Name: Sam Guiberson
Parent of: Noah Guiberson, Class of 2014
Hometown: Houston, TX
As I took my first steps on campus at Johns Hopkins University, I held back to watch my son Noah walk excitedly ahead of me. I saw him travel up the sidewalk toward the buildings and the people that would surround him for years to come. I was at once both proud and petrified.
In that moment, I realized that what I had been to him and he to me for eighteen years would not survive the summer. Come fall, it would be those who shared Homewood campus with him who would inspire him, sustain him and make demands of him for his best efforts in whatever he undertook. Noah’s work at Johns Hopkins – and Johns Hopkins’ work with Noah – was just beginning.
I had never understood so well as I did in that moment that the college selection process is not a micro-balancing of scales and measures where we weigh colleges and universities as if they were precious metals to be assayed for their current and future market value. Good matches aren’t made building a spreadsheet of schemes to achieve the perfect formula of admissions friendly accolades and extracurricular activities. It isn’t about SATs and GPA’s matching a college’s incoming class average, or climbing to the highest college rankings perch in US News and World Report.
Choosing a college is like a romance between a student and an institution that no parent can predict. We can raise a bird from the egg to adulthood and then launch it from our hands, but to where that bird then flies, we cannot choose. Noah’s soccer coaches used to call him “big bird” alluding to his imposing size in goal. My big bird flew all the way from Texas to land at Johns Hopkins.
We have all put in our time as parents wanting to provide everything we can of what’s best for each of our children and much of what we understand as best for us gets translated into what we think is best for them. That is the human nature in the nature of parents. I learned as Noah walked through Hopkins’ gate that the best college choice for my son was one matched to his nature and not my own.
Now I would never have told Noah what college he was going to attend. I may be a ‘helicopter parent’ but I’m not a Kamikaze. Together we undertook a reasoned process of comparative analysis and rational deliberation over any number of choices, made more college visits than there are quills on a porcupine and calculated college varsity soccer recruiting probabilities to the fifth decimal place. Don’t think I didn’t try to fulfill my dreams through his choice, because I confess I did. Ultimately, I knew my dreams counted for nothing, either to him or to me, when I saw him walk across Homewood campus, the place he calls “nerdvana.” Hopkins was exactly right for him and my own Ivy League ambitions would have been exactly wrong.
Why is it so important for a student to be in love with the college he or she chooses to attend? I believe a student’s success as an undergraduate is in large part driven by the motivations and expectations that the student brings to college. It is more likely that an exceptionally inspired student will achieve more at a university of moderate reputation than will a moderately inspired student at a university of exceptional reputation. Even at an academic institution of Johns Hopkins’ stature, it is rarely what the university offers the student that yields success as much as it is what the student gives back.
At Johns Hopkins, I sensed that students and faculty share the same heartbeat in their intellectual ambitions and transformative learning experiences. My son understood long before I did that it is neither a student’s or a university’s academic reputation, but the pulse of their shared passion for new ideas that gives rise to the greatest achievements. (Noah will be happy to share the story of Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas with you, probably several times over, if you should ask.)
Through all the winding turns of parenting from cradle to college campus, we mothers and fathers second-guess whether we have successfully supported and strengthened our children to make good decisions on their own. At the beginning of this story, I explained that sending Noah off to college left me both proud and petrified. The more I have learned about Johns Hopkins, the more proud I have become of his wise knowledge of his own needs. The more I have learned about Johns Hopkins, the more I recognize that I have nothing to fear from the choices he now makes for himself as his life in the home of his parents slips away.
At Johns Hopkins, I once saw a gifted young man fall in love with a gifted old place. So may you see your son or daughter in this place. Once they find each other, there is no limit to what Johns Hopkins University and our kids can do for each other.