Friday, March 14, 2014

A Must-read While You Shop For College This Spring

Two and  a half years ago, when I dropped my 18 year old son off at his new home, a small liberal arts college in a town known for its "cows, colleges and contentment" on the prairie in Minnesota, it was a leap of faith. I had a feeling that the community he would become part of was unique and special, but wasn't sure why. I promote my business on the premise that fit matters most, but until last Friday, I had no tangible proof that this fit wasn't just a good one, it was an extraordinary one, for my son and for me.

As any reader of my blog and my Spotlights in WilsonPrep's newsletters knows, great schools can come in many shapes and sizes, can be found in many settings and can offer many different experiences and opportunities. College isn't just for getting an education. It is also for growing up, learning to screw up and then fix that screw up without a parent's help, and managing life's challenges more independently. It's also for having fun, making lifelong friends, falling in and out of love, and as I discovered last week, can also include grieving and loss. Amazing, life changing communities can be found at many different schools. A giant student population doesn't mean there aren't hundreds of remarkable communities within. A tiny school doesn't guarantee a wonderful cohesive community either. Finding that right fit, regardless of name or ranking, that element of the college search that is so very important, should be every student's number one priority. 

Last Friday, three young men in my son's class were killed and two were critically injured on their way to the airport to fly to an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. The details are irrelevant except that this tragedy did not involve alcohol, recklessness or a fool's errand in the middle of the night, but instead an icy road and an 18-wheeler in the middle of the afternoon. Carleton has only 2000 students so you can just imagine how close each class of 500 becomes over four years or even in just the first month. Over the past two weeks, I have had a taste of just how amazing, unique and remarkable the Carleton community is- parents, students, faculty and administrators- and have been moved to tears many times by the generosity, love, concern and compassion demonstrated by every single member of that community. 

The college immediately arranged a vigil the following day in the Chapel with the campus clergy- rabbi, minister and priest- present. Carleton has a parent listserv comprised of current students' parents, some faculty and administrators, and a surprisingly large number of parents whose kids have already graduated. That group immediately shared information on the accident, began collecting funds for memorials, offered lodging, food, and transport to the families of the students in the hospital, and  shared feelings of tremendous sadness and grief, and concern for how we can help our Carls, as Carleton students are known, cope with their pain. The other college in town, St. Olaf, sent flowers to every Carleton student as well as notes and cards. Professors, who prefer to be addressed by their first names by students, reached out any way they could to get their students through a very rough patch. Graduates the world over wrote notes of support on Carleton's Facebook page, and reached out in other ways to this community that is clearly still dear to them.

Every member of this community was touched by this tragedy. Even those who had never met these students felt the weight of a terrible loss. Those who were close to the students who died and were injured were drawn into the protective embrace of the entire community. It was a remarkable response, in so many ways. I still receive daily updates on the injured students' conditions and offers of help still stream in.

Some schools close ranks when a tragedy occurs on campus for fear of bad press or assumptions about bad behavior, a too stressful environment, or lax alcohol policies. I believe schools that choose that route do their students a disservice. Carleton chose to do the opposite and while the community will never ever forget the loss of these three young men, destined to change the world, the community will eventually heal and move forward. They will be able to do so thanks to the willingness of this community to embrace the sadness, grief and gravity of such a loss. So, remember when you visit and consider, evaluate and ponder and eventually decide where to apply, this new home for you (or your student) should provide good educational value, and a chance to grow up and embrace new challenges. Many schools can provide these things, but only some can offer a  community that can support and embrace its students when tragedy strikes.  Picking up the pieces for an entire student body is no small feat. Find a school that can do that and you will sleep better for it and so will your kid. 

1 comment:

  1. Sorry not to have read this till Feb. 2016. It is moving to read two years later. It is wonderfully insightful and perceptive in giving an example of what community can provide on a college campus and its importance.