The word Community comes up all the time in different ways in the college process. One way is in the supplementary essay questions that seniors have to answer for the most selective colleges in the nation. After having assessed an applicant’s academic performance, extracurricular commitments, recommendations, all in educational and socioeconomic context, colleges want to know more about applicants as unique human beings who they will, or won’t, invite to join their own residential communities. As the longtime Harvard dean of admissions once put it to me, “When we’re at the end of committee, and perhaps have only one offer left to make, we sometimes look at each other and ask, ‘Does anybody want to room with this kid?’” That question captures the essence of community on a college campus: Will the applicant make that 24/7-September-to-May campus a better as a place to live as well as to study, perform, compete, or otherwise contribute? In their essays, students have our help in writing well to give voice to ways in which they will not only succeed for themselves but will seek to leave their college community at least a little better than they found it.
A particular aspect of community about which more and more colleges are asking is diversity. Wardlaw+Hartridge students have a profound advantage in answering this question due to the remarkable diversity of our student body. Personally, this is the seventh school in which I have worked since starting my career 40 years ago. Those schools have been in places as different as major cities in the Northeast, a European capital, the sunshine of Florida, and an island in the Caribbean. Of all those school communities, not one has the diversity of Wardlaw+Hartridge, with students and parents from China, Cuba, Haiti, India, Italy, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, and Uruguay coming immediately to mind, with others I am not recalling at this particular moment. The flags hanging from the ceiling of the AP Room speak to the international diversity of our community. Building on the possibilities created by such diversity, our school explores the challenging questions and periodic tensions that exist when people from profoundly different cultures and traditions come together. This year’s Symposium is a great example of that effort. What this means in the college process is that our students have a head start on how to answer questions about community in college, especially how to make the diversity of a community a source of strength rather than a matter of division. American society at large could learn a lot from what we at Wardlaw+Hartridge make work every single day.
A final example of what our community looks like and how it benefits all came last week in an Alumni Panel we bring together every year to talk about their college experiences with our seniors and juniors. The insights of students who are just slightly older and living the life of college students are invaluable to our current students, as they make judgements about the communities that might be right for them to join. The composition of the panel speaks for itself: students of African, African-American, Chinese, Caucasian, and Indian heritage, all attending colleges of different sizes, settings, philosophies and practices, shared their experiences of those very different communities. We were all better informed for what they offered to us, building as they did on who we are at Wardlaw+Hartridge, a remarkable community.