Growing Through A Gap Year

From time to time, I’ve reprinted Staples principal John Dodig’s thoughts from the PTA newsletter, “For the Wreckord.”

This time, the newsletter’s insights come from a 2010 graduate, Harry Moritz. Whether you’ve got a child now of any age, are a kid today — or once were one — his words are worth reading.

Staples has more opportunities for its students than many other high schools in this country. For me, Staples was a place to explore my creativity through the variety of art classes that were available.

Harry Moritz

However, being the unsettled teenager I was (as are many teenagers), I quickly rejected subjects that to me made little “sense”– such as math. My first 3 years in high school were overall positive and exciting. But the moment I heard that I had gotten into college, high school seemed more meaningless to me than ever. The idea of even trying in math class was more pointless to me than it was useful or productive. I just wanted to be free.

By December of senior year I felt very unmotivated. I dragged my feet to school, seemingly unhappy with my situation: Why did I have to go to high school? I thought of school as such a burden, and could not wait until I was done.

Sometime in the early winter months I began asking myself if going to college straight after high school would be the best idea for myself. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to attend college but I simply was not ready. I thought, “What is the reason for spending $50,000 a year on a college that I am not mentally prepared for?”

It was this question that has made my life as amazing as it has been. I decided that I would take one year off before attending college in order to get my brain in the right place. So, upon graduating I worked endlessly throughout the summer in order to save money. At the end of August 2010 I left Westport and began my journey. The details of my year are not as important as what it is I am trying to explain.

The important aspects of my year off are the lessons that I learned: Hard work, keeping an open mind and staying positive. These 3 attributes are what I acquired by taking a year off.

A year on a farm can provide a valuable education.

For a parent, it may seem very far off that your child should ever be set free into this world of madness. However, the qualities that can be achieved through experiences of traveling, farming and connecting with nature are what truly feeds the work ethic and responsibility to get the most out of a college education.

For some, college is a party. Classes can take a back seat for too many students, especially in their first year when they are finally “free” from their parents. With all of the drinking and drugs readily available to students on a college campus, it is no wonder why a freshman year (if not longer) can turn into an endless time of debauchery.

For me, taking a year off put this behavior in perspective. Not only that, but I gained a sense of independence to where I felt that I did not need to give in to peer pressures of just “hanging out” or going to a party.

I realized that I have my own individual characteristics and passions that in order to feed, I must prioritize my time. I came to understand that partying is not what college should really be about.

College is about challenging oneself, and in turn gaining knowledge and personal beliefs about the world in which we live.

Through my experiences I learned what the balance of opposites truly means (otherwise known as the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang). Our lives are balanced by what are sometimes seen as imbalances. What I have found through my experiences is that the time I took to travel and the work I put in on farms directly correlates to the mentality and work ethic that I hold in college. Without my year off, my college experience would be completely different (and in many cases much less satisfying).

So, for any parent to who feels that a gap year between high school and college is a complete waste of time or that it may have a negative impact on your son or daughter: Please reconsider.

The path to a college diploma need not be straight.

It is actually an investment. It is an investment in their lives and yours. All too often our society urges people to rush from one thing to the next. Rushing will not enable anyone to get the most out of what it is they are trying to achieve. By taking a year off, your son or daughter will have time to develop the part of themselves that is completely individual. This aspect will in turn yield a happy and wholesome sense of well-being, while building up a work ethic that will directly impact their mindset upon attending college.

Harry welcomes any questions, from anyone:

15 responses to “Growing Through A Gap Year

  1. Very candid . . and honest retrospective of most teenagers in America these days. However, statistics show that many who do not go immediately to college . . . do not return to the classroom unfortunately. The best suggestion I have heard (and wish I had done with my two children) . . . is to attend two years of community college while living at home (drop out-flunk out rate is 25% first year college) and then transferrring to the college of your choice. Would seem to cut down on the cost and allow for the maturation of many not ready for college. Best of luck, Harry.

  2. Perhaps we ought to bring back the military draft??? That certainly is a motivating force in determining college or “finding oneself” for a year or so. You grow up real fast too with a drill commander in your ear.

