The other day I interviewed a local high school student who's applying to Instant Name Recognition U. This is only my second year as an alumni interviewer and she was only my second interviewee, but each time I've scheduled a meeting I've had some anticipatory misgivings.
I'll be frank: teaching at Regional U makes me feel differently about my alma mater. Now, I don't accept the claim that the Ivy League is a bastion of snobbery and privilege; for one, there's plenty of school-related snobbery to go around (where I grew up, it was an article of faith that people who went to the University of Washington were much smarter than people who went to Washington State), and for another, the Ivies and similar schools are actually incredibly economically diverse--much more so than the pricey St. Whoevers or Private Basketball/Football Unis that criss-cross this great nation.
But when one believes, as I do, in the mission of a place like RU, it's hard not to feel conflicted. I love my alma mater. But I also love my students. I see the differences between the two institutions pretty clearly, and I doubt that RU is even a safety school for most of the INRU applicants from this region. That makes me feel defensive and protective of my students--as if, somehow, they were the ones being judged.
The kid I interviewed last year did nothing to dispel this feeling. He showed up in a suit and tie, with a copy of his mile-long resume, and spoke like a frequent attender of "junior leadership" conferences. He was smart and personable and socially-conscious, but he didn't seem much like my students.
He didn't seem much like an INRU student, either, and he didn't get in, but the experience made me feel that much more ambivalent about going to interview my second candidate last week.
She was totally different. Charming and gawky and confident and nervous, she too had a long resume, but she had more than a resume. She didn't have a prefabricated bit to give me, but as she talked it became clear how boundlessly curious she was, and what a passion she had for breaking things apart and creating new syntheses--how studying physics transformed the way she thought about everything from sailing to singing, and how the quantitative gave her a means to understand the qualitative. She reminded me of so many of the students I knew or taught at INRU.
Curiously enough, she also reminded me of the students I teach at RU, or at least some of them: all earnestness and potential, ready to be set afire by a new subject or idea. They may not all be starting out with the same cultural capital as she, but they're not, actually, so very different.