On May 1st, kids around the country finalize their college decision and submit their SIR (Statement of Intent to Register) -- the decision a student unfortunately feels not only defines the rest of his life, but also his identity and self worth.
I wish our kids all had the wisdom to know that college is simply another step in life’s journey, not an end to it.
My thoughts this week are prompted by a student-created comic strip published in my school’s monthly student newspaper. The comic was a simple, horizontal, four-panel strip. Each panel represented one of each of the four years of high school: freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. In each panel is simply a girl sitting at a table, but with each panel her facial expression changes: in panel one she’s smiling, in panel two she’s sad, in panel three she’s crying, and in panel four she’s completely distraught.
What’s most telling in the comic is the thought bubble in each of the first three panels. The first panel’s bubble lists Ivy League universities: Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton and Brown. The second panel’s bubble: USC, UCLA, Berkeley and Duke. The third panel’s bubble: Cypress, CSULB, Riverside and Merced. The final panel, wherein the girl is having a complete meltdown, does not have a bubble at all; she’s too overwhelmingly lost. As her college choices change and evolve, to what she clearly sees as choices less prestigious or renowned, her self worth seems to evaporate as well.
Satire? I’m sure.
Truth? I’m absolutely sure.
The comic makes me so sad. Have we really become a society where our kids believe they are worthless unless they attend an Ivy League university? I’m in no way suggesting that these prestigious universities aren’t worthwhile goals. I am suggesting, however, that attending one of these schools doesn’t define a child.
I want to remind us all to help our kids realize that self worth and identify aren’t defined by the college they attend, because college choice is dependent on dozens of factors: finances, declared major, distance from home, environment, weather, family, readiness, etc.
What really matters is how our kids embrace the experience once they arrive on campus -- regardless the school.
Our kids need to use college to discover themselves, get involved, grow up, find independence, help the community, volunteer to help others, decide on a direction for their future, travel abroad, get curious about life, find a passion, build friendships, master new subjects, play a new sport, become more culturally aware, get political, and, sometimes even, fall in love.
My point? These things can be done on any campus. And it’s these experiences that define character, build identity and create self worth -- traits developed through life itself, not assigned based on the college name on a diploma. All our kids are worthy. They all have something unique to offer the world. We need to help them see the bigger picture.
We need to stop celebrating just a select few; we need to celebrate them all.
May 1st isn’t a day to judge -- it’s a day to celebrate the start of each child’s unique journey.