In the wee hours of the morning dawn penetrates the soil, sending its golden rays searching for structure in which to breathe new life. Two buds are born and begin growth, tree and vine, side-by-side. Soon the tree is dismayed to find that his upward growth has halted and he will never reach as high as the vine. His whole life he has been part of the race to shoot for the stars and he can’t even reach the clouds. Deep beneath the fertile ground he would prefer to construct his network of roots, but rather than rely on his instincts he puts all his effort into trying to reach as high as the vine, not knowing that without those roots someday he will bend and wither. How can one expect the majestic tree to keep growing up when his very cellular makeup is uniquely structured to grow down? Those looking on might say the vine is taller, but with roots that reach forever down the tree contains just as much length as the vine.
We are caught in a relentless race to perfection in a world where to be the best one has to do, quite literally, everything. Students suffer from do everything we are told syndrome. You say, “take these classes,” we do it. You say, “do every sport,” we nod our head. You say, “be involved in every extracurricular activity,” we obey. Some, like the tree, spend every single effort doing every single thing and in doing so discard the thing (or things) that makes them individual. Many, like the vine, do well in growing forever upward as the tallest and brightest. And yet, when all try to be like the vine you end up with piles of transcripts containing countless A’s in every AP class and endless lists of extracurricular activities.
Individuality is lost amongst a sea of students with the exact same scores and grades. If given the option to take even more classes by forfeiting lunch students would respond as if receiving a royal decree that couldn’t be ignored, jumping at the opportunity because, of course, it would be one more item to add to their perfect record. I am no exception. After all, lunch is not as important as having that extra gold star next to your name. But, eventually everyone would have that gold star as even the extra lunchtime preparation would disappear into the world of everyone’s doing it.
Students are misguided into putting their efforts into extra activities and classes that they wouldn’t usually focus on because they believe it will make them more special. Classes and test scores are trivial and only reveal one dimension of growth. What about the growth that can’t be seen under the surface? Students don’t have much to work with as far as broadcasting their specialties. I mean, sure we write essays and answer questions about our hobbies and interests. But, seeing individuality in an essay or test score is about as effective as looking through binoculars backwards. Those who deserve to get into college are those who know themselves and their dreams, those who have done something more than just fit the mold. Students who truly desire to go to a college of their choice should be encouraged to do a project that reveals their dreams, that stands out because it is uniquely their own. No instructions, no how to, no grade. An open project designed by you, the student. The future architect might design their dream house. The botanist may build a small greenhouse in their yard. The basketball player could contact famous NBA players with a question and record the answers on their favorite basketball. Allow students a chance to dig deep and find their roots and they will do astonishing things.
It is difficult to find a stand out student when the spotlight is shining over thousands of them. You just can’t truly know someone without a one on one conversation. Humans have a remarkable capability of reading facial expressions and body language to determine things about an individual. This is what is lacking in admissions. You are limited to words on a page and cannot expand to see the bigger picture. Interviews should become a common tool used by colleges to get a better feel for the identities of students, therefore shrinking the spotlight to just one character at a time. A paper cannot tell you what lies within, and sometimes even the individual doesn’t know because they haven’t had the time to look.
Gardens are filled with varieties of plants, not just one kind. Rather than focusing on the bland facts, students and colleges alike should seek out the things that make a person an individual. This way both the vine and the tree are encouraged to grow in their own way, not pressured to fit a perfect picture.
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