88: Live Your Dream

88: Live Your Dream

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Live Your Dream

There’s a long, long trail a-winding into the land of my dreams.

~Stoddard King, Jr.

When well-meaning friends and relatives heard that our son, Mark, had applied to only one college, the statements were generally like these:

“Shouldn’t he apply to at least one other college, just in case?”

“What’s he going to do next year if he doesn’t get accepted?”

“I know he’s smart, but look at the odds.”

Even though my husband, Ron, and I had some of those same thoughts, we never wavered in defending his decision and supporting him all the way. After discussing the situation at great length with him, we knew no other college would do. It was Washington University in St. Louis, or nothing!

Mark always had been an intelligent student and college was certainly in his future. Exactly when he became so intent on Wash U, we’re really not sure. Some time during high school, he heard it was the best university in the St. Louis area for mathematics, and math was his passion. He enjoyed reading math books the way many people enjoy reading light fiction. I would pick up one his books, flip through it, and only see numbers and symbols that looked like Greek to me.

Ron and I joked about where Mark might have acquired such a mathematical brain. I claimed it was from my side of the family! My deceased father had once been a math teacher at a small local college and studied aeronautical engineering. The “math gene” seemed to follow only the males in my family, because I understood only the simplest math and barely passed Algebra I in high school. My brother, Mike, was quite good at it and he tried numerous times to help me with my homework until he finally gave up in exasperation.

In July of 2005, the summer between his junior and senior year in high school, Mark e-mailed David Wright, Chair of the Math Department at Wash U. He introduced himself and asked if the professor could possibly speak with him, either in person or by phone, for help and advice in his pursuit of advanced math knowledge. Professor Wright promptly replied and invited Mark to visit him the next week.

The day of the visit, Mark collected some notes he’d written, brought a pencil and note pad, and I went along, too. I wanted to meet Professor Wright and let him know that Ron and I were behind Mark one hundred percent. What transpired that day will stay with me for the rest of my life. I watched and listened as Mark spoke in math terms I’d never heard before. I was mesmerized by the entire situation, especially when Mark stood at the blackboard and wrote out a huge equation he’d been working on. It covered the entire board, and it reminded me of a scene in the movie Good Will Hunting. It was truly a surreal moment.

Professor Wright was impressed with Mark’s calculations and amazed with his desire and ability to work them out. He was kind and gracious and immediately put him at ease. After their discussions, he browsed through his bookshelves with great consideration and suggested some titles and authors for Mark to read.

As we left his office and walked down the beautiful, old halls of such a distinguished place of learning, I know neither Mark’s feet nor mine ever touched the floor. I looked up at my handsome son who towered a foot over me. He appeared to be in the same state of pride and happiness as I was. We talked excitedly about the events that just occurred, each wanting to make sure the other heard the same praise and compliments. My son’s dream seemed as if it just might be within reach after all.

The next few months were demanding. Mark continued to do very well in high school, and he read every book he could get his hands on about math and physics. His thirst for knowledge branched out to psychology and philosophy. While he was idealistically confident about his acceptance, Ron and I were the ones worrying, knowing how devastated he would be if he did not get in.

A setback came in December. Mark received the news that his early application had not been accepted. It was not a rejection letter, but a deferral stating the admissions department wanted to wait another semester and obtain more information about him before they made their decision. My thoughts were these:

“Okay... they are very interested, but they want to know just how serious and intent this young man is, in his quest to become a student at Washington University.”

So, there was more work to be done. Mark continued to excel in his classes. He put together a composition about himself, which highlighted his accomplishments and interests, and stressed his desire to be a student there. Ron hand delivered the packet to the Admissions Office, just to make sure it made it into the right hands!

During those months of waiting, I came across a quote by Henry David Thoreau, which I have hanging in my office. It was also printed on Mark’s graduation party invitations. It has been my mantra ever since:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

We finally received the tremendous news in mid-March, two months before Mark graduated with honors from high school. He indeed had been accepted to the one and only university he wanted to attend. The acceptance letter also stated an amazing fact: There were 22,000 applications for a class of 1,350. Some dreams do come true, especially if you work hard enough and walk in the direction of those dreams.

~Becky Povich

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