Friday, July 6, 2012

Cancer and School

This morning, I read this story about a Kennedy High student who went from C student to Valedictorian. And, he got accepted into all the Ivies and ended up with a full-ride to Stanford.   And, why does that interest me? Because, his father died of cancer.  The first thing I thought was, "if I die during my son's high school years, will that get him into an Ivy?"

When living with cancer, you don't think of things quite the same way as you used to anymore.  Yeah, we all know my son would rather have his mother alive than go to an elite college, but is this what has to happen for him to get in?  What if I stay alive two more years?  Does having a mother with a terminal illness still help?

He has a 4.6 GPA right now, and has designs on MIT or Harvard or one of the top schools.  I want him to dream big.  But he's never been a poor student - he has always loved studying and school.  He is reading a college biology textbook and memorizing it, this summer.  For fun. (He is so not like me.)   He is in Science Bowl, Speech & Debate, Science Olympiad, Mathlete, etc. etc etc.  

That isn't always enough for these schools, as that article demonstrated.  You have to have an angle.  His school is a college prep school.  They had 150 kids graduate with a 4.6 GPA last year.  It's not rare.  You need a story.

I hope that having a mother with terminal cancer - who is still alive - is angle enough.  I want to see the boy graduate.

My hopefully Ivy bound son and me


  1. Lovely picture of you and your son! You must be so proud of him! I hope that you see him graduate from an Ivy League school and have many more years to share with him.
    Take care,

  2. Hilarious! (in a kinda warped way). I think a good argument could be made that having a mom with terminal cancer who's trying to hang on until her son graduates makes a better essay - and that way you don't have to die any time soon, a much better scenario.

    It sure sounds like he has all the qualifications, but acceptance at elite schools seems to come down to a lottery among a bunch of super kids. As a Cornell graduate ('70) with stage 4 BC, I'd say stress the (cancer- related?) volunteer work and the insight and maturity he has developed dealing with your serious illness, and just mention tangentially that your dream is to see him graduate.

    And it wouldn't hurt to mention that his mom has faced cancer with wit and wisdom and shared her story unstintingly to support her wide audience of breast cancer survivors.

  3. It's amazing the weird places your mind goes :) Best of luck to you both...may his last year of high school be a memorable one and may you be there to share in the joy! And as long as he ends up in a school where he feels challenged and supported he'll do fine. Although a free ride to MIT wouldn't suck.

  4. Great photo - he really has your smile :)

  5. Awesome photo. His angle could be "I'm out of a woman who enlightens and gives hope to others, I'm worth the investment. Don't miss this shot."

  6. I follow your blog because I find you honest, brave AND funny - but I wanted to post because I just LOVE the picture of you and your son -you have so many reasons to be proud!! I'm hoping for the angle "my mom is a national blogger - and has taught be SO much about life...." - if he has those grades, and your creativity - he's IN!!

  7. He looks like a great kid, Ann. I love seeing you two together. I hope he gets into his first choice when the time comes, and I hope you'll be there to pester him about separating whites from colors, changing his sheets, etc. :)

  8. You must be so proud of your handsome son, Ann! I do sincerely hope he gets into the college of his dreams and makes a mark on this Earth. And I sincerely hope you get to see him not only graduate, but move into his post-college years. My youngest son has one more year in college. Then all three boys will be out in the working world, swimming in the deep end of life. It's a marvel to witness it all. After all, I first got breast cancer in 1996, when my youngest was only three. Time flies. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  9. Your son may not get into Harvard or MIT, but there are many other fine schools.

    One of my sons had a nearly perfect GPA, great SAT scores (averaging over 750 on the two SAT sections that existed at the time and 3 achievement tests), just about every honors and AP class that his high school offered and a year of college math past AP calculus. Academic Decathlon, Mathlete, and a sport (crew) as well as some other extra curricular activities.

    He was a National Merit Finalist too. National Merit Finalists get lots of offers of free rides (regardless of financial need) or in state tuition at out of state schools from up and coming schools that are trying to raise their standings.

    He didn't get accepted by Harvard or MIT. But he got accepted by most other schools where he applied including Brown. We didn't know much about Brown at the time, but after a visit and further investigation, he chose Brown.

    I retrospect, Brown was a much better fit for him than Harvard or MIT. We liked that it is a top school that is more focused on undergraduate education having a relatively small graduate program. He liked the encouragement to explore broadly and less of a pressure-cooker environment. He ended up doing double major.

    There may be some wisdom in the applications process or perhaps we were just lucky. I'm glad that his two first choices didn't accept the application because he probably would have chosen one of them without looking further.

    Another of my sons wasn't a great student in high school. He went to junior college for a few years where he a dedicated student. He transferred to a UC where he finished his BS was accepted by his first choice for a doctoral program and is about a year from getting his PhD. There are many paths to a good education.

    Just make sure you son applies to other schools and he will get into one that is a good choice for him even if it isn't his first choice.

    Cloud Swift

  10. Thank you all for your fantastic advice. My son wants to go into astronomy, or one of the space sciences, probably with a minor in math. So, on his list is the University of Arizona and University of Hawaii. He calls them his "safe schools" and he likely is right; hard to imagine they wouldn't take him assuming all stays "as is." So, he is not only looking at Ivies and his mind is open.

    He is in a school culture where Ivies are the goal; his is an an IB World School and all of his classes are honors and he takes AP tests on the side. There is just this group of very very smart kids, and it's lots of them, a hundred, so this is the norm. I suppose there are school where sports are the same way. He has a friend at Harvard, one who just got into Yale, one in Princeton. And, he knows lots of Stanfords and Berkeleys. I remind him that these Yale-bound kids are the children of doctors, not school secretaries. :) I figure though, that being home now means I can help him find and apply for scholarships. If I'm alive during the next two years, I'll devote them to helping make his dream come true. And, if his dream is University of Hawaii, well then, his mom his moving to college with him. :)

    Brown is an excellent school and you must be very proud, Cloud! I think in the end, it isn't the school you go to, but the people you meet while there. My son is already planning on grad school so he can do that at one of the great universities if he doesn't get in for undergrad. I just hope I'm around to see it!


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