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Nancy Sinex takes a look at the members of the incoming class through an analysis of their applications as Earlham's senior director of admissions delivers the annual welcome at New Student Orientation.

Welcoming Address to the Class of 2017

August 16, 2013

Nancy Sinex, Senior Director of Admissions

It’s exciting for me as one member of the admissions office to look out on your faces and be reminded of the extraordinary group of students who applied for admission to Earlham for this school year. How much better it is to actually see you in person and to be reacquainted. I know my colleagues in admissions share my enthusiasm for your presence here today.

Over the last several weeks, Susan Hillmann de Castaneda and I spent some time looking through your application files to gather some interesting facts so that we could tell you a little about yourselves and help define the character of the entering class of 2013, with most of you, hopefully, becoming the graduating class of 2017 (recognizing some of our new transfer students will leave us even earlier and some of you will choose to extend your time with us). This part of the official college welcome has become a New Student Orientation tradition, one I hope you can tolerate now and will appreciate more later. So bear with me for about 10 minutes as I, in great detail, tell you about yourselves.

You number 288 students. Most of you are just beginning your college careers, while others — 18 of you — have transferred to Earlham from other institutions of higher education. Fourteen of you from Japan are “visiting” with us for just this year. At least 20 of you took a “gap” year and share a myriad of experiences since graduating from high school. You come from 33 states and ­­29 different countries and represent 205 different high schools.  Nineteen of you are graduates of one of the United World Colleges. At least 47 of you have homes outside of the United States — coming to Earlham from Bangladesh, Vietnam, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Turkey, Canada, Thailand, China, Tanzania, Ecuador, South Africa, Congo, Russia, Ecuador, Palestine, Georgia, Pakistan, Ghana, Norway, Haiti, Nigeria, Indonesia, Netherlands, Japan, Nepal, Kenya, Myanmar, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Mali and the Republic of Moldova. The states represented by the greatest number of new students are California, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Tennessee. Nine of you are the only representative from your state in the new class. We offer a special welcome to those students from West Virginia, Alaska, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Hawaii, Montana, Iowa and Louisiana.

Twenty-two of you are Quakers, and 25 claim relatives who attended or are attending Earlham — some of whom are parents, grandparents or siblings joining us in the audience today. Several of you represent the third generation of Earlham students in your families, and at least one of you can claim nearly 40 relatives who earlier enrolled at the College. At the time you applied, you had 427 siblings. Forty-one of you are the only child in your family. We have one set of triplets and two sets of twins enrolling. Four others are twins, and three of you have twins among your siblings. More of you were born in the month of October (35), with the fewest number (15) being born in the month of November. October 19 is the most prolific birth date, with five of you sharing birthdays on that day. As has become our practice, we want to recognize the student or students having a birthday on or closest to the first day of New Student Orientation. We have two students celebrating their birthdays today — Genesis Galo and Trinity Kesterke. I’ll ask Trinity and Genesis to come down to the front of the stage at the end of the welcome to receive their special gift.

The most popular name in the class is Michael; there are five of you. There are also four Catherines/Katherines and four Alexis/Alexuses. Together (for those reporting) you scored 209,700 points on the critical reading and mathematics sections of the SAT. On average you completed 48 classes or units of study in high school and, collectively, submitted 1,378 college applications.

The essays accompanying your applications helped the admissions committee learn more about who you are, what you think, what challenges you have faced or are facing, how you commit your time, and what issues are important to you — all things that continue to inform your lives. The subjects of your essays included important people, whether family members, coaches, teachers, neighbors or friends. Timothy, Jeremy Lin, Ms. Parson, Julie, Grandpa Choo-Choo, Kenny, Maria Beimly, Josh and Dr. Who — were or are some of the important role models or persons who in some way influenced and shaped your lives. 

You wrote passionately about a relative’s battle with cancer, breaking down stereotypes, experiencing racism or bullying, the stigma of being adopted, the search for truth and the risk for doing so, alcohol abuse, gender equality in sports, overcoming a congenital disorder, the right sharing of world resources, roommate conflicts, factory farms and eating responsibly, fracking, exceptional teachers and access (or lack thereof) to education. We read about various wilderness adventures, music recitals, theater performances, marching band rehearsals, athletic competitions, first encounters with cultural differences during travel abroad, mission trips, and the importance of family and family traditions. On a lighter note you wrote about your admiration for Hobbits, the fear of public speaking, finally finding Earlham, one’s obsession with anime, the challenges of opening a can of soup and the dilemmas of clothing choices.

