Some of the hikes at Yosemite are miles in and out, losing thousands of feet in elevation and then an hour later you could be climbing again another two thousand feet in sunlight, dust and carrying a 45 pound pack, and that kind of work can get old quick especially for busy teens. Not for Scout. Scouts not his real name, he’s a senior at MSJHS, a lifeguard, a camp counselor, a reporter for the school paper and he has a ready smile. He loves the outdoors and California forests so much he reminds me of John Muir. Basically, he’s every mother’s dream kid.
A month ago, this guy single handedly restored my faith in UC admissions. This well deserving kid got into Berkeley.
It shouldn’t be a shock. But I had begun to buy into the myth that acceptance is always about grades, test scores and rigor. Scout's an Eagle Scout, well loved, a pleasure to have in class according to faculty, he thinks deeply and he is never unkind in thought, word or deed. His grades and test scores while good aren’t as high as many Mission parents think they should be for Berkeley admits. After all, in the past two years its an open secret that we have had valedictorians not accepted to Berkeley programs, it's tough to get in to Cal. College admissions can appear to be capricious. After years of helping parents and kids face the college admissions process with less stress I had reached my fill this year and lost my faith. I had begun to believe that if you don’t take honors and AP courses, don’t have above a 3.8 and great test scores that you hadn’t a hope of getting into Berkeley or any “top” UCs. I had bought into a lot of myths. Boy, was I wrong.
This is what Scout’s acceptance to Berkeley taught me.
First, if you pick programs that make sense for you, then you have a better chance of being happy in April. That’s what Scout did; he thought about what makes him tick and made the decision to apply to Forestry programs. One of them happened to be at Berkeley. Cal only lets about 30 kids into their program so it’s a tough road, but Scout’s application screamed forestry guy. He aligned his school choice with his purpose.
Second, admissions offices read the whole application. They value everything they ask for and none of it is a waste. If parents think its just a puzzle and that each choice for activity and service learning opportunity is about ticking the right boxes to get into the right school, then I want to point to Scout, and the valedictorians who don't get into Berkeley, and the multitude of kids who surprise us and achieve their dream fit school before saying, parents, we could be hurting our kids by pushing them to be someone they aren't. We might be skipping over an amazing future because we don't value the kid we see in front of us. Give it some thought...
A couple months ago Scout and his family got a call from Berkeley asking if Scout would be willing to fill out some paperwork and write a supplement to his application. They also asked if he could get a teacher recommendation. This was highly unusual. As it turns out they read his personal statement, pored over his application, and wanted more clarity in the admissions process from Scout. Scout agreed. Berkeley thought he was a great fit in every way and in the end, he chose the Berkeley program.
Now when I talk to kids and parents, I can point to Scout and say, see, if you do the work, are honest and sincere about what you love, then you have a better chance of getting in to the place you need to be. For most kids, they and their families won’t listen, but for Scout…well, his Mom needs to get a new sweatshirt.
High schools can be interesting these days. Recently, there have been a number of parents asking kids to call me "my Mom suggested I call you and ask where can I get my service hours", and "what activities and clubs should I join?" At first I thought parents and students were asking again because I know more than most about the school and the kids, but later I realized another truth that isn't unique to our school. There is a lot of uneasiness around college admissions, so much so that parents often doubt their ability to guide their kids, and kids often doubt themselves. We expect teens to be uneasy, but its more of a surprise in parents.
Parents aren't unique at Mission. They may ask these questions without knowing who their own kids are overall and that's pretty common of parents at many schools. Sure, we know bits and pieces about our teen, but often what we value in our kid isn't what the kids value. Why is that so hard to believe?
Do you think that parents who value an acquaintances opinion on what courses or activities their son should take over their own, probably aren't placing a high value on who their kids appear to be? Do we place a higher value on the kid who makes it into a top school than our own who may seem to be lacking in drive? Perhaps if we truly see the kid we love, see when their face lights up and hear how their voice rises when they talk about what they are interested in we might have a better idea of the courses and activities they might love. I said this to a friend and she thought I was being to hard on parents. She said, "you need to give parents a break because they're just scared". She's right overall, but she is also missing a point that a lot of people miss, including me.
I think these questions, plus the crowds that show up whenever we have a speaker from a school taking less than 10% of its applicants, are signs of a phenomena that is the direct result of a community losing sight of it's way. Who is the high school journey for? As parents, this journey isn't about us, it's about our kids. This is their time to grow up, take responsibility, learn to be a citizen, and to listen to themselves to find what makes them tick. The kids didn't forget it's about them, because they just got here. We are the ones who forgot.
We make this four year period about getting into a certain type of school, maybe because its got a great reputation, or its a great value for the price, or because if our kids don't get in we don't feel like we can't look our family in the eye. We are the ones who are scared. Scared that our kids aren't turning out to be the person we thought they should be. And our choices on what courses to take, what clubs to join and what summer activites to pay for is all about the fear that they won't get into the right program, that gets them to the right school, they gets them to the right job.
