Remember that guy Darwin?

Father of Evolution? Survival of the fittest?

Yep, that Darwin.

I was reminded of him and his theory – which has long been touted as a scientific truth – recently when a small group of colleagues and I from the South Bay Business Women’s Association were tasked of choosing, from a diverse group of 35 students, 3 high school seniors and 4 college students to whom to award scholarships, the funds of which would from the Association.

Some of my peers and I were asked to evaluate 26 sets of applications, complete with personal essays, secured financial aid from other sources, academic transcripts and recommendation letters. AS I read through some of these stellar applications, I was awestruck; the applications indicated these young minds were each capable and has the potential to be the next great leader of their respective chosen fields. I read about a student whose personal essay carried every possible conviction that she could be the next phenom of civil rights litigator. I read glowing recommendation letters that showed who the next candidate of leader of the Environmental Protection Agency could be (if the current Administration doesn’t annihilate that too, that is, by the time this bright student graduates college). I read about a student who sounds like she has the brains and the passion to found a company that marries arts with math and teach younger inquiring minds how to do the same and thrive in a new type of occupation, the name of which is not quite there yet but I have confidence this student will coin it and be the successful founding mother of this new mode of practice.

So it took me by surprise. That what I thought was an easy enough task – help determine the best scholarship recipients by looking at their merits, their need base, their clarity and determination of career aspiration and planned contribution to society, their accolades and accomplishments from their high school (or current college) career – wasn’t easy at all. When there are 35 students competing for 7 scholarships, and every one is phenomenal in their own way, it is a humbling experience for any evaluator.

My fellow evaluators and I were blown away, to say the least.

When I looked back at how much I had to do back in 1992-1996 during my high school career just to secure six solid college acceptance offers from so-so to pretty good universities, compared to how much today’s students – such as the scholarship applicants whose papers I had the honor to review – have to do to compete for scholarships and grants, I think of Darwin. That in 1996, for me to attend any of the six 4-year universities that I applied to and got accepted, it was enough for me to pull in 3.60 GPA, take two AP courses per semester, participate on the junior varsity level in one sport per semester for two years (my sophomore and junior year), take part in two campus clubs, one of which was a volunteer-based service club, and do a community service activity for at least a year. As I read through the scholarship applicants’ files, I think my measly accomplishments 20+ years ago might only get me into a 2-year community college in today’s competitive college entrance climate. Competition did not seem this rough two decades ago; sure, I busted my ass in the AP courses and studied my head off for the SATs while working part time odd jobs and attended sporting practices and games regularly. But Darwinism would not shine favorably upon me in today’s climate if I were a high school senior. These applicants have a combination of multiple of the following accomplishments – so mind that I’m not talking about or, I mean these are and series of achievements that make scholarships look at these students twice:

  • Youth ministry group leader for 4 years
  • Entrepreneur and president of campus’ first green council club
  • 5+ GPA   (4.5+!!! I nearly fell off my chair in embarrassment thinking about the 3.6 cumulative GPA I pulled in by the halfway mark of my senior year)
  • Responder for youth depression hot-line for 2 years
  • High test scores in all 4 AP classes
  • First generation college student in their family
  • Varsity soccer team – player for 4 years, captain for 2 years
  • UCLA Hospital Community Health Wellness youth coordinator

And the list of accolades that could humble anyone – present company of 39-year-old woman included – goes on and on.

As I read through these stellar young women’s applications for the 7 spots of scholarships that my Association was prepared to award in May, I try not to fall off my chair in sheer amazement of what they have accomplished and the utter conviction of what they plan to do in college and beyond. They sound like the next wave of Sheryl Sandberg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, and any other phenomenal woman you can think of. And I picture Darwin raising his eyebrows at me, saying, “It’s taking survival of the fittest to a whole other level, isn’t it?” The competition to enter Tier 1 colleges and to get awarded scholarships seems more cut-throat than ever, and I suddenly realize this: that to be considered, it is no longer enough to be great, you have to be a unicorn, amazing on and off campus in just about everything in which you participate.

I wondered if these student sleep. I mean, how can they, with all that they have accomplished and all that they will continue accomplishing as they finish out their insanely successful high school career. I think about my measly 3.60 GPA and 1260 SAT score (out of the then 1600 max possible, instead of today’s 2400) and how I would not survive as part of the “fittest” of today’s graduating class. I think what about the other 27 students who won’t be awarded a scholarship – well, at least not from my Association, but perhaps, and hopefully, from other sources; they are amazing candidates too and they need to go to the college of their choice and continue to be amazing and do great things and please don’t let lack of funds be the reason that they put their goals on hold. I think, is it fair that Darwinism has taken such a drastic up-turn that only unicorns deserve to be sent to college when in fact, so many other students are just as special and amazing and should be given a chance to thrive in college too where their minds and accomplishments will continue to take shape?

Whatever the answer is, I remain steadfast in my sincere wish for all 35 candidates – that they go in Fall 2017 exactly where they want to go, to study exactly what they want to study, to steer the course of their bright future in exactly the way they have planned, because they all deserve to be there, to be heard, to be given the opportunity to make a difference and shine brightly as the stars they have shown – have shouted – through their applications that have humbled me so. They are the fittest, each of them, and I hope they do survive no matter what, despite the temporary lack of a resource of two or a few, that their extraordinary talents and desire to succeed carry them through this evolution so that they could have the chance to make this environment, this society in which they are born, better than the way they found it.

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