We selected a sampling of some of our favorite first lines from the essays you submitted, recording at least a dozen “memorable” lines, but I’ll share just a few with you today:

• “I’m a basket case for drums; I mean, I’m a basket case anyway, but drums really blow my hair back.”

• “Higher education — what does it really mean?”

• “The pungent scent of evil hangs comfortably in the smoky air.”|

• “There is something fundamentally beautiful about mathematics.”

• “As I looked down in fear from the top of the swing set, I wondered if I could make it across and regretted taking my dad up on his ridiculous offer.”

• “I love Latin!”

Your stated career preferences include orthopedic surgeon, engineer, biology teacher, economist, lawyer, journalist, veterinarian, diplomat, computer analyst, urban planner, conservationist, musician, paleontologist, clinical psychologist, astrophysicist, film director, marine biologist and college administrator — to mention just a few.  Among you are students who aspire to be an illustrator of children’s books, a professional basketball player, a dance therapist, a cruise ship captain, the next Steve Jobs or Indiana Jones. Many of you spoke about becoming change agents, whether leading NGOs, volunteering with the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders, working in areas around the world to promote human rights for victims of injustice, serving as political diplomats or developing real working solutions to global warming, educating others about sustainability issues and mediating peace in the Middle East. Many, if not most, of you remain undecided about and open to exploring all options for your future career paths.

You have traveled to, studied, lived or performed in over 73 different countries (from Botswana to Bulgaria, Cambodia to Costa Rica, Greece to Guatemala, Peru to Portugal, Belize to Belgium and Austria to Australia). Many of you have hosted international students in your homes. Some have participated in programs like the Rotary Youth Exchange, AFS programs, Seeds of Peace, People to People or Youth for Understanding. You have studied and or speak fluently at least 28 different languages.

Special summer or pre-college and “gap year” experiences have included internships with the American Friends Service Committee, the Global Young Leaders Conference, the American Farmland Trust, Close Up, the youth Conservation Corps, the National Institutes of Health and the National Outdoor Leadership School. You have studied robotics and genetics at Duke University, conducted research on the color and texture of wool in Finn sheep, worked on organic farms both in the U.S. and abroad, helped to restore a Civil War battlefield in Harpers Ferry, prepared mastodon bones at Ohio State University, served as a Page in the House of Representatives, learned the retail business at Van Heusen, tested the effect of food deprivation on the response to dopamine, worked as a journalist for the Times of India and interned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

You are a very talented class. Many of you play one or more musical instruments, giving rehearsal and performance time to jazz, symphonic and pep band, wind ensemble, drum line, marching band, indie or garage bands, all-city orchestras and competing at the state, national and international level for ability recognition on more than 26 different instruments, including — but not limited to — alto saxophone, piano, trumpet, guitar, tuba, surdo, French horn, mellophone, bagpipes, flute, viola, oboe, djembe, fiddle, cello, harmonium and ukulele. Others have been a part of school, church, state or community choral groups, madrigal singers, chamber choirs, gospel voices, chorales, jazz combos, acapella choirs, opera companies, Glee and swing choirs. Others have committed significant time to learning, performing and/or teaching dance, including Bollywood, African, Latin, ballroom, modern, belly, Zumba, ballet, jazz, tap and Irish step. You have performed on stage or worked behind the scenes or in the pit during theatrical productions in your high schools, community theaters or summer theater companies. You’ve performed in, directed, staged managed, costumed, painted and built sets or designed lighting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Little Shop of Horrors, Music Man, Sound of Music, Oklahoma, Alice in Wonderland, Bye Bye Birdie, Romeo & Juliet, Hairspray and Into the Woods, to name several.

Over a third of you have played at least one varsity sport, with others having participated on multiple varsity or recreational teams including roller, field or ice hockey, sailing, water polo, basketball, cricket, badminton, football, Ultimate Frisbee, soccer, synchronized skating, fencing, baseball, archery, gymnastics, table tennis, volleyball and wrestling. Many of you are engaged in equestrian competition or, in other ways, are serious about horses. You have set school, district, regional and state records and have been recognized for your sportsmanship, team leadership and ability to accept loss (and quite a few broken bones and missed seasons) with much grace.