High school is about education, it's about growing up. Our students are learning the core curriculum, but they also have a chance to sign up for challenging courses in their areas of interest and eventually find service projects that reflect their core values. Or at least that is what service hours are intended for, to get young adults to find their place within a larger community. Somewhere along the way we got this equation all wrong, we started planning backward from the end product of college admissions instead of realizing a fundamental truth. We started caring more about the mission of the school and less about the mission of our kids.
This is a truth: all human beings are different, with a knack for certain skills and an inner desire to be motivated by what holds meaning for them. They are all different, every one of them and they are not all in the same place at the same time. Schools know this. The know that they need to build a community of like minded individuals who will shape the world in ways that reflect the college's mission. In many ways, the colleges have a brand and their greatest product is their student body. The school perceives the admissions process as carefully selecting students whose purpose aligns with their community. In a way, they read the "labels" on all the students they are choosing. And their perception of who that student thinks they are is reflected in the choices made on activities, service projects and summer programs. Part of the college admissions process are basics that get you past the first round: grades, test scores, and depending on the school program rigor, leadership, innovation and talent in your field. Each school and school program needs a different type of "label".
To be successful as a parent or a student you also need to read the label. You have to support a process that looks at the student first. Value your student for who they are. Then start your search with that label. Find a school based on the student and your chances of having a happy student who is headed to the right environment is much higher. Think about the people you listen to in your life: We follow people who know themselves, trust them, hire them and want to meet them for coffee. You and I share similarities with universities and colleges in looking for someone to share a great evening. When is the last time you chose who to have dinner with based on grades and SAT scores? The person across the table may have had great grades or scores, but that is not what made you want to spend an hour with that person.
Some kids have very clear ideas of who they are and what they want, even if they can't verbalize it. Most kids are distracted by the phenomenal marketing campaigns College Board and Colleges and Universities across the country have done in our society. They will need some support to look at this process as worthwhile. Beware the adage "why would I want to join a club that would have me as a member?" It's tough for people in our community to forge a new path, but you aren't alone. Parents across the country want their kids to be happy, and we know what happy looks like. There are happy teens that light up on the dance floor, or they run miles trying to build up their lung capacity, or they help neighbors master Chemistry concepts on a drop in basis to help them master class material. As parents this is what we look for in our kids. When you see it next time, don't just tell them what you see in them, help them to recognize the moment their face lights up, identify that feeling and want to reproduce it. If they can recognize what makes them happy, it becomes easier for them to listen to their own heart long enough to take the next step. You can help them do what they will do naturally and eventually, turn away from peer pressure and stand on their own with like minded individuals.
That's the kid who grows into choosing acitivites and service projects and courses that reflect who they are. That's a kid who with a little support can look for a college where their face lights up on a regular basis. That student can find faculty and a mission that values their core values. That kid has narrowed their college choices based on what they know about themselves and they can live with the results. Every kid is different and there is a college for every kid who really wants to go and is ready. Look behind that smiling kid on the graduation field, look at his parents. Those are parents who figured it out on a soccer field, or in a dance class, or around a robotics field long ago. They knew to look at their kids face and support them when it lit up, and they probably didn't think about college in that moment.
Being Being Asian has its down sides to it, but the environment around me isn't much better. It's hard because everyone expects me to be the typical Asian when that isn't me at all. I am expected to be really smart, get straight A's, go to Berkeley or Stanford and have a technical career. But I'm not that.. I don't have perfect grades, I don't have perfect SAT scores but I know what's best for me and where my heart is; and that's all that matters.
Of course, my decisions have led to constant degrading remarks made by others and in some cases, the way I see it-ostracism among my friends and family. It feels like I'm a loser because I am not majoring in science or math, or going to a UC. But just like anyone else I want to be accepted for who I am and not be pushed to follow steps, but to create my own. Perfect scores, grades isn't where my expectations, or dreams, or where my heart is at all. but that doesn't mean I don't care. I guess I am what you consider to be an Asian that isn't "Asian".
I want to be an actress, be onstage, or in front of the camera, but most importantly following MY dreams. Doing theatre is what I love, and I feel at home onstage or really just performing anything. When I do that, I feel accepted, and free to be myself without worrying about what other people think. People might say, "Well where is the money in that?" and to that I say that if you are truly passionate about something, you can/will find a way to make it work. Yes, it took a bit of persuasion but it's what i want, what I want to do for the rest of my life. It's my life and I want the chance to make it my own.
Student Leaders can write columns or entries for the community here or anywhere in the site. I know that you have a lot to say and have loved filming you saying it!
PS: Send pictures! It would be great to have pictures from MSJHS and SOS throughout the blog, from the health fair, different events, etc. Don't forget to add Tags to your entries. For example, if your writing about your summer vacation to Colorado, you might use the tags, "summer, vacation, Colorado". As you post entries with similar tags, they can be linked together. This way visitors for your site can easily see all entries that are tagged as "vacation".