To the seniors of 2008

<p>After six years of lurking, my first post! (I still miss Jamimom, that’s how long I’ve been lurking.) With the help of all the wisdom I’ve learned from CC, I’ve just finished the college admissions cycle with my oldest son. After taking the plunge down those tumultuous rapids, I’m very relieved to have made it through to calmer waters until DD faces her own challenges in 2012. </p>

<p>And yet. And yet I’m disturbed to see the heartbreak, angst and anger that cover these boards right now. I know there have other posts addressing this subject, but I offer these thoughts for the help they might give. (Forgive my temerity in making my first post so long.)</p>

<p>To the seniors of 2008.</p>

<p>To the 2.8 million of you graduating in this country this year, don’t spend one more minute feeling badly, feeling inadequate, feeling as if in some way, somehow you didn’t measure up. As has been so often pointed out on this board, Harvard admitted only 1948 out of the 27,462 who applied. (Feel free to substitute numbers for universities X,Y or Z if it makes this argument more meaningful for you.) That means 25,694 of you now feel approximately like dirt that you didn’t win the right to grace the green pastures of Cambridge next year. While we’re at it, the other 2,798,052 of you who didn’t actually apply to Harvard probably also still feel like crunchy terra firma that there’s no crimson diploma in your future. In fact, given Harvard’s popularity the world over, out of 120 million eighteen-year-olds on this planet, there are undoubtedly 119,998,052 kids who now feel somehow unworthy because they’re not going to Harvard, even if they don’t know where in the United States Harvard actually is. Well, stop it. That kind of regret is not worth one more breath.</p>

<p>Harvard didn’t reject 120 million people because, after pouring them all into a vat, it was clear 1948 of them constituted the cream. Harvard chose 1948 people out of 120 million because it only has room for about 1650 freshman each year. It’s not Harvard’s fault really, it’s not your fault, and it is absolutely no reflection on your worth as a human being. None. Nada. In all the ways that really matter, the college you attend is no reflection on your worth and has no ultimate impact on your success or happiness in life. Because we live in a competitive, hierarchical society, we like to create competitive, hierarchical college admissions, and Harvard merely serves its function in that arrangement. Such a system by no means maximizes the potential of the human race; it does, however, shine a floodlight on a tiny number of people who indeed may be talented and who, we hope, will contribute in a significant way to humanity. Does that mean your future contributions are not also valuable and vital? Does that mean we, as a society, esteem and admire you less than those headed to Harvard Yard? As tempted as you might be to say yes, the answer is no, we firmly love and value you not a whit less. We eagerly await your discoveries, your joys, how your life will play out. The world is large, and talent is everywhere. (Thank goodness, because there is much to be done.) And also, let’s remember, a Harvard admissions letter is not a magic inoculation against sorrow, adversity, or the need for hard work. Effort and imagination, persistence and grace are required from all of us every day of our lives. </p>

<p>You, beloved graduating senior, need to realize that every single one of the kids posting on this board, every single one of the 2.8 million in this country graduating from high school—not to mention every single one of the 1.2 million kids in this country <em>not</em> graduating--every single one of you is valuable, worthwhile and needed. With the problems the human race faces, there is no time for bitterness, no room for regret. (And at this point in your journey there is little value in splitting hairs over which college is better or worse along the 10,000 different spectrums that the human mind can devise.) We must all put our oar in the water and row. For those of you off to college, you are being given a great gift—four years to learn and grow, to expand your horizons, to absorb all the knowledge the human race has to offer. The only limits are the ones you will impose on yourself due to lack of ambition or the understandable need for sleep. We, the adults of this country, whether we are your parents, alumni or merely taxpayers, are making this enormous investment in you because we believe--no, we know--that your education is essential to both our country and our planet. </p>

<p>But to this investment there are strings attached. We need you to spend the next four years not in an alcoholic haze but rather taking your education seriously. Whatever you choose to do in life, being able to analyze logically, communicate coherently and apply basic mathematical and statistical concepts can only make you more capable and successful. (A passing acquaintance with chemistry, physics, biology, literature and the history of human activity on this planet will give you the depth of intellect necessary for the pressing, complex--and often technical--social and environmental challenges ahead.) The most interesting discoveries are often in the seams between fields of knowledge. Go deep, go wide. The world is out there waiting to be plummeted. </p>

<p>But, you say, the colleges I’ve been accepted to are not challenging enough, not prestigious enough, are not enough of a reward for all my hard work. First off, let’s be clear. You’re eighteen--the hard work is ahead of you, not behind. But if, wherever you go, you find kids who are not as motivated or interested in academics as you would like, what this means is that your university absolutely needs the kind of student you are. You can be the kid who, by talking about Herodotus at the dinner table, inspires someone who has never heard of Odysseus to take a course in ancient Greek history. You can be the kid who, by cracking a joke about Schrodinger’s cat, actually creates a lively discussion in your quantum mechanics class. It’s easy enough to trade bons mots with the witty, but to raise the level of inquiry and consciousness of a bevy of youths intent on beer and/or their next pedicure—well, that is an undertaking worthy of the greats. Challenge yourself, get to know your professors, glean every resource your university has to offer. Try something new every semester–take a class in an unfamiliar subject, try out a crazy extracurricular activity, get to know the slightly strange kid at the end of your hall--anything (not illegal) that stretches who and what you are. </p>

