As Clapham parents, we put our confidence in a private, classical Christian school because at a gut level, we have the sense that this type of education will best shape our children for their future ahead, not only in their academic capabilities, but also in their character and in a mature faith. But sometimes this can feel like a blind trust, and despite all the encouraging growth we see in our kids from month to month and year to year, we can’t help but wonder whether all the dots will ultimately connect as we hope they will, culminating in an education that truly leaves our children well prepared for their experiences ahead.
Of course, the journey looks different for each of our children, but I know that as a parent, I am so encouraged by the stories of Clapham students launching a few years ahead of my own, thriving on the foundation of their Clapham education and the fruit of their own diligent hard work. We seek to share many of these stories through the Clapham blog, and I am excited now to share one that particularly encourages and warms my heart, that of Adam Gaddy.
One of my first significant memories of Adam was when he was just 10 years old, joining us in a suit and tie for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Even at that young age Adam could tell you a thing or two about food preparation and about how to dress in style! Now, at 6’2” and a high school senior, he towers above his classmates and most of his teachers. He has a dashing smile and eyes that light up when he talks about his future college…and does he ever have a reason to light up! What a tremendous adventure he has been on these last few months, ultimately being awarded the highest merit scholarship available to incoming Hillsdale College students at their Distinguished Scholar’s Weekend--an invitation-only scholarship competition.
The weekend consisted of three parts: three assigned readings that included an excerpt from the writings of philosophers, a scene from a Shakespeare play, and a passage on ancient Greek math theory. These areas reflect the disciplines of Political Science, Literature, and Mathematics – all key areas of study at Hillsdale College, a school that focuses on classical education. The readings were followed by seminars led by Hillsdale professors, and then subsequent student interviews throughout the weekend by these Hillsdale faculty members from their respective areas of academic interest. Lastly, each student submitted an essay for critique, focusing on the impact a liberal arts education could have on their lives. The weekend culminated in a formal dinner… complete with a suit and tie!
Adam had prepared for the weekend by reading the assigned texts and by praying. He was understandably elated to be at such a prestigious event, but he felt led to pray for humility, clarity of mind, and intellectual capacity. Knowing his academic resume was only average for incoming Hillsdale students, and that he would be surrounded not only by students with higher GPAs and ACT scores than his, but also exceptional in every other way, such as national debate and state sport champions, Adam felt completely outclassed. Wise advice from his father taught him differently. On his father’s advice, he decided not to approach the weekend trying to show how capable he was intellectually, but rather to connect with those in attendance relationally. Considering the caliber of students in attendance, Adam saw this as a calculated risk, but as he compared his accomplishments to those around him, he knew he had nothing to lose.
So, on a cold winter day in February, Adam showed up at the Distinguished Scholars’ Weekend dressed in a sports coat and tie, a little jittery but in good spirits. He jokingly asked his admissions counselor why she even considered him for the event given the accomplishments of his peers. She just smiled.
Of the 24 students in attendance, Adam and a few other students were ultimately awarded the highest merit scholarship. Hearing the news from this same admissions counselor who had first hand-picked him for this exclusive weekend, Adam couldn’t believe it! The weekend had gone well, but he had figured he was only there to learn. This unbelievable honor took him completely by surprise.
Of course, the scholarship means a lot to Adam. It will help deflect the cost of his education, but more than that, it confirmed to him that Hillsdale is where God wants him to be. Although Adam had enrolled at Hillsdale before he was invited to the Distinguished Scholar Weekend, he still had his doubts. College is not an easy decision. There are the schools you want to go to, and then there are schools you can afford to go to—good stewardship of the resources God gave him pressed hard on the decision he made. Adam was accepted at every school he applied to, and that made the choice all the more difficult. He earnestly sought the Lord’s will in prayer to determine what school the Lord had planned for him and stepped out in faith when he applied to Hillsdale. The unsolicited invitation to the Distinguished Scholar’s Weekend was a confirmation to his prayer. In Adam’s words:
I was looking at a school with good stewardship value. Cost is definitely a factor for my undergraduate--especially if law school is in my future. Also, knowing a school is interested in me, that they want me, and are interested in me as a person is a great feeling. It’s so different from other schools that send out the message: prove to us that you belong here, and maybe we will accept you. I worked hard in high school to get into schools like Hillsdale, and knowing that Hillsdale found me impressive was very affirming. It’s really great to feel you are wanted. This affirms that Hillsdale is where God wants me.
Reflecting on his experience this year, Adam has some advice for future college applicants:
Go for quality over quantity. Only apply to schools that line up with your values, and that you are certain you are willing to attend… Put in a lot of time on crafting your application essays and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. There is power in vulnerability and authenticity. Don’t be afraid to share your struggles or your doubts. Highlight and take ownership of things you accomplished in high school whether it be choir, a sports team, starting a club or a business. If you spent your time watching your siblings at home and helping around the house, talk about that too. Tell your story. Let me say that again: tell YOUR story. Your story is unique. You might not think your resume is important, but just be yourself. Chances are you are much more than you thought you were. That is what colleges are interested in. And lastly, show up in person for college admittance interviews. Interview on campus if you can.
Adam’s Scholars’ Weekend essay focused on his testimony as a Christian. He shared his guilt about growing up in a stable and loving family while so many live in instability. He attended a private Christian school. These are all great opportunities that set him on a path of success, but he felt he did not have a powerful redemptive testimony like so many of the testimonies of his friends. Adam’s story does not reflect the dramatic change that one often sees in the lifestyle of an unbeliever when they come to faith. Through wrestling with this issue, Adam came to realize that his life and his testimony is a testimony to the faithfulness and love of God for those who love Him, and a testimony to the power of the church that cares for the Bride of Christ. Adam knows his story is not yet finished. There are still chapters left unwritten. Adam realizes that the privilege he was born into was not meant to coddle him but to equip him for a life of service to Christ and furthering the kingdom of God.
God is the giver of all things, and Adam readily acknowledges this. He admits he did not get into Hillsdale purely on his own merit. This is God’s gracious gift to him. But it is also the gift of countless others that poured into his life - from kindergarten teachers to his high school teachers. Adam is particularly thankful for the preparation he received from his Humanities teachers. These men and women honed his technical skill in writing and speaking, but they also took time to cultivate a sense of intellectual charity in him –- the realization that although God grants us rational capacity to learn and understand, we need to approach this gift with humility due to our fallible human nature. By nature, we are not God, and we do not know the mind of God. We need to be humble, knowing that even our best thought out ideas could someday be proven wrong, and we need to consider what hills we are willing to die on, what causes we will defend with our lives.
Adam then turns to his parents and his spiritual mentors. He is thankful for his spiritual mentor who has encouraged him to adopt a posture of humility. His gratitude for the lessons his parents instilled in him is of a much more practical nature: he laughs when he talks about his mother’s table manner lessons, but he knows without them, he would never have been able to pull off the formal dinner he had to attend! His dad’s advice has always been pragmatic, but it rings true: be authentic, be yourself, and connect with people on a relational level.
Interested in learning more about Hillsdale college, watch this video here.
From where I sit across the table, I can see the future for this young man is bright. I imagine him walking up the stairs of a law school such as University of Chicago or Georgetown. I can see how his good-natured smile puts his colleagues at ease and even draws the opposition to him. I can see him standing in a courtroom – in a dashing suit and tie - fighting for causes that further the Kingdom of God, fully equipped to live a life of service to Christ.