got deferred or rejected, students offer support and encouragement, which is usually done in person.  In four years they have grown up and matured, no longer little boys and girls.

What’s Next

9 Jan

Last Saturday night we ate dinner at a local restaurant, the kind where the tables are crowded against each another and guests cannot move their chairs without bumping into someone else’s chair.  In such tight quarters, it is hard not to overhear conversations so I heard one woman say, “Oh yes, she got into Villanova University.  Early action.”

My ears perked up right away, like a hound dog that has detected the scent of its quarry.  Her friend gushed her congratulations.

“Thank you.  Unfortunately she didn’t get into Columbia,” the first woman continued, to which her friend mumbled something I couldn’t hear.

I acted nonchalant, slicing my panko-crusted tilapia in a deliberate fashion as if I were loath to rush through the meal.  Hoping that I was being discreet, I turned my head a few degrees to look at their table.  They were a foursome, two middle-aged couples out on a double date.  One woman was a thin blonde with medium length hair that appeared freshly coiffed and styled.  Her friend was a brunette; both were dressed for a casual evening of dining in the suburbs.  They looked at me and I turned my head away.

Even though the college admissions rat race is over for us, I’m still fascinated by this topic because of all that it embodies about what is prized in our culture – competition, achievement, upward mobility, social status, opportunity, economic security, dreams for our children to do better (or, in this faltering economy, for them not to do worse.)  So I will continue to mine this subject for any nuggets of insight, wisdom, or humor.  Since the next several months will see my daughter finish high school and prepare to enter college, I will also write about being the mother bird that is getting ready to ease the baby bird out of the home nest.  So dear faithful readers, I hope you will stick around for the journey.

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