"What do you want to do when you grow up?" -- a question that pops up on a regular basis in all our lives. The conviction with which I answered it is inversely proportional to the age at which I was asked that question. I still don't know what I'm going to do when I grow up but have a vague feeling it'll somehow deal with young adults, with students, with those who can't yet answer the question that starts this post. And so far, though for a brief period still, I have managed to do this.
And, my perennially heightened interest in the concept of youth and what constitutes childhood and innocence automatically means that wading through college applications brings with it the chance to see young people through a fresh pair of glasses, simply because of the educational system I am placed within.
The difference between higher education in India and America can be found in those few pages that are included in each application read by an admissions counselor in small American colleges: the college essay. For most Indians, including, till recently, me, it is unimaginable that someone actually takes the time to understand an applicant before deciding his or her fate. And the logic behind each system be as it may, I certainly side completely with the care taken to understand each application as the smarter choice.
This is not to say that every word is pored upon, that no aspect of an applicant is glossed over. But, never is a young boy or girl turned into only a number. The numbers matter, though, and it is here that I discover adulthood creeping upon me slowly.
Judging a young person is one of the hardest tasks I have ever faced. Each stiff folder passing through my hands carries a life in it, carries desires, despair, tragedy, and passion. The life in these pages is overwhelming. Occasionally I turn numb to their humanity and treat them as sheets of paper only to be jolted back to my past self, a dreaming, fighting, hopeful, unsure, lost boy, all of seventeen.
The files on which I cannot pass judgment lie collecting specks of dreams that shake off other files passing through my hands.
A wise friend told me today, "Remember, it is not about what you are doing -- it's what each student does. It's not you, it's them." Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to allow those words the title of truth.