Almost true for every student, you have committed significant volunteer hours in serving others, whether canvassing for political campaigns, tutoring younger students, visiting with residents of nursing homes, delivering food to the elderly, building or refurbishing homes in Haiti, New Orleans, Vermont or on Indian reservations in North and South Dakota, Montana and Oklahoma, teaching English to second-language learners or tutoring adult non-readers, repairing bicycles, remaining on-call as a volunteer firefighter, clearing trails in the Appalachian Mountains, fundraising for victims of the tsunami in Japan, giving support and care to Alzheimer’s patients and their families, helping children overcome their fear of riding horses, conducting food or blood drives in your high schools, and biking, running or walking “for the cure.” You’ve given freely of your time to and raised funds for such organizations as Planned Parenthood, the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Student Conservation Corps, American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Sierra Club, Head Start, the American Cancer Society, Salvation Army, National Public Radio, Amnesty International, Meals on Wheels, Girls, Inc. and the Ronald McDonald House. These commitments have taken you from the Appalachian Mountains to the High Sierras, from New York City to New Orleans, and from the Mojave Desert to rural West Virginia. You have more often described these experiences as gifts to yourselves and opportunities that have “opened your eyes to endless possibilities” rather than as simply doing good deeds for others.

During the school year you’ve been active with academic competitions, robotics, BETA Club, ROTC, LINK Crew, 4-H, Model United Nations, scouting, chess club, Mock Trial, student newspaper, yearbook and literary magazine, student council, Future Farmers of America, speech and debate, GSA, recycling efforts at your schools, diversity and culture clubs, SADD and Spell Bowl — all in addition to your involvement with theater, music, dance and athletics. You’ve been active with youth group and other activities within your churches, synagogues, meetings and mosques.  Several of you are founders of clubs and organizations at your school. For fun, you collect rocks and minerals, photograph, kayak, garden, throw pots, bike, design jewelry or websites, practice martial arts, fly fish, practice circus acrobatics, participate in altitude running and climbing, bake cookies, scuba dive, fly planes and watch “way too much television.”

In after school and summer jobs you have been a vegetable sorter, child and/or pet care provider, machine operator, lifeguard, farmer, ski instructor, nanny, pretzel maker, cow mascot, barista, office clerk, janitor, hay baler, kettle corn maker, golf caddie, landscaper, cook and bookkeeper. Many fast food chains have employed you, creating sandwiches, serving coffee and bagels, slicing pizza or dishing up yogurt or ice cream. And a number of you have bagged groceries, restocked shelves or cashiered at both chain and family food markets. In addition to providing customer service at Dairy Queen, Michael’s Craft Store, Wendy’s, Auntie Ann’s, McDonalds, Home Goods, Best Buy, Menards, Target, Marsh Supermarket, Dunkin Donuts and White Castle, you have worked for less familiar companies such as Ripling Waters Organic Farm Umpleby’s Bakery & Café, Hobknobb Roasting Co., Terry B’s Gourmet Restaurant & Bar, Applecrest Farm & Orchards and the Casa Grille.

Twelve of you are alumni of Earlham’s Explore-A-College program. Thirty-nine have just returned from hiking the Uintah Mountains in Utah or canoeing the boundary waters with Earlham’s Wilderness program, and eleven of you came to campus in late July to work with the faculty in the Summer Writing Initiative.

Among you are a student who trains Clydesdales, one who hiked 230 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a finalist in the National Education Olympiad, a student who won first prize in the QUEST 2011 International Biotech Fair held in India, someone who played piano at Carnegie Hall, a student who has learned that procrastination is not okay, another who has lived off the grid his entire life, a student who shows and trains llamas, a student who placed first in nationals and third in the world in synchronized skating, a student who served in the U.S. Navy, someone who spends her free time figuring things out; another who has a record 189 tackles, three interceptions and twelve fumble recoveries during his high school career, another who was invited to try out for the U.S. World Ultimate Frisbee Team, a student who won a Grand Champion Youth Masters bowling championship, a student who builds custom gaming computers; a student who believes there is no feeling like that experienced while cleaning a bathroom, a student who was recognized by the San Francisco Bay Area Youth Media Network for a video on “Occupy Oakland,” a self-declared Star Wars geek; a student who has written four 50-thousand word novels, one who loves to organize and improve things, a student who has gone 8 weeks without a shower; another who played in the Little League World Series and was involved in a play chosen as the #3 play of the year in all sports by ESPN (still available on YouTube), a certified scuba diver who has accomplished over 40 dives and a student who feels prepared for “whatever college will throw at him.” 

These are just some of the many things we’ve learned about you — so far. We in admissions have enjoyed getting to know you and look forward, along with Earlham’s faculty and current students, to becoming even better acquainted. We hope you enjoy the process of discovering these and the many other interests, skills, abilities, passions and idiosyncrasies among your classmates. Welcome to Earlham.


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