Am I good enough?
Davidson College VP Christopher Gruber on the changing landscape of college admissions and why authenticity matters now more than ever.
Christopher Gruber, vice president and dean of admission & financial aid at Davidson College, is this year's W.P. Carey ’48 Speaker. In announcing the selection, Pomfret's Director of College Counseling Bruce Wolanin said, "Having spent time with Chris each of the past few summers at an annual conference, I've been impressed by his humanity, by his humor, and by the wisdom he brings to higher education."
Gruber was all of those things and more when he met with students and parents over Zoom on Friday, October 23. During his 60-minute lecture, he spoke about the changing landscape of college admissions, pausing throughout his talk to praise Pomfret, and in particular, the College Counseling Office, saying, "I hope you realize what very good hands you're in as you navigate these challenging times."
A Philadelphia native, Gruber earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Richmond. After graduate school, he quickly found a calling in college admissions at his alma mater, and later at Davidson, where he has worked for more than fifteen years. From 2007 to 2012, he was the director and president of The Common Application, used by more than 900 colleges and universities.
This summer, Gruber was one of more than 300 admission deans, from a who's who of colleges and universities, to sign a document titled What We Care About in this Time of Crisis. The statement was drafted in response to the Covid-induced frenzy of fear and anxiety sweeping through college admissions right now, especially among applicants at highly selective schools like Davidson. In that document, the authors argue that college admissions is not a long brag sheet of accomplishments. It's about meaningful academic engagement, concern for others, and the common good.
"I want good folks who are not finished products."
It was a refrain Gruber would come back to time and again during his talk with Pomfret parents and students. "I want good folks who are not finished products," he said. "You don't need to have saved sea turtles in the Galapagos or written two novels before the age of fifteen to be an attractive candidate. I would give as much credit to the student who is at home, the oldest sibling, who when they come home each day, they are the teacher, the tutor, the cook, the bather. That is a huge job."
Perhaps the most telling moment of the entire W.P. Carey lecture came at the end, when one parent asked: Is being a good student and a good community member enough? For the first time, Gruber removed his glasses. Then he looked straight into the camera:
"Don't do things for the transactional value of getting into college. Let those things come naturally, let them come organically. Be a good citizen. Be a good friend. Be the unsung hero. I'm always reminded the play doesn't go off unless it's for all those people backstage getting no limelight. It doesn't go off without them. There are so many different roles a community needs. Is that enough? Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. We need lots of them. We need lots of them."