Ponce de Leon is most often associated with the Fountain of Youth, but Herodotus wrote about the allegedly magical place two thousand years earlier. Alexander the Great in the 4th century CE, King Prester John in the crusades 800 years ago, Caribbean people during the early 16th century*—the Fountain of Youth is an attractive fantasy. I don’t blame Ponce de Leon for traipsing around Florida searching relentlessly. Could newspapers from 500 years ago have suggested, “Florida-Man imperils crew looking for non-existent drink to restore health”?
Surely, no one in these enlightened times would throw away time and treasure pursuing something so silly. “There ain’t no sanity clause” Chico tells Groucho.** There is no Fountain of Youth. Spend all the time you want, hiking through Central Florida. Drink from whichever river you like. Twenty-four hours later, you will still be “another day older and deeper in debt.” Think about it for a second: drinking water from a river will make you younger? The smart money is on diet and exercise. You can doubtless find a nice gym and a restaurant with some healthy choices before you can find a stream that will reverse the aging process.
There is no earthy motivation to believe that drinking from a canal north of Disney World will make you younger. Nor is there a reason to suppose that attending a highly selective college rather than North Cornstalk State will result is higher lifetime earnings, deeper contentment, or more grandchildren. It’s easy to work yourself up into a frenzy. There’s a river with clear water over yonder that way! It’s a three-day hike through a mosquito infested swamp! Similarly, the Holy Grail of selective college admissions can be approached through a crazed clinging to rampant rumors and obscure behaviors: I heard at the hair-dresser from a woman who knows someone whose cousin’s next-door-neighbor’s mother-in-law’s daughter was admitted to Harvard that colleges want to see a “golden hook,” a long-range, meaningful extra-curricular activity.
This author believes in and encourages community engagement as much as the next person, but what about those multitudes of applicants who also had activities that were “an inch wide and a mile deep” who were not admitted? Being active and involved may be a necessary but not sufficient condition.
My favorite wander around in the swamp, the Fountain of Youth much be here somewhere exercise is having a roomful of 17-year-olds read the application essays of other lost souls. I am all about peer review of 500-word themes but imagine the frenzy of misinformation: Colleges read too many essays about mission trips! Don’t talk about your family! You would have a better chance of being admitted if you were taller or possibly shorter and used more semi colons!
I am fond of my primary care doctor–a competent, gentle professional. As it happens, Robbie and I have been friends since elementary school. But before I allowed him to make recommendations about my health, I felt strongly that he should attend medical school. Nor is my buddy who gives me investment advice of the 17-year-old persuasion. Why would well-meaning applicants accept guidance from other adolescents who know as much about effective essays as I know about internal combustion engines? The anxiety exponentiates with the blind leading the gullible.
There is no Fountain of Youth; there is no perfect essay that guarantees a place at a highly selective college; there is no list of magical extra-curriculars; there ain’t no sanity clause. There are however enough rumors and silliness to make high school in general and applications specifically a marriage of high anxiety and concomitant misery.
The good news is that there is also the opportunity to enjoy the process. Focus on where you would like to attend rather than where you think you might be admitted. Attend to that which makes you happy rather than that which makes you look good. Understand that who you are matters more than where you matriculate. And for goodness sake, don’t waste these precious high school years looking for that which doesn’t exist.
* Information gleaned from: https://www.legendsofamerica.com/fl-fountainyouth/
** The Marx Brothers: A Night at the Opera