The Learning Curve
Welcome to The Learning Curve - insightful educational commentary from Dr. Bob Bowman, Assistant Head of School for Upper School.
Sky's the Limit for our Graduating Seniors
Forty years ago, give or take a few weeks, I graduated from high school in Delaware. The only reason this is on my radar is because I got a call recently from an old classmate who had “found” me, no small feat given that I have no real presence on social media. This is not any sort of statement by me on the evils of the internet; I just never got around to doing it. My fellow Bulldog (my high school mascot, although I am unaware of any bulldogs native to Wilmington) informed me that in the fall of 2019 we will be having our 40th reunion. She shared that I could register on Facebook and see who will be attending and reconnect with old friends… oh yeah, you’re not on Facebook. Long pause. Well I hope you can make it. Long pause. Bye now. Click. Wow, I still had that old high school charm and magnetism. Refrains of Cat Steven’s Another Saturday Night echoed through my head. Sometimes I wonder if we ever truly leave our high school selves behind.
Intrigued, I looked on Facebook, but I had to join to get access; I’m confident most folks would have known that. Undaunted, I used Google and found a site that had a list of some of the students from my Class of 1979 with our motto emblazoned across the banner: ‘79 is fine - that is some excellent wordsmithing. I scrolled through and recognized fewer names than I would have guessed, but one name caught my eye: Scott D. The evolution of Scott’s and my friendship is very typical of younger friends who move into high school. Scott and I were in the same Boy Scout troop, and we became close friends in junior high school, frequently visiting each other’s houses. As we entered into high school, we gravitated towards different social groups. To be blunt, Scott was much cooler than I was; this was not a high bar! I was more of a nerdy kid (again I am sure my dear readers are shocked). We did not take the same academic track so we were in different classes. In a high school of almost a thousand students, our lives went in different directions and we slowly drifted apart.
I saw Scott again at our 10-year high school reunion. Everyone to whom I re-introduced myself asked me about my strange haircut (it was an abomination) and told me I should talk to Scott. We had a lot in common; we were both “still” in school in California. I had a hard time finding him because he had a big old Grizzly Adams beard. I joined him and we spent 10 or so minutes together comparing notes, sharing stories. Scott was finishing his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. I am not proud of what I am about to share; it is not one of my best moments, but I think it is essential to the story. I said something like this, “Wow Scott. That is amazing. I didn’t realize you were so smart.” And then I made things worse by mention of the fact that he “only” went to Colorado State University for undergraduate school and how great it is that he got into Stanford. Scott handled this incredulous slight with grace and told me it was good to see me, wished me well, and excused himself.
I doubt Scott even recalls this conversation, but it is one that shifted my thinking dramatically. I would love to blame this on the consumption of adult beverages, but I was stone cold sober. I had to come terms with the fact that I was a pompous blowhard who had used someone’s high school academic record and college choice as a measure of future success. Full disclosure: Colorado State University had and still has outstanding, top-ranked engineering programs. My bi-coastal snobbery kept me from understanding this 30 years ago.
Wikipedia has this statement about Scott’s research:
“[He] transformed the field of biomechanics by creating highly accurate computer models of musculoskeletal structures and providing them to researchers worldwide using a software system he and his team developed. [His] software has become the basis of an international collaboration involving thousands of investigators who exchange biomechanical models…. [He] invented fundamental technology for surgical navigation that is now in wide clinical use.
It continues on with descriptions of other equally groundbreaking work on “important inventions for treating paralysis, spasticity and pain.” Good luck finding my Wikipedia page!
As we joyfully approach graduation for the Wardlaw+Hartridge Class of 2019, we all should celebrate that the end of high school is actually the beginning of our students’ journeys. We have been and will continue to honor all that our seniors have accomplished as we rightfully should. Yet we need to keep in mind that the colleges our students attend and their achievements to this point do not define their future. They are prelude but not predictive. Being a pioneering thinker does not end at the age of 18. Greatness, passion and leadership can come at 18 or 28 or hopefully for me at 58.
So, as our seniors soon cross the stage, see them for what they are and dream of what they may become. Each will find their way and hopefully make their mark. And some will meet with success beyond our wildest dreams, even if they “only” went to Colorado State.
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