The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 30, 2013

College trip reminds of life's potential

Today's kids are driven tobe good, smart

By Robb Murray
rmurray@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Let me just start out by saying this: No college or university, I don't care how good it is, is good enough for my daughter.

With that out of the way, I'll say this: I'm having the time of my life accompanying her on her college visits.

We kicked it off over that weekend in October that used to be known as MEA with a visit to Macalester College in St. Paul. Then, last Monday and Tuesday, we headed out to Madison and Chicago.

The University of Wisconsin was the kind of place that made me wish I was 18 again and picking out a school (although, truth be told, my college options were somewhat limited because of my shy GPA and a work ethic best described by the phrase "All dream and no drive.")

This place had everything. Among the highlights were dorms that overlook a scenic lake, world-class research, thousands of students proudly wearing their school colors, and the famous State Street, which connects the capitol and campus and is lined with shops, restaurants and other means of distraction.

From there we headed south to the University of Chicago, a place of stunning beauty. Gothic architecture and plenty of dark wood created an atmosphere that was intellectually intimidating. The only way I could see myself spending any real time there would be if I somehow conned them into hiring me on as custodian.

But I could definitely see Emma there. She's bookish and studious, and it didn't take long before I could picture her tucked into a study nook in one of their many grand buildings, where each one looks more like the Great Hall at Hogwarts than the last.

After "UChicago" it was up the shore of Lake Michigan to Evanston, Ill. There, the great campus of Northwestern University awaited. Like the other two tours, this one took place outside on days with biting wind and a little snow. Walking out of the Northwestern library and gazing across campus while snow fell through the trees was something I'll probably never forget.

Now, I could sit here and say the fact that we're visiting schools such as Northwestern is because of good parenting. I'd like to be able to say that. And maybe parenting did have something to do with it. But that's not why we're here. We're here because of one kid's hard work.

Emma has a decent shot at getting into an elite school. Why? Because she's one of those kids — and there are a lot of them these days ... is yours one of them? — who works her butt off, studies every night, and chooses to be a leader in extracurricular activities.

If you believe the websites out there that offer college admission prognostication, then you'd believe she's got a better chance than the average applicant. Still, the schools are really selective, and a lot of kids with a lot of ability get rejected every year. It doesn't mean they're not smart or couldn't cut it. They can't take everyone.

I happen to believe she'll get offered admission at one of them, but even if she doesn't, who cares? She's already established herself as someone who isn't afraid to work for what she wants (like the several months she played that All-State music over and over and over again until finally, come audition day, she played well enough to make it.) Which is way, way more than anything I can say for my high school career.

When I was in high school, I didn't look around too much to see what college I wanted to attend. And as far as my extracurricular activities were concerned, well ... I guess there weren't any beyond hockey.

Emma's list, on the other hand, is about as long as my arm, and she's not alone. Kids are involved in so many activities. Whether it's volunteering with the food shelf or going on mission trips with a church, kids these days are doing more than ever.

That's a major difference from the world I grew up in. I'm proud of my high school, St. Paul Johnson. It's the alma mater of Herb Brooks, after all. Doesn't get much better than that. Getting involved in activities, though, is something that simply wasn't done. We had a yearbook staff and student newspaper. But only a small smattering of kids joined.

History Club? Science Club? Nope. Marching band? Well, I think we had a band, but the only marching anyone did was when they headed out the door at 3:10 p.m.

It was a different mindset back then. At school, we didn't want to seize the moment. We wanted the moments to fly by so the bell would ring and we could get out of there. Today, Emma and most of her friends actually like going to West and they take pride in their school and accomplishments (before any East parents call to vilify me, I'll add that I'm quite certain the students on the East side of town have the same experience.)

It feels like the go-getters of today are sort of following the words of Henry David Thoreau. Remember his famous words?

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived," he wrote. "I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

You won't find her living alone in a cabin in the woods. She can't stand bugs. But she's part of that generation that attacks life, embraces things. When I think of how much these kids are accomplishing, it makes me feel good. And I'm so glad my daughter is a part of it.

Any of those schools would be lucky to have her.

Robb Murray can be reached at 344-6386, or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com