Prodigious Youth

20090515 InternsGeoff (my No 2) and I took our current crop of interns out for a thank-you lunch on Friday … here we are sheltering under the ‘bean’ afterwards (it was bucketing down).  Internships are one of those things that strike me as peculiarly American.  I know they’re catching on a bit in Britain, but still quite rare.  Here in the US, every office seems to have one, or more;  and it’s an essential part of any student’s CV to have gathered lots of (unpaid) experience this way, typically giving a couple of days of their time a week for a few months, and then moving on to a different organisation to get a different kind of experience.  Plus, of course, they all have paid jobs too … trying to save up to repay their share of the $40k-plus a year they need to fork out in fees.

Every November here I sit on a panel that awards Marshall Scholarships to young American graduates, supporting them through two years of post-grad study in the UK.  The ones that get to the interview stage – and no doubt hundreds of those who don’t – have typically done incredible things already … not only having graduated with double degrees, published papers etc etc;  but also having done several internships, worked (including abroad), and set up their own charities.  Looking at their experience, and also how hard I’ve seen my own nieces & nephews work (well … most of them, certainly …!), and comparing it to my own generation … or (even worse) the generation of my feckless siblings (just checking you’re awake there Graeme & Joyce) … <sigh> … makes me wonder where I’d be today if I’d worked even half that hard.  Or even had half as clear an idea at 21 of what I wanted to achieve when I got to the age I am now (a youthful-looking 46 …).

Which is not to say that where I am today is a bad place of course …  🙂 

And there have always been prodigies.  I was reminded of this when I got back in touch recently with a friend I’d lost touch with who used to be a student of mine when I taught English in Berlin in the mid-80s.  He was (and is) a scientist, but already had so much knowledge  I didn’t have about music, history, the classics that I was alternately thinking “Wow!” (amazing) and “Oh shit!” (I’m hopeless) … Jens, if you’re reading this, maybe it’s reliving that experience of inadequacy 25 years later that’s led me finally to start learning the piano!

Anyway:  my point was:  prodigies there have ever been.  But is it my imagination or are more young people pushing themselves to achieve prodigious things …?  I defer to those of you who’re in the education business … answers on a postcard please …


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