Staying empathetic is a challenge during the race for college

I believe myself to be a compassionate person. I say this, of course, with an immense amount of supporting evidence. You know in Westerns, when the cowboys battle it out on the frontier, riding their horses? Well, when a man gets shot and both he and his horse tumble to the ground, I panic for the safety of the horse (I don’t wish the cowboy dead or anything, but he’s fighting of his own volition). The point is, I find myself inherently empathetic.

But there is a new tension between my inherent self, and my impacted self. I am referring to what is simply known as the college process.

My junior year just ended, and instead of experiencing an expected euphoric sense of relief, my summer seems to have been only interim between school sessions. I’ve been picking colleges to apply to and interning so much that even I’m starting to resent the idea of volunteering.

Meeting with private advisers and going to college fairs have provoked in me a desire to go far away and make a fortune in chocolate or something else that doesn’t need a degree. But it is in these panics that I’ve had these revelations: I realized that I have become so consumed by my own college process that I have forgotten about those kids who have absolutely no idea what they should be doing, not because they are apathetic or disinterested, not because they wouldn’t go the extra mile if they had the opportunity, but because they don’t have the opportunity.

Because school-hired college counselors are often overburdened, poorer students aren’t informed about the very basics of getting accepted into a university. Countless numbers of students simply print and fill out an application, not knowing they should have been on yearbook, or worked at a soup kitchen or taken two opposite subjects for the SAT subject tests.

What this ignites in me, these unfair expectations that so many are unaware of, is a new drive to succeed in my own college process. If I can get where I need to be, I can change the very process that got me there (my inherent self). But then again, can I afford to sympathize with other peers (my impacted self)?

In order to be decently competitive among the surplus of determined students — especially this year, when more college applications then ever before will be filed — I cannot think about others. It’s as if to function at all adequately in preparation for college, I must be ruthless, desensitized and immune to any kind of empathy I’m tempted to embrace.

Even if college is a place of unity and togetherness, it has turned high school into a vast arena of self-concern and self-involvement.

It’s even infiltrating my personal life. I go to a friend’s house, I lie on her bed and we take turns venting about why we won’t get accepted into where we’d like, but I listen only so I can be listened to; now the empathy that was once abundant isn’t even active for my friends. Then the next night, I go to MILK, and over sundaes — a perhaps most underrated distraction from all the academic turmoil of the times — I again reflect on newly received report cards that completely alter dreams and expectations. One day’s mail drastically shifts previously planned goals. But that’s just the way it works.

From day to day, from each score to the next score, I mold and bend to be practical and realistic as I try to avoid dimming any dreams that have been long lit by fantasies and college brochures. So even in the brief moments where I guilt-trip myself — because when I look at it relatively, I have it good — it doesn’t take long for me to jump back into the “but what about me?” boat. After all, everyone is competition.

It’s something strange to look down at a standardized answer sheet, and see you, what you have become over the last 17 years, as nothing more than little penciled-in bubbles. It’s something strange to be constantly scanned like a barcode when you’re trying to depart on what should be the most human and growing experience that is life.

Yet, I will not stray from the college process. I will not dismiss what I am beginning to so wholeheartedly resent, because even as I trek through this systematic and mechanical pilgrimage to the glowing beacon that is a university, I am learning something. I am learning what I can handle. I am learning my priorities and my limits and my self-expectations, and how I have trouble dealing with them all, but indeed, I do deal. And I think what I will take most from this process (aside from an acceptance letter), is the vow to never be so self-involved again.

So, here I come young steed, soon my empathy will again be yours for the taking.

Laura Donney this week became a senior at Hamilton High School.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15; deadline for the October issue is Sept. 15. Send submissions to

‘Teenism’ gives young adults an undeserved rep

Teenagers. The word strikes fear into the hearts of most parents and adults. I bet you get shivers down your spine as you’re reading this. Though most teenagers are perceived as reckless, raucous, recalcitrant, rowdy and riotous, the truth is that for the most part, teenagers exercise a natural responsibility that is occasionally eclipsed by their more immature moments. It is because their wild outbursts draw more attention that they are blown out of proportion and overshadow the maturity that teenagers portray most of the time. While the adult perception of youthful rebellion may seem justified, it can be damaging and hurtful to those who pride themselves on being as mature as any adult.

