Well, we survived March Madness.
Duke did the Triangle proud and took home the NCAA national championship last night, and Cary Academy’s seniors survived the college admissions notification season.
Last week I wrote about the pressure that so many high school students feel about college admissions. Many say the system is broken. Common applications, an exploding applicant pool, and an obsession with rankings has created a feeling of scarcity that is having a huge impact on many students and their families.
In the past week, I’ve had a few conversations that helped me see this pressure in action. In these cases, students are approaching college admissions like it is the defining moment in their lives. Where one gets into school will set them on a predestined path — for greatness or mediocrity.
This is troubling, not just because it clearly isn’t true but because it reflects a mindset that turns over control of our destiny to others. In this case, an admissions committee, but in other aspects of life it could mean ceding control of our lives to friends, a boss, co-workers — or fate.
This is even more troubling when you consider that this is the exact opposite of what we want our students to learn during their time with us.
School is about coming into your own as a person. We want students to develop skills, so they can adapt to new and unfamiliar situations. Our hope is that our graduates walk across that stage believing they have the tools to be successful anywhere. We want them to have the confidence that they can make something meaningful from whatever life throws at them. And throw it will.
To You, the Student Reader
Some students at CA are reading this right now. I know this because many follow my Twitter account (where this blog is linked) so they can get the announcements about snow days a few minutes ahead of the last-century email-only crowd. Smart ones, those CA high schoolers.
I bet right about now more than one of you is thinking: This sounds great, Dr. Ehrhardt — but you are preaching from a comfortable position as an adult. You are not carrying the hopes and dreams of your parents or the obscene pressures of keeping up with a peer group of pretty awesome classmates.
True enough, but I’ve also been in your shoes. I can think back to times in my own life when I was pretty convinced that a singular decision had sealed my fate as well.
During my senior year of high school, I regularly skipped PE class. I would leave to go play tennis, getting extra practice for what we hoped would be a big spring season. I knew the consequence could be failing the class, but I thought that would be stupid — tennis is better than PE, duh — so I ignored the warnings. When my teacher did fail me, I played the victim. My parents shrugged. I think they were probably happy that somebody called my arrogant self to the carpet. I thought my college future was over.
It didn’t quite turn out that way, and even more importantly, college is where I met my wife (big win there).
A year after getting my degree, I applied to a well-regarded graduate school to study journalism. I can distinctly remember getting the acceptance letter. I was standing in the kitchen, and I thought: “This is it. This letter changes my life. My career is set.” I went out that night to celebrate by watching the (first) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
I applied for nearly 100 jobs after school, and the one offer I got said they didn’t much care that I went to grad school but were impressed with my on-the-job experience at real newspapers between schools. I stayed in journalism only two more years.
Early in my education career, my wife and I attended a job fair where we made a verbal agreement to take a job in Brazil over another offer in Taiwan. That night, we freaked out — convinced it was the wrong decision. The next day, we asked to get out of the handshake agreement. We were told no. Verbal agreements are binding and part of the contract we signed to participate in the job fair, we were reminded.
We cried some more, and then moved halfway around the world on that handshake. Ten years and two kids later, we finally left Brazil, having been transformed by the experience.
Why do I mention these stories? It is not to say that everybody should do the dumb things I’ve done. (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to celebrate grad school acceptance. Really?) It is not to diminish the pressure our students feel today. That is real, and the times have indeed changed.
However, as adults we can help students with something they do no have yet — perspective. I certainly heard a lot of those types of stories during our most recent career day, when CA parents and alumni shared their journeys with our high school students. These messages are important to get out early and often.
We want all our students to see themselves as authors of their own stories, able to overcome any of the inevitable plot twists that are likely to come their way.