As I hope you know by now, this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Prior Jollek Hall at Antilles School, representatives of five of the country’s top universities will make presentations in a program they call “Exploring College Options.” Those already interested in attending are urged to register in advance at www.exploringcollegeoptions.org. With Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn and Stanford coming to see us, I can’t help but recall when I first encountered each, so here’s what I remember.
I first saw Duke University in 1978, as I took a younger brother on his college tour to 12 campuses in the South. One of my best friends from high school was happily enrolled at the time, and the thing I still recall is a crowd of us standing out in a drizzle eight hours before a basketball game—in the hope that the two IDs my buddy had borrowed from friends would get my brother and me into Cameron Indoor Stadium to watch the Blue Devils play. That such incredibly smart kids could be so incredibly excited about basketball remains equally true today. A great school with great spirit.
I can’t remember when I first saw Georgetown’s campus, but I’ve come to love my trips to that historic section of Washington, D.C., on our annual spring break college tour. The university first gained prominence in my college counseling consciousness in the early 1980s, also due to basketball, in the person of Patrick Ewing. When he took the Hoyas to four NCAA Final Fours, winning one title, he raised applications, too. By the time alumnus William Jefferson Clinton won the White House a few years later, Georgetown was the place for every basketball-loving student council president I knew. Might still be.
My first trip to Harvard came even earlier, in 1975, on a trip to Massachusetts with another high school friend. His sister was enrolled at Tufts, and we managed to convince our parents to let us spend a weekend on a college campus to see what it was like. During our stay, my friend and I walked all the way from Tufts to Harvard, and he loved what he saw, enrolling a year and a half later. America’s oldest college, founded in 1636, Harvard—indeed all five of these schools—requires a healthy sense of self, if not a bullet-proof ego, for so many super-achievers find their way to such places. Not for the meek.
Come to think of it, and back to basketball, my first trip to Penn came about because of that game, too. When we were in maybe ninth grade, a friend’s father drove us from northern New Jersey to Philadelphia to see a doubleheader in the legendary Palestra. I still remember the way Penn students hurled school-color, blue and burgundy streamers from the stands onto the court when a Penn player hit the first field goal of each half. The chants of “Let’s Go, Quakers!” to the beat of bass drum still ring in my ears. Known today to many as “The Happy Ivy”, Penn remains a fun place for smart students.
The final stop on this tour is Stanford, which I saw in 1983 and need to visit again someday. I recall a profound sense of wonder at the scale of the place and its abundant sunshine. I was so impressed that, despite having left education to take a year off and not having much cash, I spent money on a Stanford t-shirt that I wore for years. Where Harvard and Penn compete in the Ivy League, keeping some limits on their athletic programs, and Duke and Georgetown are only really powerhouses in basketball, Stanford wins national titles in varied sports and has more Olympians than any university.
I guess what’s most clear as I think back to my first encounters is that these outstanding academic universities are all striving places that enjoy seeking excellence in everything they do.
Chris Teare is Director of College Counseling at Antilles School on St. Thomas. To view previous "Road to College" articles, please visit the Source’s Schools section.