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A Way Forward Wednesday June 17, 2020

This is primarily a letter to our students on the subject of balancing academic work and campus life, but other community members are welcome to read it as well. It also contains a survey on remote instruction needs that we are asking students to complete before June 26.

Dear students,

I’d like to tell you about my own high school experience. I hope it gives you some insight into my motivation for helping you as Academic Dean here at ASMS.

When I was sixteen years old, I left my tiny hometown high school to attend the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. I did so because I wanted to pursue more advanced academic opportunities than I could find anywhere else in the state. When I arrived, I found those opportunities available to me, but I regret to say that I pursued them half-heartedly.

Like ASMS, SCGSSM is a residential school, and I fell in love with the “residential” part while neglecting the “school” side of things. I became a steady B, C, and sometimes D student because I stayed up late every night playing video games and hanging out with friends. I couldn’t be bothered with the Anatomy and Physiology elective, but I could tell you where to find the Bone Armor in Final Fantasy V. I was in several clubs, but only the fun ones that showed movies and provided food. When a friend tried to recruit me for Mock Trial, I retreated to the nearest meeting of the Film Club, where we watched Reservoir Dogs and felt like “artistes.”

I loved the community. I had never before been linked to a collective of brilliant young minds, all creative, all compassionate, all funny. We were a Conspiracy of the Clever; it seemed to us that the Weird Old Adults who ran the place could never understand what we were and what we shared. That bond endures to this day.

And yet, I failed myself. Look up at the paragraph about why I left my home school. Why did I choose to attend GSSM? Was it to wreck my GPA by staying up all night playing video games? Was it to pester the teachers and staff in an effort to stack up clout with my fellow students? Was it to avoid showing off my academic strengths because I was too busy flexing my social ones? No. I came for the academics, but I got addicted to the campus life.

I told my friends that my teachers were overworking me, but my extensive list of curfew and study hours violations suggested that maybe, just maybe, I was responsible for my problems. I had never needed to study before, and I didn’t care to learn how. I embraced being a slacker as an identity, when in reality it was just a self-defense mechanism to cope with the fear of underperforming.

During my senior year, I was surprised to find that colleges didn’t care much about my list of clubs and my rambling, bad application essay. They wanted to see me prioritizing advanced core classes, participating in original research, performing meaningful service work, and demonstrating real leadership (as opposed to mere defiance, which I excelled at). Perhaps I thought that an admissions officer would see the “real me” coming through the application. I definitely believed that being admitted to a selective high school was enough to get me into a selective university… but that’s not how it works. And now that I am one of the Weird Old Adults who runs the place, it is my duty to share that realization with you.

I am exceedingly happy with my adult life and my career, but I would have had an easier time in life had I found the right balance of academics and social life in high school. I had friends who did. They were genuinely cool kids who worked hard and enjoyed themselves afterwards. They told others to leave them alone when it was time to study. They practiced for standardized tests and then destroyed them. They stayed out of drama in all its forms. After graduation, those kids went to Harvard, MIT, NYU, Duke, UNC, and Tulane. Now, they are surgeons, aerospace engineers, cancer researchers, professors, lawyers, and actors.

My point is this: your residential community is important, but it is part of a big picture in which academics must loom considerably larger. The proper balance isn’t anywhere near fifty-fifty. When you hear the term “residential school,” imagine the “school” part bolded, underlined, and in all-caps. You will enjoy your ASMS experience more if you get your work done early and then have fun in a way that doesn’t make life hard for your friends, family, or school employees.

Enjoy the amenities that campus life offers, but understand that they are comforts and privileges to help support your academic success. Without academics, there is no reason for a residential school to exist. Your staff members in the Office of Academic Affairs will support your success in every possible way. We will teach you to manage your time and avoid being a distraction to others. We will help you reach out to your teachers. We will put you in contact with peer tutors. But we need you to make a good faith effort to put academics first-- above game night, above student politics, above club meetings. Don’t lose sight of why you came to ASMS.

Yours in hindsight,

Mitch Frye, PhD

Academic Dean

PS - To better support your learning in the event that COVID-19 forces us to switch to remote instruction again, we’re asking you to complete this survey. We want to know about any home environment or technological setbacks you faced last term. We have been working all summer to improve our remote learning platforms, and this will help us streamline your experience. Please complete the survey with the help of your parents. Thanks!

  • Jun 17, 2020