Weekend Warriors

This week we welcome Communications Officer (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley back to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

For the past seven weekends my family and I have worked on a major home improvement project: tearing down and rebuilding our back deck. I say “my family” because my parents drove four hours each weekend to help us.  My dad has a lot of experience building (even building his own house 20+ years ago), and my mom has a lot of experience with small kids, so while he helped us outside, my mom watched our two girls. My dad served as the planner, contractor, and architect of the entire project, studying the state building codes to ensure we were in compliance. We’ve talked about and planned this project for months, so in late April we got started.

The new joists and posts before the decking boards went down.

We tore down the existing (and unsafe) 14’ x 16′ deck, and replaced it with 364 square feet of glory (14’ x 26’). When we bought our house last fall, the big backyard was the first thing that drew me in. A new, and safe, deck was the key to truly enjoying that space.

From tearing down the old deck, to repairing damage, to the building itself, this project taught me a lot of lessons. But one of the most important? You can’t truly appreciate manual labor until you get out there and try it yourself. As a communications professional in higher education, I have a very sedentary job (my Fitbit has to remind me to get up and move every hour!). To be out in the heat, cutting and lifting heavy boards, mixing concrete, and using power tools was quite a change.

Interestingly enough, of all the aspects of the job, the part that frustrated me the most were the nails.

Tough as Nails…?

A few things you may not know about nails: 1) there are LOTS of different kinds—different lengths, different shanks, different finishes, all for different purposes. There’s a big difference between a 1” nail that comes in a kit to hang art and a 3-1/2” decking nail. 2) Because of the physical differences of nails you sometimes need a different type of hammer for each (not to mention a different approach when hammering it in).

Actual nails that bent in the process of hammering.

The old adage “tough as nails” can be true, but in reality they bend quite easily. If your aim is off, even a little, when hitting a nail, it will quickly bend, leaving you with a few options: 1) try to redeem the bend and get the rest in straight, 2) take it out and start over, or 3) just get mad and try to force it to work. A few times I got mad and tried the last option, only to find I sacrificed aim for power, making the bend even worse (side note: if you try to hammer into a knot in the wood, just forget it—knots are strong and the nail won’t win).

There are times when the nail just won’t go where you want it to, so you either reposition it altogether or use a different approach (i.e. a different size nail, or even trading up for a drill and screws). As I reflect back on my moments of frustration, I realize nailing boards together has a lot in common with the college search process.

Finding the Fit

In past posts we’ve talked about college fit. As you sit through presentations during college visits you’ll hear a lot about fit, and when you talk to high school counselors, parents, and friends, the elusive fit will be discussed again

There are more than 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. alone, and each one is different. All of these colleges will not fit you—nor should they! Your job, as you enter the college search process, is to find the place(s) that does fit you. Here are a few factors that are crucial to discovering what “fit” is all about.

Mission and Purpose

Each school has its own mission. At Georgia Tech our mission is “to define the technological university of the 21st century.” At my previous institution the mission is “to provide a comprehensive education in a Judeo-Christian environment, grounded in a civic, liberal, and medical arts curriculum.” Very different schools with differing approaches to learning, research, and student life. Both schools will provide an enriching experience to its students—but both schools will not fit every student. Take a look at missions and mottos of the schools you’re considering. You can quickly learn a lot, and may be able to weed a few places out based upon this factor.

Academics and Majors

It may sound obvious, but review the programs and majors offered at different schools. If you feel confident about the major you want to pursue, you should of course be sure the school offers that program. Even if you’re certain, check to see if there are a few other programs of interest on the list, because it’s certainly possible you could change your mind.  If you’re undecided (like I was at 18!), look for a place that offers several programs that interest you so you can test drive a few courses before you declare a major.

Location and Geography

Love the city? Wish you were closer to the mountains or the coast? Want to hunker down on a small, quiet campus in a rural area? You may want something familiar, or you may want to try something entirely new. Location has an impact on a campus and its environment, so be sure to consider these factors in your search.

Culture and Climate

Every campus has its own unique culture. Some focus on technology, some are politically active, some focus on philosophy, while others focus on the arts, the military, or a religious view. Keep in mind college is a place for growth, so a diversity of thought is an important consideration. Whatever interests you, there will be a campus that fits your ideology.

