An opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal by Richard J. Light, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, caught my eye as I prepped to begin meetings with some of my college clients. With a nod to President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration address, Light titles his opinion “Ask Not What Your College Can Do For You, But What You Can Contribute To Your Campus.” He writes, “College admissions officers have purposefully broadened their student bodies because they believe when students hear alternative perspectives in vigorous classroom discussions, they can learn an enormous amount from each other.” But to achieve this, students must feel they are an integral part of the process and extend themselves to fully participate in their own education. At its basic level, this means attending class consistently, listening actively and contributing whenever possible. As Light states, “Without students’ contributions to discussions, even the best professors can’t capitalize on the differences in perspectives and backgrounds that students bring with them.”
It’s easy when engaging with our college students to focus on whether they actually wake up and attended class, whether they are doing their homework and if their grades are passing. But Light reinforces the importance of us caring about their active participation and engagement, which will allow them to make the most of the opportunities they have with a broad range of opinions within the campus.
Light further emphasizes that “this spirit of enterprise can make a difference outside the classroom, too.” Building on talents and trying new things not only enhance the individual but also the culture of the campus. He describes a student-driven campaign at Harvard to engage more students with more professors. This effort was inspired by several students who realized the vast number of amazing professors they would never hear. This curiosity led to a lecture series called “Ten Big ideas, Ten Professors, Ten Minutes Each.’’ The students realized that, for most, they were in the last four years of their life that could be fully focused on learning in the broadest sense and looked to capitalize on that opportunity.
From kindergarten through high school, so much of the emphasis is on what to do to get into college. This article reinforces the importance of continuing to support and encourage our college kids to look broadly at what will be taught to them while considering what they can teach and contribute to the campus as a whole.