This week we welcome Admission Counselor KatieRuth Tucker to the blog. Welcome, KatieRuth!
Cue the pomp and circumstance. Begin the slide show. Start the waterworks. You made it through graduation! Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? How many comments have you received on how you’ve grown and how every moment has led to this one point where everything changes? Are you sick of the never-ending clichés and graduation presents reiterating advice on balancing freedom and responsibility?
I remember thinking if I heard the words “exciting new adventure” one more time, I’d storm off, determined to have as bland and boring a transition as I could muster. Maybe you feel suffocated by the same mantras and well-wishes. But know this: all of the advice-giving, gift showering show of support is because we old people want you to launch in adulthood well. What we already know, and try desperately to communicate, is this transition is of the utmost importance. For 18-year-old ears it sounds like the teacher on the old Peanut cartoons. The truth is adults make such a big deal of going to college because it is the first major transition of your life, and it’s incredibly significant.
College is the time you will start to build your lifelong habits. You start making friends more intentionally, and your choices are truly your own. The series of changes that define your adulthood begin when you step out the door of your parents’ house. The advice is to help you avoid the pitfalls of bad habits and dangerous choices, but also to take risks that pay off. It’s a whole new kind of decision-making and discipline. It takes practice, and college is the perfect training ground. Your parents, mentors, and teachers have all tried their best to give you the tools you need because once you are in college, those direct supports are gone. Sure, there are career centers, counseling, advising and tutoring available, but no one is going to make you go. If this sounds like freedom, you’re right—it is! But freedom also includes learning to take initiative, responsibility, and learning out when it’s time to ask for help.
There are a few guarantees with going to college:
It will be hard.
You will fail.
It will be terrifyingly awesome.
There are a few guarantees with all your future transitions too:
They will be hard.
You will fail.
They will be terrifyingly awesome.
My Hardest Transition
My hardest transition was not college. After graduating from college I moved to a foreign country for work. For a variety reasons I became lonely, frightened and felt disillusioned by what I had imagined for the experience. But I pulled through thanks to the lessons I learned in college. I learned to be bold and make new friends even though I was scared, and years later those habits helped me reach out and make new friends again when I needed them most. College taught me to ask for help, so I got a tutor to help me learn the language. As I worked through that season, I learned new lessons about when it’s okay to move on, when to stand up for yourself, and when to dream something new. This stacking of life lessons and experiences needs a solid foundation, and for many of us, that foundation is built in college.
Change never stops invading your life and taking you by surprise. You will change jobs. You may get married, and if you don’t, some of your friends will. You may decide to change career fields, go back to school, or move to a new city. The lives of graduates today are not like those of previous generations—they fluctuate far more, and learning to adapt is one of the most important skills you learn. Some changes are scarier and more painful than others, but when you face what seems like an insurmountable challenge you can rely on the times you had to change and grow before. You’ll know you’ve done it before and you can do it again, even as those changes become more complex and frightening. There will be times you will look back at the end and think, “Wow, that was terrifying and awesome, and I’m glad I did it.” I know I do.
One of the best parts of changing is realizing you can do it. You will face decisions throughout your life and there are times when “better safe than sorry” is absolutely the best choice (Please, wear a seatbelt, don’t text and drive, and make wise financial decisions!) There will also be times you should take that calculated risk. From asking someone out to moving to a new city to choosing to take the high road and not bend to peer pressure, scary choices come in all forms. College is the time to start creating and practicing new habits so you become the bravest, most adaptable, wisest grown-up version of you that you can be.
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Congratulations to the Class of 2018. You did it! I realize some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Well… it’s not that big of a deal. I mean, I always expected to graduate from high school.” But even if it is just momentarily- take it in. Hold your head high. Give a classmate or a fellow teammate or a teacher or parent a big high five or a fist bump or a hug. It is a big accomplishment and I hope you’ll take time to enjoy it. You put in a lot of late nights and hard work. You made sacrifices and tough choices along the way.
And to parents, the same. Lots of late nights, hard work, sacrifices and tough choices. Not to mention carpool lines, endless days at practices or games or recitals. You have basically earned an advanced degree in logistics by helping this day come to fruition. You purchased copious amounts of food, exercised extreme patience, listened, intervened, questioned yourself, literally and figuratively pulled your hair out, and yet from the first day of kindergarten, when the halls were filled with artwork and children with book bags hanging down to their ankles, until now, you never wavered in your love and support. You also deserve a huge congratulations. Enjoy those hugs!