Back to the Nails

The same nail may fit in several different places. But there are some places a nail just isn’t meant to go.  When it comes to your college search, weeding out the places that don’t fit is just as important as finding the places that do.  Be honest with yourself in your search—don’t try to fit where someone says you should–instead visit, research, and see what fits you and your goals.

Literally stayed up past dark finishing out the new railing..

After weeks of work, we’ve almost finished our deck (last step is to add three steps and handrails). Thanks to my dad, my husband and I have learned a lot of skills to help us in our future as homeowners.

As you go through the college search, admission, and enrollment processes, learn your lessons and come away with skills that make you better than you are today. If you can do that, when you’re done you’ll have an experience you can be proud of, one in which you fully engaged and ultimately found the best fit for your next four years.

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Hey Ya!

Prefer to listen? Check out the audio version of this post!

I’ve coached my son in soccer since he was 4. Between falls, springs, and a few Futsal winter sessions we’re sitting at 15 seasons total. He has gone from running aimlessly around the field with a uniform shirt touching his kneecaps to carrying a ball in his backpack at all times and watching professional YouTube highlights.

At the beginning of the spring season he told me he was interested in a more competitive league and wanted to try out for our local “academy” team. We talked about this in the past, and now with several of his friends from school and a few neighbors already on the club, I was not surprised. When the season ended, he had not wavered. We told him it would be competitive and there was no guarantee he would make it. But he remained interested and kept playing and practicing after school every day.

Season 2. I call this one “See no evil, hear no evil.”

So last week, despite the dismal forecast, we headed out to the fields for the first of a three night tryout. He was excited but anxious. “What kinds of drills do you think we will do? How many guys are trying out? Do you know any of the coaches?” Once we arrived they divided the players into various colored pennies and sent them to one of three fields with a few coaches to start their warm up and drills.

After 45 minutes, the club director gathered all of the parents for a quick meeting. “Thank you all for coming out tonight. We really appreciate your son showing interest in our club.” With rain coming down and whistles blowing on the fields all around us, it was tough to lean in and hear all of his words as he addressed about 40 parents huddled under tents along the sideline.

“We are about player development. There will be three teams: elite, premier, and united. If your son wants to play professional soccer, we will try to help him reach that goal. This is an academy–and we treat it like that–a school. We are here to teach the game and help your son get better. This is a community club and we are committed to having players from all backgrounds on our teams. Your fees will go to helping about 75 players a year who otherwise could not afford to play and travel, so thank you for your commitment.”

At this point, he paused and took a look over at the three fields filled with 9 and 10-year-old boys wearing blue pennies, getting absolutely soaked, and clearly enjoying every minute. “At this age, we are not too concerned with wins and losses.  Our commitment is to help each player improve and achieve his goals. Any questions?”

I’m just being honest.

DAD #1 from under a Price Waterhouse Coopers umbrella. Q: How many spots do you have on the elite team this year?

A: All returning players also have to try out again, so that number is yet to be determined.

MOM #1 standing just outside the tent with rain now tumbling off her loose-fitting jacket hood.  Q: “If my son has a bad tryout and gets placed on the lower level team, can he move up?”

A: Yes, we will move players. Sometimes during the season and sometimes they’ll need to try out at the end of the year in order to be assessed for a different squad.

I loitered around after the public meeting and heard: “You said that our fees subsidize players who cannot afford to play. Is there a preference for families that will pay a higher amount to subsidize additional players?”  I’m guessing the director was thinking was, “and this is why US Soccer won’t be competing in the World Cup this summer.” But instead he responded, “We always welcome donations but your son will be placed on the team that suits his ability, regardless of monetary contributions.” Well played, coach.

These questions sounded eerily familiar as parallels to college admission. The only one I did not hear was, “If I also played Academy growing up, does my son get any type of advantage?” Maybe that was emailed in later. But good to know that if the soccer talent in the area dries up, the league director has transferable skills.

I came home and gave my wife the report. “He did pretty well in the drills. Definitely did not get the ball a ton in the scrimmage but there are two more nights of tryouts, so we’ll see.”