Nowadays, biases against blacks or homosexuals are tiptoed around, while biases against teenagers are left unchecked, proliferating everywhere, because hardly anyone gets taken to court for discriminating against a teen. Since every adult has been a teen once in their lives, they believe they’ve had enough personal experience to speak about all teenagers, when really they are merely projecting their own past onto all teenagers. Parents who went wild in their youth will watch their children like a hawk, never trusting them, accusing them of being disrespectful not because of hard evidence, but because that’s how they were when they were young. Often young adults are given a blanket diagnosis of being stuck-up and caustic, anti-parent, anti-school, anti-everything. From parenting magazines to primetime television, teens are portrayed as a pack of self-centered ingrates who let their emotions run wild with abandon, and it’s time someone said something about it.

Are teenagers reckless? Of course. That is, some of the time. But in our modern world, applying ideas that are true “some of the time” to every case is no longer acceptable, even in as small a way as believing all teenagers are rebels.

Of course, other discriminations are much more pressing in nature. Racism has more dire consequences than believing that your teenager is hot-blooded, when he is not. But discriminations against teens still deserve attention because of the simple fact of how many people are being discriminated against. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 20.2 million people in America aged 15 to 19, and they are 7 percent of the population. So be careful what statements you make, or what biases you might allow yourself to believe. Your ideas about teens will reflect greatly in your treatment of them, and the consequences of this (whether good or bad) could be much more far-reaching than you realize.

Almost as much as people falsely believe teenagers are terrible, people falsely believe that adolescence (and especially childhood) is the best time of a person’s life, when worries are few and far between. But this just isn’t true. In 1998, about a third of all victims of violent crime were ages 12 to 19, and almost half of all victims of violence were under age 25 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice). In addition, one in eight teenagers suffers from depression, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. (And, sadly, the sixth leading cause of death for people aged 5 to 14). As Bill Watterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) once said: “People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.”

Adolescents face almost all the same problems that adults do and engage in the same unhealthy quick fixes, but it is only young adults who must handle these things sans experience. Without the bedrock of age and wisdom to tread on, high schoolers are left to trail-blaze through their lives haplessly, like the first pioneers of the American West.

A massive leap has occurred in our modern world, far wider than generation gaps of old. The epidemic of multitaskism, the intensity of grade-amassing and the all-around increase in schoolwork has created a miasma of anxiety for the American student, making all previous generations of schooling look like cakewalks in comparison. Those who want to answer the clarion call of college must prepare themselves for an Olympic level of competitiveness. A few examples: Yale’s acceptance rate this year was 9 percent, down from 11 percent in 2006, while Stanford’s rate reached the lowest in it’s history at 9.5 percent. In addition, tuition for four-year colleges has gone up 35 percent in the past six years, making the fight for financial aid all the more arduous.

Obviously, there isn’t much we can do to alleviate this situation. It is the face of our modern reality, for better or for worse. But there is something that can be done.

As with a lot of things, the most helpful solution is a simple change of attitude. Life for teens will always be a little on the rough side, but perhaps treating them with less pigeon-holing and more empathy is all that’s need it to smooth it out.

Justin Morris is in the 10th grade at Shalhevet School and a columnist for the Boiling Point newspaper.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to

Enrichment Briefs

Art and Yoga for Youngsters

The University of Judaism is hosting ArtYoga for youngsters this summer, a two-week program in July that combines art and physical discipline in way that helps kids learn self-awareness, self-control, empathy and empathy skills. Camp will culminate in an exhibit and demonstration.

July 11-22 at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive. For information call Jane Forelle, (310) 471-7105.

Summer: A Great Time to Get Healthy

With summer around the corner and barbecues and ice cream a daily occurrence, Kaiser Permanente is launching a “Get More Energy” campaign. Colorful, kid-directed posters — available to pediatricians, schools and camps — advise kids to get off the couch and play, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and to cut back on video games and TV time. Like Kaiser’s earlier “Broccoli” campaign, “Get More Energy” directs kids and educators to a Web site with articles and tip sheets on healthy living and eating.

For information go to

Special-Needs Camps for Adults, Kids

The Orthodox Union (OU) has openings in a range of summer programs for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities through Yachad, the flagship program of OU’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities.

Adults 18 and older can join high school tours to Israel or Florida, and campers 9-21 can get the extra aid they need to spend the summer in mainstream Jewish camps on the East Coast.

A two-week summer vacation at a camp in Maryland still has some openings, but there’s no more space in the Summer Camp Vocational Program, where those with disabilities work in camp kitchens, canteens, offices or sports programs.

