Lerin Rutherford, a student in my AP European History course, shares her academic experience after a summer of study at Davidson College. She is one of my elite students who will have a number of college options come April. You can also read Lerin’s last post on Political Correctness and Happy Feet here.
Davidson College is a small liberal arts school in North Carolina, about 20 minutes away from Charlotte. It’s considered one of the new Ivies and is consistently ranked among the top ten liberal arts colleges in the nation. I must say that the journey to where I sit in the student union has been a long one. I only came across Davidson by chance in a college choice book during my sophomore summer and only read the profile because of its subtitle: “For the well-rounded student.” This was appealing after the realization that I might not get into the college of my choice because I am a white, middle class female and am neither A. a prima ballerina B. a child with an insurmountable past C. the sharpEST crayon in the box or D. Mother Theresa. After that I spoke to several alumni, one of which I encountered by chance while doing my rounds as a Student Ambassador. It was from this man that I first heard about July Experience, Davidson’s three week summer program for high school students. Although I determined that night to apply, the decision quickly became complicated. But I found the administration to be very obliging. I emailed the director of the program, Ms. Pat McCue with my problem just to see if there was any way a solution could be found. Only two days latter Ms. McCue returned my email to ask if I could accept a scholarship for over half of the tuition as a gift from the school. Davidson is very willing to work with students and 100% graduate debt free. I can see why.
My first impressions of the campus were not remarkable. (But this was probably due to the fact that my counselors dragged us through the campus in the middle of a rainstorm and called it a “tour.”) On a sunny day however, the campus is gorgeous and the facilities amazing. I was also concerned that the campus seemed somewhat deserted and the town seemed to have little to no entertainment. I can’t help but laugh at how wrong I was. July Experience is a remarkable program where 56 students from 18 states and three countries come for 3 weeks to truly figure out what Davidson College is about.
Our days in the program have been packed from the moment it began at 1:00 Sunday the 8th. In fact that night we were up late into the early morning square dancing in the Union! I’ll not pretend that getting up early was fun, but the days moved very quickly and the three weeks have seemingly vanished. Breaks consist of Summit Coffee runs and I spend my recreation time at the Davidson Lake campus, which by the way is gorgeous. Activity time is also a favorite, although by the end of the first week I’d had quite enough ice-breakers for a life time. As supervision has relaxed this past week, activity has been more along the lines of spontaneous dance party in the dorm lounge. But during the second week, we had a rather intense match of quiz bowl, (which I’ll proudly say I lead my team to second place in), a talent show, and a poetry reading. Weekends consisted of well earned relaxation time. The first Saturday we did community service and attended the Lion King in Charlotte. Sunday we all had a picnic on the beach. This past weekend we went white water rafting and saw a baseball game on Sunday. This Friday, tomorrow, I’m rather excited for our formal banquet and the following luau/bonfire on the beach.
Davidson is best known for its academics. While here I took classes in Literature: the Art of the Short story and Anthropology: Skulls, Bones and Clandestine Graves. The two classes were intense and innovative. Both were discussion and experience based and in the case of Anthropology, very hands on. I was surprised by the insight of all the students here and the academic rigor of these minor summer courses. Ultimately I think I may even have gotten off easy, because it seemed many of the other students had larger projects than I did. I’d imagine that most classes at Davidson are similar. I’ve talked to my share of college students and I’ve never heard them speak about their course load as challenging to the degree of my counselors for these three weeks. I think that speaks well of the college, because challenging the type of minds that find their ways here cannot be easy. Teachers and faculty here are just as accessible as those at HCHS. They were constantly in the library and almost seemed to seek us out.
The community here is what makes a difference however. Students here, while they discuss class and famous works of art over dinner in the cafeteria, have so much more going on in the community. While here we were treated to two plays, one was The Lion King in Charlotte’s Blumenthal theatre and the other was one on Jewish culture by a local community company. We got to hear professors give personalized readings from their published works, attend sporting events, hang out at Davidson’s nearby lake campus, white water raft, participate in the choral program for the talent show, attend community games and events, and experience college dorm and eating house life. Now more than ever, I feel ready for college and as if I could be at home easily on this campus but maybe on others. Even little Davidson town, the historical portion proved a source of entertainment as students made endless runs to Summit coffee shop and Ben & Jerry’s between classes. Davidson does have a more modern portion which we experienced when our counselors kidnapped us all one Sunday to see the new Harry Potter movie.
While have everything positive to say about this school and program, do not think that we were only exposed to the nice side of college existence. In fact the school is refreshingly open about its own issues. We were even taken to a documentary about racial tensions at Davidson, illustrating its past and present issues. But even young African American woman who created the film said when asked, she would not have gone anywhere else. Another part of Davidson’s honesty is preparing JE students for their college experience no matter which college that may be. Admissions went out of their way to schedule informational sessions for us all on essays, financial aid, applications and choosing the right school. I was impressed by the way in which the school promoted individualized learning as a goal rather than the school itself.
My time here has definitely changed and challenged me. I’ve learned what I want from a college. I have learned that straight A’s might not come as easily as they have. I’ve been exposed to many other view points through my studies and challenged but never looked down upon for coming from a small Christian school. I have met my peers from across the nation and discovered I quite like them and can’t wait to attend class with them. I’ve learned to communicate better with those at home and those around me. And perhaps most importantly I’ve learned the secret to harmonious living with a roommate. More than anything though I’ve had to think differently about a number of things and I’ll probably address them in another entry later. Several of my views on race have changed drastically and I can’t wait to discuss them at length with Carson.
I wholeheartedly encourage HCHS students to look at Davidson and to consider applying to July Experience. More than that, I think that anyone serious about finding the right school for them should consider a program of the same type, even if Davidson isn’t your cup of tea. These three weeks at Davidson have been the most valuable this summer and as I sit here at ease in the union, I can’t help hoping that around this time next year I might be getting ready to come rather than leave.