Which team do you think he’ll make?

“Tough to say. There are a lot of really good players out there and even though the coach said there are no guaranteed spots for returning players, that may or may not be totally true.”

Even as I was talking I could see the same nervous, concerned look on her face our son had a few hours earlier.

I’m writing this post on night three of tryouts from an airplane that has been sitting on the tarmac in Washington D.C. for well over an hour due to terrible storms on the east coast. With no internet and lightning erupting around us, I inexplicably can only get one song on my Spotify playlist, “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. Hence the themes and subheadings.

Phone rings.

“Hey. How did it go?” I ask quietly so not to interrupt my neighbor who is already most of the way through her now lukewarm Panini and A Phantom Thread (not a recommendation).

He did ok. Not as well as last night, although he had a good shot on goal. He was upset coming home and said he’s worried he may get placed on the lowest level team. I tried to tell him even that quality would be higher than your team… I mean… you know what I’m saying, right?

I love this woman. Definitely keeps me humble. “Yeah, I hear you. Can I talk to him?”

Footsteps on stairs. Running water. Something crashes. Daughter complaining about brushing teeth in background.

Hey, dad.

“Hey, bud. How was your day?”

He launches into an assessment of the drills and his play overall.

“Gotcha. Well, I’m sorry I could not be there. Always love watching you play.”

No answer initially. And then…Yeah. We did play a pretty cool game I can show you when you get home.

I hung up and was about to put my headphones back on to see if I’d escaped the Hey Ya! loop when my neighbor asked, “Your son?” She was in her early 60’s, wearing glasses and a scarf. Her headphones were off now and she’d turned toward me.

A recent plane neighbor. What? You thought I was kidding?

Yeah, he had a soccer tryout tonight.

I’m sure he did great.

We’ll see.

Well, it sounds like you handled it pretty well. He knows you love him and that’s what is important.

To be honest I’ve recently had a string of airplane neighbors who immediately covered themselves with blankets when I said hello, so it took me a second to make the transition not only to an interaction, but someone with actual sage wisdom. (Side note: I wrote this part after we deboarded in case she was watching my screen like she was eavesdropping on my conversation.)

After she went on to explain she was not going to make a connecting flight to Des Moines for a speech her husband was supposed to make in the morning, I offered her some local hotel options in Atlanta, and she went back to her movie.

Me? I closed my eyes and hit play.

Alright, alright, alright, alright, alright.

I had a couple of thoughts.

1- He will probably make one of those teams (which, as we have established, are all better than what he has experienced before) and the coaches will help him continue to improve.

2- If he does not end up on a team with his friends, he will make new ones. He always does.

3- Not knowing is the hardest part. Once he is placed and starts playing, he’ll have a blast.

But what kept going through my head was Outkast. No, wait… it was, “He knows you love him, and that’s what is important.”

Thank God for mom and dad for sticking together.

If you are a parent of a junior or sophomore who is planning to apply to selective colleges, I’m imploring you to have these conversations with your son/daughter, your spouse/partner, and with yourself, BEFORE applications are submitted (aka tryouts) and definitely before admission decisions are released.

When a school has an admit rate of 20% or 12%, the talent, preparation and skills to contribute on that field are incredible. And the truth is those percentages don’t exactly translate to 1 of 5 or 12 of 100 because that year they may only be looking for a few “defenders”, i.e. students in a particular major or from your state, etc.   You will not be able to control who else or how many others are trying out. When you apply, there is no way to know if there are in fact some “reserved” spots (although I’d assume there are). What you do control is your mentality. You do control your perspective. You weren’t thinking this was all totally fair were you?

When you tour schools this summer, when those brochures arrive in the mail, when you talk to friends or colleagues about the variety of colleges they attended, when you look through the alma maters of Fortune 500 CEOs, I urge you to really read. REALLY listen. Notice what they have in common. No, I’m not talking about how you can grab three friends and a professor and start a juggling club. No, not the part about how apparently each place sends kids abroad to stand on high points and ruminate over life’s deeper meaning. I’m talking about the bigger connection and takeaway message—they are ALL about student development.