  3. Harry doesn’t seem to emphasize the need to work to survive in his “GAP” year. Many can not afford that luxury.

    • If you can afford to go to college, then you can afford the luxury of having a gap year.

      The gap year is widely practiced in UK.

    • Jane Moritz

      Harry paid for the entire year himself with absolutely no funding from his parents. He has also made Dean’s List at the college he is currently attending–one of the most prestigious art schools in the country. This is not the story of a troubled high schooler trying to find himself. He was a solid student all the way through but wanted a break from school to see and experience new things.

  4. John Karrel

    “So, upon graduating I worked endlessly throughout the summer in order to save money.”

    • John,

      Harumph! Harry worked before graduation and during the summer before he left for Portland.He worked to pay for his flight and several months of living expenses in case he could not get a job right away. . Smartly, he had made a connection through Craigslist to a job in Portland during the spring of senior year.t. He arrived in Portland, interviewed and went to work within 2 days of unpacking his bags. Quitting in December, he toured the west coast, and from San Diego took a Greyhound tour of the southwest ending up in New Orleans. He then flew to Israel to work on mud huts in the Negev (you can’t make this up). then went to Hungry where he worked on a cattle and pig farm chopping wood for a month. Following that he traveled Europe, engraved his name on some bar in Belfast and then found his way back to Westport. He then worked for the Vermont conservation corp. He get paid to live n a tent on the side of a mountain in March and April (yep it snowed in Vermont that time of year) building and clearing trails. Came home, worked several jobs for a couple of months. He then piled into a minivan with his buds for a final 6 week skateboarding tour of the northern tier of the United States, coming home via Seattle and Texas. Another time, another story.

      Josh Moritz

  5. This story is 100 years old and becomes less relevant with each telling.

  6. I graduated from Staples in ’66. Many of us took multiple gap years, mostly in exotic Asian locales. Most of those who returned unmaimed successfully finished college on the GI bill. Classified 4F after an attempted enlistment in the Marines and Army, I worked for the better part of three years before returning to college and graduating in ’73. One of my close Staples football buddies enlisted in the Marines even before graduation. By his own admission he was no student. Fast forward four years — and after suffering several battlefield wounds, including a sniper’s bullet in the head — he returned to Staples to retrieve his transcript for admission to college. A Staples guidance counselor asked him what his prime motivation was for continuing his education. The reply: “Getting shot at.” He earned his undergrad degree and MBA before spending his adult professional life as a a senior biofuels exec. There are many similar stories from that era. Gap years can focus the mind if they’re well spent

  7. I think it is a pretty good forecast if your child has some troubles in high school with grades/behavior, such issues will continue in college. This is true especially with boys. I did well at Staples but found college an independent cry to party and thus, as Tommy Allen aptly describes, visited the Southeast Asian resort area. But as noted above, the military will make you grow up in a big hurry. Gap years work for some but not sure they are often well spent or are productive by advance plan????

    • I would not wish being drafted on anyone; but I do think there would be much less whining and grasping at entitlements if some of the current crop of young graduates were guests of Uncle Sam at one his training establishments.

      • I do believe the military instills a more realistic view of patriotism than the vagabonds who think being a loyal American is getting drunk and puking all over the place when Navy Seal Team 6 killed Osama OR cloaking their archaic values on everyone else under the colors of the flag.

  8. I am currently on a gap year volunteering in Honduras, and like Harry, I financed the trip myself from money I had saved, and from working full time in the months before I left. The combined experience of working full time and living and working here, has completely changed me for the better. I have never felt so motivated to educate myself and enrich my life as much as possible. Too many students jump right into college unprepared and jaded from having just completed 12 years of school. I was always a A student, and graduated high school with high honors, but I think that I will do even better next year than I might have without my gap year.

  9. Julia Taylor

    I attended Vanderbilt University after graduating Staples in ’08 and have decided to take some time between Undergrad and Grad school. I’m going to move to New York City and continue honing my craft (opera singing) and working in order to pay for my schooling myself.

    I think Harry is brave to defy the very Westportian expectation to jettison from High School to College without taking time to think or find yourself. I would be floundering in my senior year of college, if I was doing the “normal thing” and auditioning for Graduate school. Everyone’s path is individual and should be constructed accordingly.