The Long Distance Travelled on a Short Walk

Name: Sam Guiberson

Parent of: Noah Guiberson, Class of 2014

Hometown: Houston, TX

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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.

Walking a few steps behind

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.

Big Bird before Take-Off

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.

18 Comments

  • By Noah G., November 23, 2010 @ 9:44 AM

    Actually, I’m pretty sure they called me “Big Bird” because of that atrocious yellow jersey. :)

  • By Cheryl Vandermark, March 22, 2011 @ 8:21 AM

    What a beautifully written piece! You have made clear so many of the unanswered questions I have had about my own son, who will start at JHU in the fall of 2011. I, too, am so proud, but terrified to let my baby go (he is my first!). He made up his mind that JHU was where he wanted to go, applied early decision, and received word mid-December that he had been accepted. We toured a few different colleges, but he knew JHU was for him. He won’t be nearly as far away from home as your son, but the 4 1/2 hour car ride will still be hard for me. He just sent me a txt message a little while ago telling me that he got his JHU email account today! He is one step closer.

  • By Victoria Yeung, March 30, 2011 @ 2:33 AM

    My son just got accepted to BME program, he applied as RD. We are very happy for him, it seems like yesterday we(my husband and I) were living in college dorm, but that was almost 25 years ago. Now my baby is leaving our nest…personally I am having a hard time letting my first born go, I hope wherever he goes is safe and secure. I stay home raising him and his younger sister(freshman in high school) all their lives. Living in Westchester county in NY is quite far to drive to JHU, mother is always worried I guess. I may cry every night this fall.

  • By Gladys Gregory, April 4, 2011 @ 3:06 PM

    It is so nice to know that I’m not the only parents who finds it hard to let go of their “one and only.” We are in California and my baby girl will be a long ways away but my husband and I have been smiling non-stop. She is still undecided about JHU but it is her number one choice and will be visiting next week. Any suggestions??? She was accepted to the BME program.

  • By Victoria Yeung, April 4, 2011 @ 5:48 PM

    To Gladys Gregory:
    My son, Benjamin Yeung(he likes to be called Ben, but I still call him Benny) will be joining with other BME students at SOHOP program, if your baby girl will be there, I will ask him to look her up. Benny spent first 8 years of his life in Southern California, we lived in LA and Ventura counties area. He’s still a Dodgers fan, I guess you can take the guy out of LA, but can’t take LA from the guy sort of speak.
    Benny will travel by himself for the first time, by SOHOP express train from NYC to Baltimore to meet other kids. Benny also is still undecided about JHU, but so far it’s his first choice among his top three. We will hear more from him about JHU after his experience with SOHOP program.
    I kind of want to come down with him, but my husband won’t be around to care for our younger child those days, plus he wants Benny to go/be by himself, I never worry that the boy would get lost since he’s a human GPS himself(speaking of which I don’t know what am I going to do when Benny is gone and my Gamin is not working properly). In California, we thought he had somehow programed LA map in his head, we didn’t have GPS back then, so we could only rely on our young Benny as soon as he could speak, the map must have been in his brain long before that.
    If you plan to come to SOHOP and meet other parents, I hope you have fun and informative session. I will miss it this time, let me know if you like what you see, thank you.

  • By Gladys Gregory, April 5, 2011 @ 10:22 AM

    Hi Victoria

    I won’t make the SOHOP but my daughter Kayla will be there with her dad. They will be easy to spot, she is a 5 ft brunette and her dad is 6 ft and has gray hair. Why is Ben undecided? Kayla is undecided because she has never been to the East Coast and doesn’t know the campus. She is adventurous and flew to China by herself when she was 11. I’m sure you are as proud of Ben as I’m of Kayla. :)

  • By Victoria Yeung, April 5, 2011 @ 6:53 PM

    Ben is an Asian boy, also easy to spot, doesn’t like to talk much though, all of his teachers agree that Ben likes to give other kids opportunity to answer questions in class, he will answer only when no one hold up hands. He’s more of a thinker (unlike his mother). However, they said when Ben speaks people listen. One funny example was that when Ben was 5 in second grade (private school in California),his teacher let him take charge of the class when she’s gone to the restroom, some kids were almost twice his age,out of respect for little Ben, they never made a move until the teacher got back, she told me the story.Ben is kind of a person who could use his reasons,in the most polite way, to convince his opponents to be on his side, he wrote an amazing article in the newspaper last year(and didn’t tell us about it until the teacher forward it to us). As he gets older he’s better in expressing himself, thank goodness.
    Wow, I am impressed with your Kayla went to China at age of 11, unfortunately we never got a chance to take Ben to Asia, he loves to travel, but mostly in Europe/most states in the US/Mexico/Canada/Caribbean. We do plan to go to Asia in the near future.
    Why is Ben undecided? should I answer this question on this blog? Oh well, why not? Like I said, Ben is a thinker, he analyzes and takes everything into consideration, he doesn’t just go with what stats says or what people think. Some colleges has offered him their most prestige scholarship awards, in other words, he’s getting a full ride. The ball is in his park, he’ll have to decide for himself. We don’t have problem as long as he’s happy, that’s parent’s dream, to see a child happy and be all he can be(now I sound like an army’s mom).I am just as anxious to know where he wants to be for the next four years of his life.