They ALL have faculty, programs, opportunities that say precisely what the coach said in the rain last week: if you come here, commit, work hard and plug-in we will help you reach your goals. (See Frank Bruni’s book for more on this.)

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make the Elite team. There is nothing wrong with visiting and applying to Ivy League or Ivy-like schools. But the big misconception, the big myth, and frankly the big misplaced mentality is that “getting in” to those places is a parent’s report card or that this perceived Elite, Premier, United structure of schools is somehow an indicator of a student’s future success and opportunities.

I want to challenge you to dig deeper into the methodology that dictates the tiers the US News Rankings prescribe. Question whether you really see a discernible difference in student quality or alumni outcomes at a school that is 15 percentage points higher/lower in selectivity. Read the statistics behind 100 points variation on an SAT before you mentally classify them into Elite vs. Premier. Look around you. Every day I meet people who went to schools that admit well over half of their applicants. What are they doing now? Running their own businesses, leading teams, and influencing their communities. Fundamentally, whether it is Northwestern or Northeastern, whether it is Washington State or Wash U, this is what colleges do for students who want to learn, grow, thrive, and work hard to achieve their goals. Get behind them!

What makes love the exception?

Get excited about every school your son or daughter puts on their list. Take the tour, buy the t-shirt, go to a game, and ultimately put that sticker on your car with pride. I get it can be tough when classmates or friends or neighbors end up on a different team. You stick with constant encouragement and they will embrace the opportunity— trust there are great new teammates to meet and coaches waiting to help them reach their goals. But, above all else, stick with the message of unconditional love. What makes love the exception? It’s not Andre3000, it’s the rule.

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Sweet Summertime

This week we welcome Senior Associate Director of Admission Mary Tipton Woolley to the blog. Welcome, Mary Tipton!

Ah, summer. The time of year to sit back, relax and enjoy life. Maybe for some, but not for those of us in college admission! In the admission office, “summer” is the time to wrap up the enrolling class, reflect on the year behind and plan for the year ahead. Summer is in quotes because it goes by so quickly!

As a parent, I’m glad to only have 10 weeks to find camps/babysitters for my child, but as a higher education professional, it’s challenging. We are busy checking final transcripts for enrolling students (yes, we really do check your final transcripts!) and other required documents. In just a couple of weeks 300 first-year students will arrive on campus for the summer term, so the timing of these final checks is critical. If you swing by our office this summer, you’ll find us wrapping up the past year and planning for the year ahead.

Students, you are likely doing the exact same thing. Whether you’re already enjoying your summer or slogging through the last few days of school, follow our lead and make it a summer!

Assess the year behind

Take time to reflect on the year that has passed, determine what you can learn from it, and decide what you need to work on in the year ahead. What worked well? Where do you need to make improvements? Our staff is taking a deep dive into important areas like our visit program (which now accommodates over 40,000 visitors per year!), training, and professional development. Meanwhile, our transfer team is still finalizing decisions for fall transfer students—their summer hasn’t even started yet!

Ask Yourself:  what classes did you enjoy most? Where do you have gaps in learning that you can work on over the summer? My six-year-old is reading (mostly) every night to make sure she continues to improve before starting first grade in the fall. Maybe you need to go back over work from the past year to ensure you’re ready to move forward in the year ahead. Maybe there is an activity that you want to improve in the year ahead – can you run more over the summer to earn a faster time, or study robotics to improve your team standings?

Prioritize tasks for the year ahead

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know we changed the way we review first-year applications. The team-based reading approach was a huge success, but I’m already thinking about how we can move our process forward and provide staff what they need to manage application volume in an efficient and effective way. Our transfer team is looking for opportunities to revise the way they review applications to manage the volume and priorities they have been asked to meet. We also have staff planning fall travel. I’m still old school, but have learned the hard way over the last few years that waiting to schedule high school visits until August does not end well! On top of planning for next year’s application cycle, our campus visit team is planning events for next year. They are constantly looking for ways to accommodate everyone who wants to visit campus, which is no small feat!