You know, they say that high school graduation speakers are among the top five most influential voices in a person’s life, and you may be waiting with baited breath for yours this spring. But just in case you do doze off or go down some social media rabbit trail on your phone or have classmate next to you insisting that you play a best of 17 game of hangman or tick-tack-toe, I wanted to provide you an alternative.
I am from Atlanta originally, and after my first year in college, I came home for the summer to take advantage of a meaningful internship… delivering Chinese food. Actually, as the only American working at this all- family, all- cash run restaurant, it was quite an education. But that is a different story for a different day.
A friend of mine from high school, and for the purposes of this story, we’ll call him Gene…actually, that is his real name (really no need to disguise his identity), had gotten really into kayaking that year. He was excited to share his newfound passion with me and another good friend of ours, Jeff (also his real name).
Before we went to a river, however, Gene wanted to help us learn some basics. So one Tuesday night after work, we loaded the boats up onto his old Volvo and headed to Stone Mountain Lake. Now, if you are not from Georgia, there is really nothing you need to know specifically about this lake, except that it is like almost every other inland lake in the world—completely calm.
On the bank of the lake, we put on our helmets, life jackets, and skirts- a tight fitting piece of waterproof equipment that you stretch around the hole of the boat to insure no water comes in. He threw us our paddles and we shoved off into the water.
Skillfully, Gene showed us how to “roll.” Rolling is a maneuver paddlers use to right themselves when their boat tips over in the water. Admittedly, I did hear him twice say “inevitably tip,” but whether it was ego or wishful thinking, I thought he was directing that at Jeff. In order to roll, you stab your paddle into the water, flip your hips, and then allow your torso, shoulders, and ultimately your head to come out of the water (which, of course, is the absolute first thing you want out). For about 45 solid minutes, Jeff and I attempted to emulate this move. Unfortunately, all we were able to accomplish was scaring away all of the ducks and drawing a small crowd of onlookers who were taking great pleasure in our awkward attempts.
Finally, Gene had seen enough. We paddled back to the shore and sat down to eat the sandwiches and chips we’d brought along. Tired, wet, and cold, we sat for a few minutes just looking back out at the still lake. Gene stood up, arched his back, and said, “Yep. I think you’re ready for the river.”
Ready for the River….
So after work that Friday night, we loaded up our boats and gear, packed some healthy snacks like Fritos, Pop Tarts, and Gatorade, and headed to the Nantahala River in North Carolina. We arrived around 1 a.m., camped out, and had a hearty breakfast of granola bars and coffee before heading to the river.
On the way down the mountain, Gene explained that the Nantahala has Class II, III, and IV rapids. My loose translation of what he told us was essentially people can die here. Perfect. Well, I at least I could fall back on my solid lake training and nutritious breakfast. Wait…
We found a parking spot, unloaded our kayaks from the roof, and headed to the river bank. I think it was at that point Gene considered, potentially for the first time, that we may be in over our heads- both literally and figuratively. So, in a final ditch effort, he got into his kayak on the shore and asked us to do the same. As guys were walking past, he starts emulating the roll–showing us how to jam the paddle into the water (although he was doing this into the sandy bank) and flip our hips simultaneously.
It seemed ridiculous. I felt ridiculous. And based on the bearded, shaggy looking guys with tattoos of kayak paddles on their biceps who were walking by and audibly scoffing, I figured my assessment was correct. I am pretty sure I heard one tandem put money on one of us dying that day, and to be honest, if it were me, I would have been in on that action. (Side Note- I later learned there is a direct correlation between kayaking ability and facial hair, but that is merely tertiary in this story).
In what proved to be the smoothest part of the day by far, we pushed off and headed down river. After that, it got ugly fast. Within 20 minutes both Jeff and I flipped twice and were unable to roll back over. And I’m not going to lie. This happened to both of us at least once in pretty still water. We just flipped for no apparent reason.
