Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Penn Eulogy

This morning I went to an information session for Penn that I was very struck by, due in no small part to the admissions rep who gave it, the following is an email I sent to her:

"I am a rising senior at El Cerrito High School from the San Fransisco Bay Area, as part of a scholarship program that allows students from my district to attend Ivy League schools I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Penn, and even more fortunate to hear your information session. Let me tell you, I've been to what seems like ten thousand of these sessions, and from UCLA to Princeton, most reps say the same thing with varied statistics. I was blown away by what yours.

I've realized over the past year, that I have no idea what I want to do, I feel like I just have passion, for the most part only in the form of ideas, but the way you described Penn made me feel like they would really be actualized there. And the breadth of my interests makes me think that a liberal arts education would be perfect for me. And especially because I don't see myself pursuing a career in most of them, I loved the emphasis that you placed on interdisciplinary learning, and being able to take classes for their own sake.

After meeting many alumni from different Ivy Leagues, I have really begun to pick up on the distinctions between them. At every one, people are exceptional, there is no way around that. But I believe every university selects students for certain qualities, and throughout their time those qualities are fostered by the environment of the school.

I've never had any intention of going to Princeton, and I was even more sure after I visited. Yet later I met an alumni for dinner who was just a great guy. Physically huge (6'7", ex-rower), hardcore smart, funny, and LOUD, he brought the conversation volume around us up to compete with him. While I really liked him, I noticed an attitude about him, one I've noticed in several other alums from both Princeton and Yale: that success was a given, he exuded an aura pf accomplishment, either present or future.

Now the subtle differences in each school of top caliber enormously hard to characterize, nor are they true for every student by any means. Yet I feel they are present nonetheless. As I sat in the front row I was struck by pithyness and preciseness in which you described your school's personality. Penn students are doers, they are engaged in every possible way, be it socially, politically, theatrically, in the classroom, etc. And most importantly, they are going to use their practical education to do great things. It's almost like Princeton wants their students to rise to success and then do great things, and Penn wants their students to do great things and then to rise to success. In a biography of Genghis Khan I read it began with the quote, "Genghis Khan was a doer." Maybe he would have liked Penn.

Maybe these distinctions are abstract, irrelevant, etc. but they have really helped me understand what I should be thinking about when choosing a college.

More than anything, I just want to thank you for delivering an engaging information session, it was incredibly striking, and I very much appreciated it, and I was thoroughly impressed.

PS I laughed at your Princess Leia analogy (I like Star Wars).

If you are interested, the students in our program are required to blog daily, here is a link:
I've decided to post this email as my daily blog."

I would also like to note that to those who perceive this as a bash to Princeton or Yale, I would disagree. 1) It is only my opinion, and I could very well be wrong on all counts. 2) Different strokes for different folks, I have no problems with pursuing a career of success, nor do I think that everyone at Princeton and Yale do so.

Tom Miller
El Cerrito High 12'

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