Ask yourself: what are your goals for the year ahead? Maybe it’s to improve your grades, find a job, get involved in something new, or take on a leadership role. Whatever it may be, now is the time to think about how you’re going to get there. If you’re going to be a senior in the fall, getting a jump on your college applications will be critical to ensuring your sanity in the year ahead (trust me!). Many applications, like the Common Application and Coalition Application (both of which we accept) never close. That means essays and activity pages are available now, while you have time to reflect, write and refine.

Make it a summer!

No matter what is on your agenda for the summer – working, summer camp, vacation – I hope you’ll take time to reflect, plan for the upcoming year and have fun! Summer is a time to recharge. We do that by attending conferences, going on office retreats and taking some time off to be with family and friends. We all need that kind of recharge to be successful in the year ahead. If part of your summer plans include visiting Atlanta, I hope you’ll swing by campus. It’s called “Hotlanta” for a reason, but we still offer tours all summer – no matter the temperature and humidity!

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A Graduation Story

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.

This, my friends, is not a graduation speech. It is a graduation story. Because it’s longer than our normal blogs, we have also provided the audio version here.

Kayaking Conundrum

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).

Photo credit: Atlanta Trails

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?!

kayaker

Not actually me… credit to anoldent – Flickr: Nantahala River 34, CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

Absolute Eruption

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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Spring Cleaning

This week we welcome Regional Director of Admission (West Coast) Ashley Brookshire to the blog. Welcome, Ashley!

It’s a time to close the door on winter and set your sights on the sunny days to come. Spring cleaning allows me to catch my breath, get re-organized, and look forward to the excitement of warm weather and summer travel. It’s not without its burden – I don’t particularly enjoy scrubbing baseboards and emptying closets – but I do love the relief of having the work done and updated systems set to keep my home a place of rest and relaxation.

When I think about spring cleaning, I often think of my house. In reality, there are many aspects of my life that could use this kind of attention. My finances, work, and personal inbox – amongst many other areas – can use the renewed TLC this time of year brings.

As rising seniors looking ahead to the college application process next year, make time to conduct some spring cleaning of your own. Here are some good places to start:

New You

If you haven’t already noticed, colleges send a lot of emails. A LOT. One way to keep your personal or school email inbox manageable over the course of the upcoming year is to create a separate email address for your college communications. Something simple (and appropriate) like myname@gmail.com allows you to segment this portion of your life for the next few months and isolate the emails you’ll receive daily (okay, probably hourly) from the rest of the messages you’re balancing for school, work, clubs, etc.

Unsubscribe

There are tons of ways you can start receiving communication from colleges. Outside of actually signing up on a college’s website to receive more information, if you’ve taken the SAT or ACT, visited a college campus, attended a college rep presentation at your high school, are related to a passionate alumnus who knows your email address and birthdate, or breathed in the vicinity of a college fair table, you could find yourself on a college’s contact list.

As you begin to explore your college options, you’ll likely discover some of the 4,000+ colleges in the US are not a great fit for you (that’s a good thing!). As you discover what you’re most passionate about in a college experience, you’ll begin to identify schools that don’t quite match what you’re looking for. Your best friend should become the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of each email you receive. As you begin to narrow the list of schools in which you are most interested, it’s time to triage your inbox. You don’t want the one really important email from a university you’d love to attend to be accidentally missed in an inbox full of messages from colleges you are no longer considering.

Compile Your Thoughts and Research

As you start to look at different colleges and programs, there are an infinite number of data points to consider. Take time this summer to turn messy notes and thoughts into a useful resource. A Google Doc, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint can be key in helping you capture all of the information from your college search and turn it into a handy tool. Helpful items to represent on your document include important deadlines (both for admission and financial aid), programs aligning with your personal and professional interests, qualities about the school that excite you, any red flags for you, and the contact information of your admission representative. Remember, this is a resource for you, so make sure it’s set up in a way that best captures what matters most to you! You’ll have enough on your plate as a senior in the fall – use this time to set up a system that keeps you organized and all of the information you’ve gathered in an accessible format.

As the school year winds down and you head into summer, make sure you’re taking on a few tasks to set you up for success this fall. Not all spring cleaning takes place in cobb-webbed corners or under beds, so take some time to de-clutter and get organized.

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