<p>And four years from now, after your lovely, mind-expanding interlude, that’s when we need you to get really serious. We need you (and your 120 million cohorts) to discover a nonpolluting renewable energy source, cure cancer, end homelessness, manage the planet’s oceans, educate inner city youth, regrow tropical forests, repair our climate, reduce the world’s population, end genocide, prevent species extinction, create stable political systems, gently develop the third world, end starvation, create racial harmony, fix health care, (did I leave anything out?) do all the things that the generations before you have been unable to achieve but still so desperately need to be done. On top of all that, be a humane and loving parent (should you become one,) a responsible citizen, and a kind human being. </p>

<p>I don’t know if you will discover a unified field theory that will enable someone else to develop cheap, clean energy, or if you will be the third grade teacher who teaches fractions to the child who will later develop a unified field theory. Or maybe you’ll be the farmer who grows the organic vegetables that feed the child and the teacher, or the banker that finances the houses that the child and teacher live in. It doesn’t matter; we’re all intertwined and interconnected. That is why, even though you are not my child, I care about you enormously, although, to tell the truth, I care less about the money you will make in the future and more about how you will contribute. We need your curiosity, your creativity, and your persistence. We require your optimism, your intellect and your courage. Find your passion, your strengths, and go do what you were meant to do in this world. Like Orpheus and Lot’s wife, you must not look back, not at Harvard or any other college causing you pain right now. Your dreams, your potential, your life (!) are all ahead of you. You are shiny and fresh like a new penny. Go forth to the wild, delicious adventure that is college. Eat up every moment of it like the most scrumptious dessert of life it is. Don’t waste time or energy freaking out because there’s a strawberry on top of the whipped cream instead of the cherry you thought you wanted. (Maybe you’ll like the strawberry better?) And when it’s done, put your oar in the water and row with us.</p>

<p>Love,
Taomom</p>

<p>WOW!!!!! What a fabulous first post!!!! Long overdue welcome to CC! Let's hear from you a lot more often than once every 6[!!]years or so.</p>

<p>Thank you for posting! What a wonderful post!</p>

<p>powerful and beautiful---we must value and respect each of our paths and together move to leave our mark on the world--this is what education is for-</p>

<p>Instant classic, beautifully written.</p>

<p>Taomom,
How eloquently put.
May I have your permission to copy this and give it to our school's guidance counselor? I think your message should be spread far and wide.</p>

<p>"Still waters run deep."</p>

<p>thanks for posting, and I'll look to hear more from u in future</p>

<p>Taomom --
I have less patience than you for the angst of those bemoaning their fate at not getting into Harvard...but you certainly made some eloquent points in your post. It would make a great graduation speech....I hope that those using your words will attribute them to you! The parts that I will forward on to others...</p>

<p>"...First off, let’s be clear. You’re eighteen--the hard work is ahead of you, not behind..."</p>

<p>"For those of you off to college, you are being given a great gift—four years to learn and grow, to expand your horizons, to absorb all the knowledge the human race has to offer. The only limits are the ones you will impose on yourself due to lack of ambition or the understandable need for sleep..."</p>

<p>"But to this investment there are strings attached. We need you to spend the next four years not in an alcoholic haze but rather taking your education seriously. Whatever you choose to do in life, being able to analyze logically, communicate coherently and apply basic mathematical and statistical concepts can only make you more capable and successful. (A passing acquaintance with chemistry, physics, biology, literature and the history of human activity on this planet will give you the depth of intellect necessary for the pressing, complex--and often technical--social and environmental challenges ahead.) The most interesting discoveries are often in the seams between fields of knowledge. "</p>

<p>Brava!Brava!</p>

<p>Wow. Beautiful. I especially liked:</p>

<p>"It’s easy enough to trade bons mots with the witty, but to raise the level of inquiry and consciousness of a bevy of youths intent on beer and/or their next pedicure—well, that is an undertaking worthy of the greats."</p>

<p>and:</p>

<p>"when it’s done, put your oar in the water and row with us."</p>

<p>Taomom, inspirational!</p>

<p>Thank you for an insightful and inspiring post.</p>

<p>Thank you. This is a good reminder for the graduating seniors. You should put up this posts every year!!</p>

<p>taomom: not sure if you would be willing, but you should definitely submit this to a national newspaper.....So important for more than just us to read here on CC.....</p>

<p>The</a> New York Times > Editorials and Opinion</p>

<p>Beautiful, Insightful and Eloquent. How true - kids are so caught up in the here-and-now they lose sight of the "big picture". They have their whole lives ahead of them, and many challenges to conquer. </p>

<p>I agree, you should submit this to a national newspaper. Bravo!</p>

<p>Great post, you should definitely get this published in print.</p>

<p>Thanks for these words, taomom. </p>

<p>I emailed your post to my 18-year-old daughter. You said what she needs to hear.</p>

<p>Wow Tao....That was worth waiting six years for. It was beautiful,insightful,powerful. It also put a big lump in my throat. You said what all of us need to hear...not just the kids.</p>

<p>According to Wikipedia: "...Tao or Dao (道, Pinyin: D</p>

<p>Excellent. I sent it to my daughter also and am thinking about inserting it in every graduation card I send her classmates. Thanks.</p>

<p>You've put into words what we all know in our finer moments to be true, but often forget. Thank you.</p>