Frank Bruni’s “Where you go is not who you’ll be” presses readers to rethink about US college admissions
By Jasmine Huang
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania
Frank Bruni. Grand Central Publishing. $25. (P218)
Frank Bruni’s book was found on a bookshelf in a small used bookstore nearby National Taiwan Normal University, one of Taiwan’s most prestigious universities best known for its education/teacher training programs. It makes perfect sense to me since many of their university students and faculties think about how to create better learning environment a lot. I picked up the second hand book and thought about my ghostwriting law professors’ recommendation letters projects. I decided to purchase the used book with the intention to get an update on state of US higher education and college admissions. I thought if the book author had been a columnist for the New York Times, he must have something important to say. After reading most parts of the book, I jotted down a couple things that I thought was interesting to think about.
Some of the passages that I liked from the book:
P29 When I became an op-ed columnist for the Times in June 2011, I joined a group of accomplished writers that included Maureen Dowd, who got her bachelor’s from Catholic University, and Gail Collins, who got hers from Marquette. Nicholas Kristof and Ross Douthat indeed went to Harvard and David Brooks to the University of Chicago. But Joe Nocera is an alumnus of Boston University, Charles Blow of Grambling State. Tom Friedman spent his first years in college at the University of Minnesota, after which he transferred to Brandeis. […]
Jim Rutenberg, who was the newspaper’s chief political correspondent during the 2012 presidential race and then moved to a prized writing slot on Times‘s Sunday magazine, attended New York University back when it was significantly less selective, but never actually got his diploma. He had financial and family challenges that sidelined him, but he wasn’t, in the end, set back by that, because he had and has something better than any degree: a cunning, a drive and a grace in dealing with other people that are shared, to varying extents, by all of the journalists I just mentioned. Their careers weren’t built on the names of their colleges. They were built on carefully honed skills, ferocious work ethics and good attitudes.
Reading the book makes me wonder about the future of Taiwan’s higher education. Today many Taiwanese students want to get into prestigious universities like National Taiwan University(NTU) in part because they believe in the networking value of attending top-tier universities. They aim to develop their professional networks and boost their career prospects. Taiwanese bosses are always looking for young talents who have degrees from Taiwan’s most prestigious universities such as the top four: NTU, NCTU, NCHU, NCKU. Taiwanese recruiters have particularly high expectations of graduates from those top-tier colleges when recruiting them.
Talents with shining degrees and the right blood are the privileged students in Taiwan. Many of them are born into privilege. Their parents or grandparents are often professors, doctors, lawyers, shareholders, government officials and scientists. They usually surround themselves by intellectuals and they know how to leverage resources. And so when the book author suggested that many supposedly second-tier colleges are filled with gifted teachers and with talented students with great learning attitude, I’m not sure if that sounds hopeful to those attending to second-tier, third-tier and no-tier colleges.
The university that I went to belonged to the second-tier or third-tier in Taiwan. It makes pursuing a career a little harder than graduates from first-tier colleges. But we try to complain less and do more. There is not other way to do it. We accept the reality of having less resources and face the challenges. Everyone has their own challenges to face. I try to keep in mind what Nick’s father says in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “Whenever you feel like criticising anyone… just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” I can’t change my blood, I can’t change my grades, my degrees, my performance, but I can adopt the “can do” attitude and just believe. And I believe in the value of honing rare and valuable skills. It’s going to be hard, but I have to at least try.