“Um, excuse me ma’am, I have a question about school,” one of our students shyly inquired. “You go to Duke, right? Was is hard to get into?”
In a classroom of over 35 other students chatting away, her timid voice was barely audible, but her question caught my attention. She was just one of the over 180 students participating in the Durham YouthWork Internship Program, preparing for her summer job through our orientations this past week. I was touched that a student had shown a vested interest in what I had to say (as oppose to some of the necessary, but tedious orientation material most children grudgingly sat through), and even more excited that she wanted to go to a school like Duke. For many of the young interns in our program, the idea of attending a four year college is unrealistic or a distant ideal. And though most of the students tried not to seem like “try-hards” to their peers during the orientation, I could tell her question had also sparked the interest of several other students sitting nearby. Soon enough, I had a group of 5 interns wanting to hear about if involved in during high school, what the application process was like, and how to go about picking schools that they might want to apply to. While the conversations we were having truly excited me, they were also unsettling. My advice seemed foreign, touching on certain topics they hadn’t thought about before. When I had been their age, the question wasn’t “if” a Duke student was involved in extracurriculars in high school, but rather, “what” and “how much”. It wasn’t “what is the application process like”, but “what advice do you have for X part of the process?” or “why did you choose X school?”
By no means are these children unintelligent or lacking potential. Rather, they seem to lack so many of the resources I had taken completely for granted as a high school student. I shouldn’t have been the first person to explain to a rising senior what the Common Application is, nor did I want to answer what my SAT score was to a student who had never taken it before. I also couldn’t find the words to describe how yes, getting into Duke was difficult, but it was also a combination of luck. Luck that I had gone to a public school that offered many AP classes, extracurriculars, and a hardworking guidance department. Luck that I had been born into a family that taught me the value of education, and were willing to pay the price of going to a school like Duke. The young girl in front of me, and the gathering group around her, looked at me as if I held a wealth of knowledge — when in reality, it was their questions that were teaching me something new all together.