The overarching goal of the Diversity Leadership Project is to help high school students across the country become stronger leaders among their peers – now and in college.
The program empowers high school students to create a more accepting, diverse community, and prepares them to face social justice issues head-on in an effective, collaborative manner.
The project gives students the opportunity to work in small peer groups to research, gain understanding, and develop real-world solutions to issues they identify in their community.
This process increases the participants’ awareness of other cultures, as well as gives them a chance to contemplate and explore their own culture. This type of experiential learning encourages teens to befriend peers whose beliefs differ from their own worldview.
Because of this, they develop a greater empathy for social justice issues and an understanding of how bias affects our communities every day.
Centennial High School
Class of 2016
“What grows best in this heat is poverty” were my grandfather’s words to me as we passed the fields of rice and wheat as we travelled down a bumpy narrow stretch of highway from Rajiv Gandhi International Airport to my ancestral home of Erragadda, India. Within a few minutes, I realized this wasn’t going to be the typical summer vacation.
Although I was born in India and much of my family remains there today, most of my youth has been spent in suburban Franklin, Tennessee, where mostly white families drive their Polo-clad children around in large SUVs to their next lacrosse match or golf lesson. Nothing—absolutely nothing—could have prepared me for the poverty that dotted the landscape of my home country or the massive clouds of pollution that filled the skies and caused my eyes to burn.
I was in Erragadda to work with my grandfather’s company and train the locals, mostly Hindu, on technologies that we take for granted every day, namely computers and cell phones. Perhaps the distribution of technology, more than any other visible factor, underscores the chasm between wealth and poverty in India. Distribution of technology is therefore almost a moral and humanitarian issue.
One of the students that I met was roughly my age and the only similarity we shared was our skin color. She was Hindu and I’m Catholic. She had never held a smartphone or even surfed the Internet. When looking for common ground in conversation, I turned my attention to music, the universal language of teenagers. Much to my surprise, she had never even heard of Taylor Swift. She taught me the happiness that comes with a life without technology and I taught her the happiness that comes with using technology.
I understand that technology can be the greatest vehicle for innovation, education, and change in any country and that we all have a shared responsibility to disseminate technology that will address the basic needs of our youth.
Over the course of a short summer, I was able to help my peers transcend their circumstances and empower them with the mere touch of a smart phone to reach a broader world, opening up access to education, healthcare, and their relatives who may only live a few miles away in a very cost-effective and meaningful way. I never realized that the mobile phone that I use to take selfies of my friends and myself is potentially the most powerful tool for increasing literacy across our planet.
I have learned that technology brings empowerment. As a result, students my age and even younger can become a part of a larger dialogue and contribute to and engage in a broad range of social, political, and economic spheres that were impossible only a few years ago.
It has been said that talent is universal but opportunity is not. In India, as in the ghettos of Chicago or the Bronx, where you live can determine the rest of your life. It occurred to me that summer just how much one’s circumstances can also dictate their opportunities in life. Having been raised in suburban America, the world has been my oyster.
I take cell phones for granted and upgrade to the newest iPhone every chance I get. But the tragedy is that I can’t say the same for my friends in India who work in the wheat fields and rice patties to make ends meet. It is undeniably a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy that I can help to reverse and that technology can have the power to overcome.
The summer before your student’s senior year of high school needs to be a productive few months, a time for pursuing academic and extracurricular interests that build strong college applications. It’s the last part of your child’s high school career that admissions officers see before they make admissions decisions, so you don’t want them to waste it without doing something meaningful. Why?
Admissions officers tell me this over and over: students who undertake meaningful summer experiences are much more likely to continue pursuing meaningful experiences in college. Those students—the self-starters who “create memories” during the summer –are likely to enrich their college freshman class and add to the depth of the applicant pool. And the answer to the question, “How did you spend your summer vacation?” could make a big difference in being admitted to the right college for your child.
Do What You Love
For the rising senior, summer is a time for growth. Having fun is allowed…and even encouraged! So how can your son or daughter have a summer that’s meaningful and leads the kind of character development that colleges want?
Encourage them to do something that challenges them to stretch their thinking. This summer is about exploring what sparks their passions and may lead to declaring a major that reflects that passion, not just a passing interest. Inspire them to make the summer experience an extension of who they are and who they may want to be in the future.
Maybe your student’s summer experience will make for a great essay on the Common Application. Take the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.” Creating that meaningful journey over the summer that aligns with your student’s interests allows them to grow in ways that will reflect in their maturity, life experiences, and “voice,” particularly as it pertains to the essay on the Common Application.
In addition to developing a strong list of interests and extracurricular activities, the Tennessee Promise program requires eight hours of volunteer service. Why not encourage your student to pursue something that really gets them excited? Colleges discern a student’s level of commitment based on depth and longevity of a chosen activity and, while any amount of community service is admirable, admissions counselors want to see that passion and commitment over a sustained period of time.
Visit Colleges and Make Application
Early action/Early decision deadlines are decided just a few weeks after school starts in the fall. Vanderbilt for example, recently admitted 40% of incoming freshmen early. The most enthusiastic and qualified applicants generally apply to colleges early, signaling their true desire to attend that school. So, visiting colleges and making application before the early deadlines is critical. Most colleges will expect you to schedule an official campus tour. If you skip this essential process of building relationships, don’t be surprised if your student gets rejected or wait-listed, even with your “safety” schools.
The Common Application
Starting your application is also important. Go to www.CommonApp.org and begin filling out information. Have your student begin to assemble their resume of extracurricular activities and service work. Make sure you and your children understand deadlines for each school. Review the new essay questions for 2015-2016 and use this summer as a springboard for a meaningful and enriching experiences that can lead to a winning essay.
Inspire your student to become their own self-advocate and develop new relationships with their target schools. Ongoing communication with admissions advisors, attending admissions events, and campus visits are definite advantages when your student’s application comes before the Admissions Committee. Admissions counselors then know your child and the contributions they can make to that college. In short, the more substantive contact your child has with the school, the better their chances for admission.
Summer can be a time of relaxation for both parent and student but should also include taking the necessary steps to avoid the stresses with college planning that comes with the senior year. A few hours each week during the summer spent on college admissions tasks will reduce stress and avoid missed opportunities in the fall. A little work this summer on visiting colleges, writing your essay and building your Common Application will ensure that this fall semester is not hectic and the path to college is stress free and meaningful.