A Message Of Hope For Class Of '09, Minty Fresh

April 21, 2009|By Janet Gilbert

Here's to all the clever high school seniors in the Class of 2009 who were not disappointed in their recent college acceptance mail - because they hadn't even considered applying to Harvard, Princeton or Yale.

I just realized that opening paragraph rhymes. Serendipity.

After reading a recent front-page story on the academic pressures on (and subsequent crushing rejections of) high achievers in Montgomery County public schools - and having witnessed similar wrenching tales among my children's friends in Howard County public schools - I would like to say to all of you bright, motivated students: Take heart.

Take heart, because no one has asked me my GPA or class rank in years, though I secretly hope they have an inkling of it because of my consistently apt use of SAT words like "serendipity."

Take heart, because the fact that I was inducted into the National Honor Society my junior year has had little to no effect on the toughest job I've ever had: parenting.

Take heart, because all those clubs I was in and all those leadership positions I strived for enveloped me in powerful surges of success that taught me ... zippo.

I'm sorry to be so hopelessly trite, but please believe me when I tell you that the greatest wellspring of personal growth is discovered in pushing through the many unglamorous moments in life, when there are no clear or easy answers.

Class of 2009, you will ultimately discover that success and happiness are more linked to your risk-taking, your people-management skills and your creative problem-solving than your grades or resume. Connections made at Ivy League schools can certainly open doors for people, but they do not guarantee success. The ability to face down loss and fearlessly trudge on is perhaps a better indicator. I like to call this a passion for failure. Perhaps I should market a seminar on that topic.

No, I think I'll just finish this essay with an upbeat anecdote that drives home my point.

Several years ago, I chaperoned an assortment of public middle school science students on a trip to the Baltimore zoo, where they would be presenting informative animal projects in front of the exhibits, encouraging visiting children to learn interactively. My daughter's group project was something about the distance some species of wildcat can jump. The students brought a display board with all sorts of interesting facts and photos, and they planned to encourage kids to jump a pre-marked course on the sidewalk in front of the caged cat. But they had forgotten their box of chalk.

As the adult in charge of helping their group set up, I embarked immediately on a hunt through the zoo for chalk, or perhaps a chalk-like substance. I came up with nothing.

Despondent, I nervously chewed one of the curiously strong mints from my purse pack as I tried to explain to the students that I had been unsuccessful. One young man suddenly grabbed the tin of mints from my hand.

"Mrs. Gilbert!" he exclaimed. "I've got it!" He bent down and drew on the pavement with an Altoid. Which, as it turned out, not only doubles as sidewalk chalk but has the added advantage of overlaying a light, minty freshness on the ripe bouquet of nearby wild animal cages.

This young man - an excellent student like those recently profiled in this newspaper - is now a freshman at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, studying to be a doctor. And I have absolutely no doubt that he can do it. I just hope there is an application, and institution, that will first recognize and later nourish this sort of ingenuity.

Take heart, Class of 2009, from the lesson of the Altoid. It's a curiously strong message of hope.

Janet Gilbert, a freelance writer, lives in Woodstock. Visit her at www.janetgilbert.net.

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