The pain about flipping over when you can’t roll is that you have to pull the skirt off the ridge of the boat, grab the kayak, find your paddle, and swim to the shore. Along the way, you are inevitably hitting idle rocks, or continuing to go down pseudo-rapids. Oh… and it’s cold. This water has just been released from a mountain dam. I’m not saying its Vermont but water in that part of North Carolina in late May is chilly. You get to the side, dump out the water, regain the breath you lost between the effort and the temps, and head back in. After about the sixth time, it’s pretty miserable.
Into the Washing Machine
Miraculously, after several hours, we made it to the final rapid of that section. This was a beast affectionately known as “The Washing Machine.” Gene called it a “hydraulic,” which loosely translated means “death trap.” Essentially, this is just a furious, whirling mess of water, rocks, and debris at the bottom of a several foot drop.
We pulled our boats over to a sandy beach and climbed up to a rickety old observation deck (Note: I was there recently and saw that they have installed a paved path and picnic tables. I think they somehow made the rapid smaller too). We ate some beef jerky and watched other boats go down.
“See that rock,” Gene said, pointing to a big boulder a few yards ahead of the precipitous drop-off. “You have to get to the left of it. Go right and… Well, don’t go right. Check out that log.”
I saw it enter, spin, disappear, and then come shooting out splintered into a thousand pieces.
“Yea. That’ll be you if you go right.” Terrifying.
At the bottom of the rapid I saw these really skilled kayakers playing in the rapid. Basically, once they had gone down, they would turn their boat back upriver and intentionally put the nose of their boat back into the rapid. They would spin, sometimes flip, but then immediately right themselves and “surf” along the rocks. Then they would be pushed out by the force of the water and go back in for more. It did look cool, but with only had 45 minutes of preparation, five hours of sleep, and a few Pop Tarts in my belly, I was thinking survival at this point.
Then, Gene’s voice interrupted. “All right. Let’s do it.” I picked up my helmet and headed back down towards the water. Right as we get back to the kayaks, Gene says (almost off-handedly), “You know. If you don’t want to do this, you could portage.”Like so many of the terms associated with this God-forsaken sport, I’d never heard this one either, but I rightly inferred that it meant “carry your boat around.”
“Yep,” he explained. “If you don’t want to tackle The Washing Machine, you can portage down the road, and I’ll meet you on the other side.” Now, let’s be honest. No self-respecting, red-blooded, eighteen-year-old is going to do that. Far better to die in a hydraulic, right?!
Gene went first. Naturally, he adeptly navigated to the left of the rapid, momentarily disappeared from view as he went over the rocks, and then came out upright in the waters on the other side. Then, he turned, pumps his fist, and waved at us to come down.
I remember doing rock-paper-scissors with Jeff to see who was to go second. Technically, he lost and was up next. I watched him go slowly toward the rock. Now, I’m not saying I wanted to see him go right, but there was a part of me hoping for a slightly rough ride so I could finish on top. One upping each other was what this was all about after all.
But it was not to be. In the run of his life he not only went left, but somehow managed to stay upright. I saw him and Gene high five. And even at a 30-yard distance I could see Jeff’s smug smirk.
Now it was my turn. I took a deep breath, said the only part of a Hail Mary I remembered, and headed down river. I saw the rock clearly and I had a good line, but at the most pivotal moment, with the final key stroke I needed to go left… Honestly, I still cannot explain what happened, but I completely whiffed. I got no water at all with my paddle. Only air.
My boat hit the rock square on. A complete T-bone, which gives you a 50/50 shot of going either way. Well, I would not be telling this story today if I had gone left. Instead, the impact spun me around backwards.I am not sure if it was the water, the rocks, or my utter and complete panic, but I flipped over. So now I’m backwards, upside down, and hurtling into the hydraulic. I’m guessing it was the force of the fall that shot my paddle from my hands, and it was definitely the ferocity of the water that caused my helmet to spin around backwards and completely cover my face. In that moment, backwards, upside down, to the right, with no paddle, no vision and water surging through orifices in my body that I did not even know existed, I remember thinking, “Well… it’s been a good ride. At least I didn’t portage.”
But then I recalled two things Gene said just as we left the observation deck. One, of course, was don’t go right. Definitely remembered that. But the other was, “If you do end up in the hydraulic, you are going to want to fight it and swim out. That’s the last thing you should do. The water is too strong and you’ll exhaust yourself. You have to relax. Let your body go.” So I did. I put my hands down and went completely limp.
