Prior to entering Bronx Science for my annual presentation to the senior class on PSAT day, I have this routine. And the routine begins as soon as I walk out the same venue the year prior. I ask myself, "What can I do differently? How can I continue to keep their attention for an hour and a half? What worked, what didn't work? How can I represent the Bronx in a manner that makes these students proud where they attend high school?"
The expectations at the Bronx High School of Science are high, and it has notable alumni. The school has produced eight Nobel Laureates, six Pulitzer Prize winners, and eight National Medal of Science winners. It has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other high school in the US. Countless other alumni are leaders in art, business, politics, law, and medicine. Bronx Science graduates attend the nation’s most elite institutions of higher education. This might help explain why I put so much work into my presentation. This audience has high expectations of themselves and others.
The morning of the event in the car, I play Eminem, Jay Z, LL Cool J, KRS One, and other hip-hop stars that get me in the mood to give my presentation in an inspiring and hip manner. I step out of the car and slowly and methodically grab the items I need for show-and-tell. I put on my sport coat, my name tag, grab a stack of business cards along with my show-and-tell items and walk toward the front entrance of the school.
"Hi, I'm your 8:30 a.m. presenter," is what I tell the security guard. I'm shaking. I've had too much coffee, therefore I have to use the restroom. I'm nervous, my palms are sweaty. And I'm slowly acknowledged by the counseling staff who give me an indication that they are glad I am back and anxious to know what I am going to do differently this year to move the crowd. I'm brought to the front of the auditorium, I am introduced, the microphone is handed to me, and the show begins.
I have a bunch of talking points including the importance of the personal statement and its ability to help an applicant come across as sophisticated and interesting. I talk about the value of the admission interview, which makes for a solid recommendation to college, and I speak to why students should check their status for admission at all the schools they apply to. I even use music to engage the audience:
"I say hey, you say ho."
"I'm gonna knock you out."
"Momma said knock you out."
The crowd is on my side, and no, this is not your ordinary talk about college access and navigating the college search, selection, financial aid, and scholarship process. I dance like Michael Jackson, I roll my Rs when I talk about Puerrrrrto Rrrrrico. I code switch, describe it, and talk about how it's social capital in New York, on campus, and elsewhere. I rock a Rochester hoodie, open up a bag of skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea, and I ask the students to stand up for social justice in the face of the Trayvon Martin incident in Florida.
The last thing I remember is breaking into a backspin, the ceiling of the auditorium spinning in circles, breaking out of the spin and landing clean on my feet. In the words of a gymnast, "I stick the landing," and I'm facing the crowd. The adrenaline is pumping through my veins.
I can see the crowd, but I can't hear it. I'm pumped full of endorphins, I did what I came to do, and I did it with perfection. They continue to cheer, I am thankful for their feedback and positive reaction, and I feel as if this could be perhaps one of the top three presentations I have given in my 21 years of college admissions counseling. I pack my items, I am escorted out with continued cheers from the crowd, thanked profusely from the guidance counselor, and while dripping with sweat on the way out of the building, I begin to ask, " What can I do differently?"