Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Capacity for Self-Renewal

I didn’t make any resolutions at the start of 2010. It’s been a year of big changes and events for me – getting married tops the list – and I decided against trying to add anything else, but I’ve been thinking about my own capacity for self-renewal.

As a teacher and college counselor at Greenhills School, I found myself returning to the school’s mission statement frequently, particularly the last part: “[students]… whose lives have meaning, balance, and a capacity for self-renewal.” What an important thing for a school to aspire to nurture in its students (the more daunting part being, how do you do that?)

I find myself searching for signs of this in the applications I read, too. Driven, motivated individuals strive to pack their days. We squeeze ever last moment out of hour-23 and minute-52. There is pressure to adjust schedules to make room for just one more AP course. If you’re already president of two organizations (and captain of a team) how much difference could one more vice president post really make? (And it will look so good to those colleges and admissions officers, right?!)

Don’t get me wrong, we want to see students who seize opportunities and have an impact on their communities. We want to see that an applicant has elected an appropriately challenging set of courses and is willing to push some of his or her own intellectual boundaries and comfort zones. In my November 20 post, I listed five basic questions we ask when reviewing applications, one of them being, what choices has this student made?

Your choices are important to us. Your ability to balance that rigorous load is important, not simply with the aim of moving forward and adding more and more, but so that you can grow, impact others, and appreciate your accomplishments and activities. That capacity for self-renewal is critical, in my mind, but students don’t often let us know what that looks like for them.

This time of year – and this year in particular with Dartmouth’s new president, the events in Haiti, the economy and current political scene – I find the Dartmouth community examining its own capacity for self-renewal. We’ve been named one of the most enduring institutions in the world, and I also believe Dartmouth is a place that can realize tremendous growth over relatively brief periods of time, much of which is student initiated. Our MLK Day celebrations are an annual opportunity to take stock of where we are and where we aspire to be in the coming years (Dartmouth will turn 250 in 2019!)

The capacity for self-renewal allows for moments of reflection and renewed sense of purpose, and it can also provide the opportunity to re-commit ourselves to the values we hold most dear.

At its best, the application and admissions process can provide an opportunity to reflect back on your accomplishments, growth, and plans for the future. I hope you protect time in your busy schedules to actively reflect on your many endeavors and sustain and grow your own capacity for self-renewal. It will serve you well in college, and beyond. And I hope you will feel confident in sharing your decision-making process through your application materials and, perhaps, an interview. We value what you have chosen to take on, but we also value the process by which you arrived at a decision not to add something else to your plate.

I am interested to read how you maintain your own capacity for self-renewal (seriously, I’m taking suggestions.) Students, counselors, teachers, parents (and admissions colleagues) – what do you do?

My top seven from the last week or so:

I took my first run down the Dartmouth Skiway on Saturday at about 4PM. It was clear, crisp, and the light was beautiful on the trees and hills.

I re-discovered the great trail system that runs through the woods surrounding the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

I was thoroughly impressed by the MLK Celebration keynote speaker, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, and the comments of Dartmouth’s own, Jessica Guthrie ’10.

I read a bit more about my grandfather’s vision for the role of university presses in the mid-twentieth century.

I cleaned my kitchen (truth be told, we ran out of both dishes and counter space).

I am inspired by The Rev. Nancy A. G. Vogele, Dartmouth Class of 1985, of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in White River Junction, VT. You can check out some of her sermons here.

I am enjoying Richard Russo’s “Bridge of Sighs”.

I had a great dinner with a couple of friends and colleagues.

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