In doing so, I got utterly catapulted into the air. I had to have gotten about two or three feet of air. I I am not sure if this was the water slapping across my face or the momentum and torque, but my helmet totally whipped back around.
Fresh air. Light. And then, Bam! I land on the water hard and then bounced once. Then, an absolute eruption. At first I thought it was thunder. Then I looked up at the observation deck. It was pandemonium. Guys were hugging, screaming, chest bumping, high fiving, slamming their kayak paddles together in a tribe like celebration. They were going absolutely nuts.
And so were the really skilled kayakers all around me who were playing in the rapid. They were yelling and pointing at me in congratulations, pumping their fists with approval. Elated.
As I’m taking in this absurd scene someone taps me on the shoulder. I look back and this other kayaker is holding my paddle. He has this look of absolute awe as he says, “Dude. That. Was. Awesome! I have been trying to hand roll for like six years. Can you teach me?” I’d never heard that term either, but I was able to gather myself enough to grab the paddle, spin around and say, “Man. I haven’t got time for that today.”
Then I paddled down to where Gene and Jeff were literally crying they were laughing so hard.
So why do I share this with you today? I think it’s pretty obvious really. God’s speed. No, in all seriousness, there are three points to share with you.
First, you are READY!
You are ready for college. You are ready for the challenges it will bring. You have a helmet. You can do the work. You have a life-jacket in the tremendous support system around you: your family, friends, teachers, and all of those folks who have and will always be there for you. You are prepared. You are not coming onto the river from a still lake without proper training or practices. You’re not heading to a campus on a terrible diet of Fritos and Pop Tarts. You have a boat and a paddle. You are ready for the adventure the next four years will bring. And my hope is you see it that way- as a great river to endeavor out into. I hope that you will play in it and surf”in it. Take a class that sounds interesting just because you want to. Learn to unicycle, try an instrument, eat some food you can’t spell or pronounce. Go on a 10 hour road trip to a state you’ve never been in before. Enjoy. Use your skills and talents and all of the ways you’ve been equipped to thrive and have fun! You. Are. Ready!
Second, you are NOT READY!
Didn’t you listen to the story? There are rocks, rapids, hydraulics, and currents beneath the surface that you will never see coming. This is no joke. You are going to get bumped around. Some of you have never seen a B except on an eye chart. Prepare for a C. Things are not going to completely go your way. You are going to get spun around. You may not make the team or be elected into a club you are hoping for. Your first choice internship is going to fall through, and even worse, your best friend is going to get it. You are going to feel like there is water rushing across your face. That major is going to turn out to be a bad fit. And that’s all before the big break up at Thanksgiving. Sickness, bankruptcy, divorce… What? Am I going to far?
But you see my point, right? You cannot totally prepare for all of what is coming. You are not prepared for all of what is coming! Not on your own. So in those hydraulic moments, I hope you will remember what you see around you today. Remember those faces. Look at those smiles. They are here to hand you your paddle when you emerge. The truth is we all have those times when it feels like our paddle has been ripped away and we are backwards and upside down. We all question if we are up for certain challenges. But your family and friends- they are your boat and life jacket. And no hydraulic of life is going to take them away. In college, at some point or another, you will have some dark days. You will wonder if you can keep it all together. In those times, you have to relax and stop fighting. You have to stop trying to do it all yourself and reach out. Let them cheer for you, high five you, fist bump or paddle slam or simply celebrate you as you navigate your way through.
Lastly, DON’T PORTAGE!
Please don’t waste your college days, or your days beyond those, by taking the easy way out. Regrets come from moments when we see an opportunity and we let it pass.
Every good graduation speech has at least on quote. Since this is not a graduation speech, and its quality is debatable, I’m going to give you two.
1 – “A ship at harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” John A. Shedd
We are created to endure, to live fully, to live not out of fear but love and adventure. Don’t be too scared to risk. Don’t be too concerned with how you will look to try something new or different. Don’t stay in a major you know is not right for you. Don’t avoid a class or bypass a trip or stay in a relationship simply because it’s the safest path. This is your run on the river. Point the nose of your boat directly into it and go!
