Passions, Ivy, and Island Talents

I’ve spent the last few days traveling on the east coast, touring colleges with our oldest son, Ami, who’s a high school senior. Visit enough campuses and after a while, you see certain themes emerge. One I have noticed:  colleges want students who are passionate — about something.

At one Ivy League university, I listened to the admissions officer exhort an audience of visiting students to use the application essay to “tell us what makes you unique — what you could contribute to our campus community.”

It reminded me of the college information event night a couple of years ago when I heard a high-school college counselor present a PowerPoint overview of the milestones students should anticipate in the application process.

“By early in junior year,” the counselor said, “they should be identifying their passions.” As if these things arrive on a schedule, per-ordered on Amazon and delivered by UPS. (As it happens, Ami developed his passion—a zeal for politics and writing—around age 12 or 13; admissions officers take note.)

This morning, over muffins at a Philadelphia bed & breakfast, I chatted with a woman visiting from a Swiss university. When I mentioned Following Ezra, she told that me she had done some research on children with autism.

“Does your son have any — ” she started to ask, but then she couldn’t think of the word. “In German we called them Inselbegabung.” Then she translated: “Island talents.”

I had never heard the term, but I knew what she meant. She was talking about savant qualities. But the more literal translation was striking: island talents. Of course, that’s exactly what Ezra has. I told her how he can ask a new acquaintance’s birthday and then instantly name an animated movie that premiered on that exact dates; how he can identify obscure dog breeds and lecture strangers about otters. I told her how he can spend endless hours absorbed in creating animated movies. Those are talents, but they sometimes make him seem isolated, on his own island. Inselbegabung.

From breakfast, we went to tour another campus, and I listened to another admissions officer talk about wanting students with passions. I looked around the auditorium at the faces of the prospective applicants, knowing they were probably wondering if they had the right stuff — if they were passionate enough, at age 17, for this particular school. And I thought about how that was one thing Ezra will never have to worry about. He’ll always have his island talents.


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One Comment

  1. Jason
    Posted October 28, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Inselbegabung FTW!

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