For information go to, or call (212) 613-8229.

ADL Offers Free Trip to D.C. for High School Juniors

Applications are due June 3 for high school juniors (current sophomores) who want to participate in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Grosfeld Family National Youth Leadership Mission to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Nov. 13-16.

The program — with all-expenses paid — brings together high school students of all races, religions and socio-economic levels to the nation’s capital to learn about the Holocaust and ways to fight prejudice in schools and communities. Students will be required to participate in ADL’s Dream Dialogue program for the 2005-2006 school year, which includes a retreat, quarterly meetings and community service projects.

For information call Jenny Betz at the ADL, (310) 446-8000, ext. 233, or e-mail

Teens Get Their Shot at Israel Basketball Camp

When Aulcie Perry showed up in Israel in 1976, his goal was to work on his game in a summer league and get into the NBA, which had rejected him in the draft. Like so many who travel to Israel, the 6-foot-11 African American New Jersey native never looked back.

He led this year’s European champions, Maccabi Tel Aviv, to victory in the 1981 European Cup, the 1980 Intercontinental Cup, nine league championships and eight National Cups. Now, he runs sports institutes for kids in Tel Aviv, and this year he is adding a new one — Sal Stars, based in Givat Washington, a religious sports university near Ashdod. Perry will be joined by Jewish sports heroes Tal Brody and Tamir Goodman in the basketball, soccer and tennis clinic geared for observant teens ( but open to everyone) July 7-28.

For more information go to and

New Camp and Retreat Center Opening

Southern California’s newest camp and retreat center is opening its doors for an open house later this summer, as the San Diego Jewish Community Camp and Retreat Center dedicates Camp Mountain Chai in Angelus Oaks. The Center purchased the camp in December, and will be open throughout the year for retreats and conferences. A residential camp will be open by summer 2006.

The Sunday, Aug. 28 open house will feature full use of the heated pool, ropes course, sand volleyball court and other sports facilities and hiking trails, as well as a keynote by Foundation for Jewish Camping President Jerry Silverman.

For information go to or call (858) 535-1995.

Briefs compiled by Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Israel, Russia Sign Memo on Terrorism

Israel has a new, if somewhat reluctant, partner in the war on terror: Russia. Reeling from the loss of at least 335 of its citizens, roughly half of them children, at the hands of Chechen terrorists, Moscow signed a security cooperation memorandum with Jerusalem on Monday, despite a lingering diplomatic dispute on how terrorism should be defined.

"The terrorism that struck Russia is exactly the same kind of terrorism that strikes us," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, referring to last week’s siege of a school in the disputed Russian region of North Ossetia.

Visiting Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov said contacts were already underway between the two countries’ security agencies and thanked Israel for its help but demurred at the bid by Sharon to establish a sense of common cause.

Although he called terrorism a "universal evil," Lavrov suggested that the Palestinians could be seen as resisting Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the Muslim separatist cause based in Chechnya is illegitimate.

Russia, a member of the Middle East "Quartet" that pushed the now-moribund "road map" peace plan, was also at pains to make clear that it would not neglect the Arab world.

"I believe the key to the solution of the problem is to bring all countries to fight terror, and I can assure you that in addition to our very close counterterrorist cooperation with Israel, we have similar counterterrorist cooperation with Arab countries," said Lavrov during his one-day visit as part of a Middle East tour.

It was not clear what form the new Israeli-Russian cooperation would take.

Yet, for many in Jerusalem, just the declaration of empathy from a major European player was an achievement. Israeli media quickly called the outrage at the school in Beslan "Russia’s 9/11," hinting that it could bring Moscow more into line with the U.S. war on terror launched following the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking attacks.

"The Soviet Union was notoriously pro-Arab, and the sense in Israel is that Russia has not quite gotten over that," a Sharon confidant said. "It was important that Russia understand, even the hard way, the sort of terrorism we have endured for decades, and especially over the last four years."

Despite killing more than 100,000 Chechens in its 13-year crackdown on the restive region, Russia has regularly censured Israel for its handling of the Palestinian revolt.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom put the new security pact to its first test by calling on Russia to oppose anti-Israel moves by the Palestinians and their Arab backers at the United Nations. In the last 21 U.N. resolutions on Israel, Russia has voted against the Jewish state 17 times and abstained on the others.

Russia did not immediately respond.