2 – “Most live lives of quiet desperation & go to their graves with their songs still in them.” Henry David Thoreau
Don’t let that be your college career or your life beyond it. I hope you’ll take advantage of all that awaits you in college. Study abroad, take tough classes, hang out with people from places you’ve never been. KNOW THAT when you are in the hydraulics life throws at you that ultimately you’ll come out down river, in calm waters, and with friends and family around you–just like they are today.
Congratulations, Class of 2018! I’m excited to see where the waters lead you.
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“Where is your other sock? How is it possible to only have one?” I said incredulously to my 7-year-old. “I’m going to start waking you up at 5 a.m.” It was 7:45 a.m. Her backpack was half-zipped, she was not wearing a jacket in 40-degree weather, and the snack I packed for her expedition to the zoo was sitting on the counter as she approached the door. Other thoughts also flew through my head, such as “you have one job; I hope you’re wearing underwear; only 11 more years; I’ll brush her hair and teeth tomorrow.” What can I say? This is next level parenting.
Like watching a movie on fast forward we drove, parked, ran across the park and into the school (embarrassingly, I was 20 yards ahead as if it’s my name on the roll). We get to the classroom at 8:00:45 a.m. and the announcements are rolling. My daughter was nervous to go in at this point, so we crossed the threshold of the door as the Pledge of Allegiance started.
A few other things also happened to me this week. I won’t get into the details on workout classes or meetings or books or movies or trips—you’ve heard about those things before. But this week two things in particular stand out:
A staff member announced she’s leaving our team. Granted, this has happened before. In my time at Georgia Tech, I’d put the number of colleagues who have left around 60, but some hurt worse than others. Jade is a Tech alumna. She started working for us right after graduation and over the last four years she’s been absolutely incredible with everything we’ve asked her to handle (and that’s been a lot). She’s a spitfire. I’ve walked into my office to find her sitting there eating lunch asking me, “Can I help you?” Funny, smart, caring—she’s beautiful in every way. I love her. Even though she’s staying in Atlanta, it won’t be the same not seeing her every day and I am going to deeply miss her smile, wit, perspective, and infectious personality.
We’ve been making lots of admission decisions. This Saturday, March 10, we will release approximately 21,000 admission decisions. Over the last few months, and particularly the last few weeks, our staff has spent a lot of time together. In our process applications are reviewed by two team members before moving into Committee. At this stage, groups of three or pairs are going back over applications with various recommended decisions to re-examine individual decisions and ensure we meet our class goals. Admitting one of every four applicants is tough. Thousands of incredible students with great stories who we simply cannot admit. Fun? No, it’s not. Every day we have debates and disagreements in our office about a student, a school, a state, a major, our process, our communication and recruitment strategy, if only local honey has allergy countering effects, or if the correct spelling is “grey” or “gray.”
Back at my daughter’s school, I put my hand over my heart to join in the pledge and we come to the word indivisible. It struck me. It stuck with me after I hugged my daughter and walked back (much more slowly) across the park. It stuck with me on the train, on my walk, all day after, and even as I’m writing now. Indivisible. I thought about the public finger-pointing, vitriol on social media, drama of the nightly news, bickering and blaming, dearth of humility, and the prevalence and proliferation of fear in our world today. Division seems to be far more the norm and trend these days.
And then I thought about you- as highschool students. I thought about the lessons you teach us through your applications. We have the honor of reading incredible stories every year—the essays, emails, and life stories we see, hear, and read challenge us and inspire us. I’m so thankful for my job because seeing the talent, passion, and perseverance you demonstrate through your applications gives me hope.
The truth is we teach you very little in the admission process. You visit. You apply. You receive a decision. You ultimately come or don’t come. So today I hope to return the favor, even to the smallest extent.
Look Back. Go Back.
If you are a senior, I know you are excited about next year—and you should be. My guess is you are talking about “moving on” or “our last” this or that a good bit these days. That’s awesome. But remember for your parents, teachers, counselors, and coaches every time you say one of these things, or even when you just walk into the room, they feel conflicted. Sure, some have better poker faces than others. Outwardly, you will get a lot of smiles, hugs, high-fives, and congratulations and best wishes. But when you are not looking they close their eyes, take a deep breath, and remind themselves it’s going to be okay. Even if you are the third of three (some would argue especially if that’s the case) to go to college, they still feel this way. Just because they’re the adult, or they’ve been through it before, or they are the ones who have been encouraging you to do this all along, your absence will leave a hole.