  • By Gladys Gregory, April 6, 2011 @ 11:01 AM

    Ben sounds like a wonderful and smart young man. Kayla also has received a wonderful package and like you, just want her to be happy and find that “perfect fit”

    I’m finding the blogs very helpful in putting my mind at ease. Right now I’m just anxious about Kayla’s decision. The unknown is the worst.

  • By Victoria Yeung, April 6, 2011 @ 2:03 PM

    Gladys
    I agree, the unknown is the worst. Ben is a good boy, but he has his “non-wonderful” sides, he likes to leave his clothes on the floor right in front of the closet, which any mom can never understand and he likes to do things the last minutes most of the time, for example he studied for SAT the night before the test. I am sure he won’t be able to do that in university.
    Soon enough these kids will have to make up their minds, as parents we just have to wait and pray for them to make the right decisions. Good luck. Hang in there, no more than three weeks, we’ll find out.

  • By Gladys Gregory, April 11, 2011 @ 10:22 AM

    Victoria,

    Yesterday we attended a reception in LA for JHU and it was wonderful. Everyone was extremely helpful, friendly, and I think Kayla made her decision. Before we even got to our car she asked me what I thought. I told her that it was more important what she thought and she said that she is almost completely sure that JHU is the place for her but still needs to see it. She will visit the campus this week and hopefully commit to JHU by the end of the week. Tough choice for kids to make.

  • By Victoria Yeung, April 11, 2011 @ 5:02 PM

    Gladys,
    We too, attended a reception in our town, I got the same feeling about Ben. He’s getting ready to come to SOHOP this Wednesday, I just told Ben that we have been making decision for him all his life dragging him from coast to coast, but not this time, he’s old enough to make his first adult-decision and it’s important for him. I like all parents we’ve met yesterday, they are very supportive, most of them have more than one child attending JHU, I guess that speaks for itself. The reception was for students/parents around NY and CT area, we got to meet more people in the area, it was really fun for us too. The kids are awesome I can see the class of 2015 will be amazing.
    Tell Kayla and her dad, have a safe trip. Ben got the information from me to look for Kayla, it shouldn’t be too hard since they are admitted to the same BME program. There will be about 500 admits at the SOHOP this week and a bit less for next week.

  • By Victoria Yeung, April 11, 2011 @ 5:16 PM

    Gladys,
    We used to live in Mid-Wilshire area in LA, and we moved to Thousand Oaks after my husband transferred his job to Agura Hills.. are you living near by these area?

  • By Gladys Gregory, April 12, 2011 @ 10:05 AM

    Victoria,

    I also have Kayla looking for Ben. :) No, we live on the central coast, in Arroyo Grande about 1.5 hours north of Santa Barbara so it was a long drive for us but well worth it. The kids we got a chance to meet where also amazing, smart, polite, and fun. Can’t wait for Kayla to get on campus. Her host is BME freshman so she is excited about that.

  • By Victoria Yeung, April 12, 2011 @ 12:40 PM

    Gladys,
    Sounds like Kayla is excited about JHU, I want you to see this site and see our Benjamin in here..

    http://www.msgvarsity.com/optimum/RetrievePremiumContent?id=1PqSE2WAU2cuTnAvfuoqZ47lvTKzE0d99wU0Tws2f%2Fo%3D

    Hope you get to see him on this site.

  • By Gladys Gregory, April 14, 2011 @ 10:01 AM

    Victoria,

    It appears that all it took was for Kayla to walk on campus. She will be attending JHU in the fall. Hope Ben has a feel for the campus too.

  • By Victoria Yeung, April 14, 2011 @ 1:59 PM

    Gladys,
    Ben is coming back this evening on late afternoon train. Yesterday, we got more scholarship offered from another university. However, Ben texted his sister last night with positive inputs….can’t wait to see him tonight.
    Congratulations to Kayla and your family, it’s exciting time for you all, now you have to think about visiting East coast more often.
    Wonder if Kayla and Ben got to see each other on campus.

  • By Gladys Gregory, April 14, 2011 @ 2:22 PM

    More scholarships, what a wonderful problem to have.

    Let me know what Ben decides. I too hope that they got a chance to meet each other.

  • By Victoria Yeung, April 14, 2011 @ 3:53 PM

    Gladys,
    This is my email in case you want it.
    yeungvictoria500@gmail.com

    Ben should arrive at NYC Penn station in couple hours.

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