My son and I visited a small, private, reputable liberal arts college about 500 miles south of Baltimore during its "Welcome High School Juniors Weekend" a few months ago. We spent a beautifully orchestrated day interacting with so many students who looked exactly like us that it almost felt like we had been on a tour of The Sims University.
Because this is my third and final child entering the college vetting process, I knew enough not to extol the school's merits or denigrate its shortcomings and risk prejudicing my son's impressions. After all, anything I might say could be misinterpreted as meaning I either desperately want or don't want my child to attend this institution — possibly instigating in him the dreaded George Costanza reaction of "doing the opposite."
Also, I finally have gotten it through my head that I am not the one who will be attending the chosen school in the fall of 2012, so it is really of no consequence what I think of its awesome rock wall, fascinating lecture series or mini fridge in every room.
Still, I couldn't help but notice that the student body population didn't seem very … diverse. And I told my son so immediately (because everything I wrote in the second paragraph of this piece is really more of a "goal" for outspoken, opinionated people like me).
He agreed right away. I guess we have both grown so accustomed to the diversity we experience routinely in Howard County and Baltimore, where we work and play, that it has become the new "normal." On any given day, we Gilberts might be getting together with a Ko or a Wang, a Lawal or a Romano, a Zhang or a Dunn.
My point is, growing up in Central Maryland makes diversity a draw to us, not a drawback. And I was struggling to articulate why, until I recalled another recent road trip.
I was driving to a restaurant just over the Maryland line with several of my women friends in order to meet up with another dear friend who had moved to Pennsylvania. We got on the subject of our children's significant others, and whether we would have any problem with them marrying outside of their races, religions or cultures. (You know, just the sort of conversation men would have between innings at an Orioles game, if there were a stadiumwide contest for the most unlikely conversation and the winner got season tickets.)
We all had vastly different points to make, because our upbringings and our ethnicities are, of course, diverse. But we all came around to the fact that we think it is most important to seek out partners with a shared value system — and that all the minor differences will just keep things interesting and work themselves out.
You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. So is my son, apparently. And that is why this elite school, with its merit scholarships and excellent academic reputation, will not be on his list.
We're from Maryland, my Maryland — where we embrace diversity.
Janet Gilbert works in Baltimore and lives in Woodstock. Visit her at http://www.janetgilbert.net.