We have a Facebook page for current and former staff members. When we go to conferences we make an effort to have at least one Tech dinner of current and former team members. Honestly, very little gives me as much joy as to see and hear from our former admission staff. Once family, always family. So before you walk out of the room, before you leave school this spring, before you close the door, look back. Walk back in one more time to say thanks. Tell them you love them. Tell them something specific about how they’ve helped you. And when you think of them next year as you’re eating in the dining hall or leaving an exam or heading to a game, send them a text or email, make a quick call. Once family, always family. Indivisible.
As I said, our staff disagrees constantly. If you could listen to conversations in committee you’d hear different perspectives on a student’s match for Tech or what the ultimate decision should be. In review, if counselors have opposing opinions they’ll make a note of their disagreement and send the application on for further review. I always admire that, despite not always seeing eye-to-eye in review, they go eat together, go for walks together, and spend time together socially as well.
Last week, our Senior Associate Director and I looked over all recommended decisions and projections for the class. In order to meet class goals (size, geographic distribution, etc.) we asked our team to re-visit many of their previous recommendations. Did they love our directive? Nope. Did they have legitimate questions about timing and rationale? Absolutely. But ultimately they understood the big picture and what has to be done to meet our goals. Within your family, on your team, and in your job, club, and community I hope you’ll both speak up for what you believe is right and experience progress that can emanate from confidence and also from compromise.
As you graduate and move on, I encourage you to look for opportunities to improve things by finding middle ground– and always trying to see the bigger picture, particularly when others around you are taking a myopic view. Indivisible does not mean 100% agreement in the short term, but rather 100% commitment to ultimate unity. Listen, consider, revisit, and seek out multiple opinions. A holistic admission process is actually a great example of how this can done well, and unfortunately, there are precious few cases of this right now in our society.
What the College Experience Creates
People will tell you college is the best time of your life. Perhaps it’s partly because of what the college experience creates: a diverse community that comes to campus from a wide variety of counties, states, and nations. A group of strangers with varying religious, ethnic, political, and philosophical backgrounds who have the opportunity to live together, eat together, exchange ideas and beliefs in class and in residence halls all week, and then cheer for the same teams at night or on the weekend. One banner, one campus, one motto. Win or lose… Indivisible.
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Last week I flew out on a cloudy, rainy, windy day. As we taxied on the runway, raindrops skimmed down the windows. The turbulence on the way up was fairly severe, and the woman next to me, who I never met, grabbed my arm and buried her head in my shoulder. Awkward? Absolutely. But after a few minutes we burst through the clouds into blue skies. It was amazing. Bright, warm sunshine came beaming through the windows. My new friend looked out, smiled, and then looked back at me and said, “Thank you. I’m sorry. I hate flying.” “No problem,” I replied. “Happy to help.”
I’ve had this experience before (not the stranger on the shoulder thing, but the bursting through the clouds part), and I truly love it. It’s uplifting and inspiring. There’s something magical and empowering in leaving behind rough weather and cruising into the clear, open sky.
No matter how old you are, we all have our fears, our day-to-day problems, and our nagging concerns. Some people may hide these fears well, but deep down we’re all anxious or uncertain or stressed on some level. Maybe it’s an upcoming exam or a turbulent relationship. Maybe it’s a big decision or a financial burden. And let’s be honest, in the past year in our nation, there are both micro and macro issues that have been disheartening and deeply disconcerting.
If you are a senior about to go off to college, I want to urge you now to think about your “above the clouds” moments and the people and experiences that give you life and encouragement, because you’re definitely going to have some gray days in the first year of college. (I know, I know… This blog started out so positive. Don’t worry, we’ll get back there.)
Here’s the thing: Starting a new life at college is a big deal. I know to this point it’s mostly been about where to apply, where you got in, and ultimately, where to go. But in a post-May 1 world, it’s now about getting ready.
