Carleton Kendrick: How do you raise children to become accomplished on their own terms, without surrendering their spirit? First, stop hurrying and stealing their childhood
I was a Harvard alumnus interviewer for seventeen years. I never could have attended Harvard without its scholarship and campus paid work opportunities. I was the first in my family to attend college. Volunteering to interview students applying to Harvard was a way to give back to Harvard for taking a chance on me.
In an effort to personalize its admissions process, Harvard extends applicants an opportunity to meet with one of its alumni. To allow its applicants to “come alive,” to see who they were beyond their mandatory grade transcript and essay submissions. To put “flesh on the bones.” I met with them in my home.
By mid-February, I usually had finished my interviews. Last week I found myself reminiscing about some of the students I’d interviewed. Some of these interviews still haunt me. You’ll see why.
They came to me with SATs pushing 1600 and more awards than military heroes. The valedictorians. The student leaders. The super-jocks. The golden boys and girls. They were applying to Harvard.
Acknowledging that most teens walk into these interviews with understandably heightened anxiety, my initial focus was to help them exhale their fears and worries about impressing me. “We’re here so that Harvard can get to know you a little better. There are no right or wrong answers. We’re just going to chat for a while,” I offered calmly.
I tried to get beyond their Miss America-like, rehearsed responses — “Harvard is the best environment available for me to pursue my premed studies.” I looked for clues as to whether they’d make considerate roommates, inquisitive scholars, and active members of Harvard’s numerous extracurricular and volunteer organizations. To find out more about who they were, not just what they had accomplished.
Far too often, these frightened, pressured high achievers had trouble finding their own voices. Instead, I heard them speak in the boilerplate, programmed, success-oriented words of their parents, teachers and college applications coaches.