This year marks my 17th year in college admission and high school counseling. SO….is this my career? How did this happen? It feels like yesterday I was wandering around New England as an admission counselor looking for two hundred year old prep schools who give directions that include: turn left at the red barn (not the sienna barn, but the red barn) and if you pass the Revolutionary War battle marker, you’ve gone too far. When someone asks me if college counseling really is my career the answer is easily, yes. I like to frame the discussion like this: You’ve been told that you will spend the next ten years doing this job. Is this a privilege or a sentence? I have to be honest. I love this job. It never gets old. Each student’s journey is unique and there is always another school, program or opportunity to research. Visiting colleges is like visiting a history of the United States. I promise that this series won’t always be so philosophical, but I truly believe that this work is a privilege. This isn’t the oldest profession (keep it clean) and it may not be the noblest, but I like to think of it as nestled somewhere in the middle. It’s important work and I’m proud to work alongside talented men and women who feel the same way.
Now, why Tales From The Bio Dome? I latched onto this scientific anecdote a couple of years ago, and it has become a guiding principle in my counseling. The principle goes like this: Trees don’t grow in a bio dome. Scientists would construct a huge glass dome and an artificial “controlled” environment was created with purified air, water, filtered light, etc., offering the perfect growing conditions for trees, fruits and vegetables …and humans. Sounds like prep school, right? Trees would be planted and they would grow to a certain height and then simply topple over. It took scientists a long time to realize that they were missing one essential element, wind. Wind provides the resistance that causes a tree’s roots to sink deep and anchor it in the essential nutrients needed in order to withstand the storms that are sure to blow. If trees could talk (I grew up Oregon and knew people who regularly talked to trees) I think they would tell us that they relish the wind. The wind was the preparation for the tests to come and without it, they were defenseless.
I’m scared that, educationally, we are raising trees in a bio dome. My students don’t always relish the wind and, in fact, many of them seek fairly constant shelter. I grew up in a home where my dad regularly used the words, “Look it up and figure it out.” So when I said, “Dad, turns out that college is hard and I’m not sure of my preparation.” His advice? “Figure it out.” At the time, I found it a little mean. In hindsight, I see that my dad know that my resourcefulness among adversity would reveal character and prepare me for what was next out there beyond college, where truly adult behavior is required. As opposed to the behavior with an adult after taste that college requires.
This summer, my wife and I read The Hobbit to our 9 year old son and our 5 year old daughter. At the end of the book (SPOILER ALERT!) Bilbo the simple hobbit has taken an incredible journey where he helped to slay dragons and restore kingdoms. As he leaves to journey home, Gandalf the wizard comments, “Bilbo, there is something different about you. You are not the hobbit you once were.” Education should do that. Challenges shape us and grow us until we are more than we imagined that we could be.
Encourage your students to do hard things. Remind them that the preparation is worth it. Counsel them to be thoughtful lovers of words and ideas. I try to tell students every day that true leadership is the identification of a problem and having the courage to relentlessly pursue a solution. This generation is smart, curious and capable. We need them to be resourceful. Be the wind (not beneath their wings) that will prepare them to figure it out.
By Jeff Morrow