Sure, some of “getting ready” is labeling your clothing and doing a few practice runs in the laundry room. I’m not discounting that as important and worthwhile. Definitely check the bed lengths for appropriate sheet sizes. Keep reading, do a few math problems, read the emails your new college sends and then DO WHAT THEY SAY.
But this summer is also a time to consider self-care. I’ll admit that I’m not the master here. I don’t sleep enough. I drink too much coffee. My stretching is inconsistent and sometimes I wear the same pair of boxers or socks two days in a row. But that clunky, imperfect, messy daily life is inevitable. We all fall into patterns and make mistakes and battle against the wind and rain and clouds of daily life. And that’s why you should think now about where you get your energy. What fills your cup? Who makes you laugh or encourages or inspires you?
Find Your Place
Throughout high school you may not ever have really thought about this, because those familiar places in your house, neighborhood, and hometown have always been there.
I like high places. They give me perspective. In high school, there was a Waffle House right by the highway near my house. You could take a trail from behind the restaurant to a cliff overlooking the interstate. A friend and I would sit up there for hours talking, watching cars, and just thinking about life. It was healthy and refreshing (admittedly, slightly dangerous, but as a 17-year old boy those traits are often intertwined).
In college I found a few campus rooftops (primarily all open to public) where I’d study or go to talk with a friend or simply sit on tough days. Take some time this summer to reflect on where you go to find similar refreshment, whether that be mentally and figuratively (a movie or a book) or literally a physical place. And then look for those spaces and places this fall on campus.
Find Your Person
If you are dating someone or have a long-time best friend, you likely have some cheesy things you say to one another. This will continue in your life, and it’s healthy. It conveys intimacy and trust and something that’s unique and special to that relationship. It’s indicative of time spent and a reliance that we all need. My wife and I, in tough times (and often when we’re coming out of a difficult period) will say, “You are my person.” Sounds funny as I write and read that, but in the moment those four words somehow convey a million thoughts and emotions.
Who is your person? Who is it that gives you energy; checks in on you; asks you good questions; doesn’t allow apathy or self-pity? Who walks into a room and gives you a smile or a look and helps you rise above the clouds? First, if you have not already, tell them (whether it’s a parent or a sibling or good friend or teammate). And, before you call it a career in high school, a few teachers, counselors, coaches and others could probably use a head nod, fist bump, or anonymous note too.
Second, give some thought to what makes that person so special and unique. Look, I’m not saying you’re going to replicate that relationship in your first semester at college. Odds are you won’t and can’t. But understanding why “your person” is “your person” is a good place to start, so you’ll recognize it when you see it.
Freshman year is exciting. It’s a new start with tons of opportunities and experiences. New relationships, new professors and classmates, a new town, a new schedule. But what will not change are the moments of self-doubt, the uncertainty within relationships, the anxiety and pressure of academics, and the cloud-filled days where you can’t even identify the source of the problem. I hope you’ll use the summer to find YOUR place and YOUR person so that YOU are ready and can see and feel the sun when you most need it.
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I am having a great week, largely because I’ve spent a lot of time with my daughter’s kindergarten class. On my birthday I had “lunch” with her, which starts at 10:45 a.m.! At that hour, I just opted for the chocolate milk (maybe it’s just me, but school chocolate milk is always better than other places… kind of like a Coke at a baseball game, or a hot pretzel on the street in New York).
Earlier in the week I got to be Mystery Reader, which is always a good time. You show up at a certain time and stand in the hallway while the teacher gives the kids clues about who is waiting outside. All 20 kids start with their hands up.
“Ok. He has brown hair.” A few hands go down.
“He likes to run.” A decent number go down on this.
“He loves Bojangles chicken biscuits.” I’m watching this one closely because no kid of mine is going to be friends with someone who’s not being raised properly. It’s down to just two kids now.
“He works at Georgia Tech.” I hear a scream and my daughter comes running out to get me. Who wouldn’t love that?!
King Hugo’s Huge Ego
I go in, say hi, high five a few kids I know, throw out some fist bumps or nods to the kids in the back of the room, and sit down to read. The book I brought was King Hugo’s Huge Ego. I’m only on the cover page when the first question comes up. “What’s an ego?” Now trying to break that down for this age group ain’t easy. Words like “id” and “conscious” are going through my head but I settled on something a lot less Psych 101.
“What does haughty mean?” He didn’t say “haughty” he said “naughty.” “Do you mean ‘hottie?’” We navigate all of this too.
In the story, King Hugo is an incredibly pretentious ruler. He brags all the time, asks his denizens to bow down as he passes, and delivers self-aggrandizing speeches from his tower every day. Finally, a sorceress puts a spell on him so that his head enlarges with every boastful statement. Still, he does not realize the error of his ways, and eventually his head gets so big that he floats away like a balloon in the wind. The sorceress then plugs up his ears and he finally listens and understands the implications of his incessant boasts. Ultimately, he repents, his head shrinks back to a normal size, and he becomes a fair, wise, and beloved monarch.
Thinking of Yourself a Lot
In the admission process, there is an important distinction between thinking A LOT OF YOURSELF and thinking of YOURSELF A LOT. The former can lead to some ill-advised choices in your application choices, some obnoxious lines in essays, and ultimately set you up for disappointment when receiving admission decisions. The latter, however, is one of the keys to having options, growing along the way, and ending up at a school that’s a great fit for you.
Since I’ve been hanging out with elementary school kids, I’m going to keep this pretty basic. If you are a junior or a sophomore in high school right now, I encourage you to draw on the adage of “STOP. DROP. ROLL,” and “LOOK. WATCH. STARE.”
As a sophomore or junior, you are starting to get a lot of college brochures. The first thing to remember (we’ve covered this before, but again, this is in the spirit of lower school “repetition for comprehension”) is RECYCLE. But before that, you should be LOOKing, at all of it. Never heard of the school? That’s okay. Nobody ever heard of Justin Bieber until he posted a few covers on YouTube about a decade ago. I would LOOK with one eyebrow raised at pictures. Helpful but maybe not in the “1000 words” kind of way. Many are photoshopped and some use models rather than real students. “How did they get three kids from different ethnicities reading books from three different genres while wearing three different styles?” It’s simple–they staged it. But LOOK closely at the words and statements. Who does the school say they are? Does that resonate with you? At Georgia Tech we talk a lot about innovation, entrepreneurship, and creating the next “fill-in-the-blank-here.” What is the school’s key message? Then, take a LOOK at yourself. Is that you? Is that who you want to be, or who you want to be around, or how you want your college experience to be defined? Finding the right college is a process, and it takes some work, not to mention honesty. REALLY LOOK.
It’s spring break time for high schools right now (like I needed to tell you). I know this not because I’m headed out on a cruise or putting a playlist together, but because we are literally receiving thousands of guests each week who want to tour Tech. When you go to a school for a college visit, I hope you will take some time before or after the tour and information session to just sit and WATCH. WATCH the other visitors. Do they look and sound like the kind of students you would want to go to college with? Find a good bench outside, or a table in the dining hall or food court, near a bunch of students. Go to a coffee shop right off campus and pretend to read, but really just listen and WATCH (do be careful not to make this creepy). What are they saying, reading, and listening to? Don’t rush on and off a college campus. Don’t just go on the tour, listen to the info session, and take the photoshopped brochure and leave. WATCHing takes time…. So make time for it.
If you are a junior, I’m imploring you to get awkward and STARE. STARE intently at your senior (as in 12th graders) friends, neighbors, and teammates who are weighing their college options. They have gotten in at some places, been waitlisted or denied at other places, and perhaps they’re still waiting to hear from some final colleges and universities. STARE. And listen to how they’re processing these choices. What do you hear them saying? How are they going about making their final decision? Is it about the cost? Is it about the athletics, or the academics, or the location, or the opportunities? Again, you have to be willing to really assess who YOU are and who YOU want to be. What factor(s) do you want to make your college choice based upon, and which ones are most important to you? Write these down. How will what you see and hear impact where you will apply, and where do you want to be in a year from now with your choices?
If you really want to be bold and embrace this process, then straight up ASK them. ASK what they would have done differently…. what they wish they had known… who they wish they’d talked to… and who they should have just ignored.
Like I said, I’ve been hanging with Kindergartners this week. I’m telling you: to do this college process right you need take a lesson from them–the master-askers of how, what and why; the unabashed kings of LOOKing, WATCHing, and STARE (bear with me) ing. So embrace your inner six-year old today. And never let go.
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