Tag Archives: gap year

Johnny Donovan Does Not Mind The Gap

The college process was just beginning 3 years ago, but Staples High School sophomore Johnny Donovan knew he wanted something different after graduation.

Last fall, Johnny was a senior. America’s mood darkened during the presidential election. Johnny — who had served as president of the Kool To Be Kind club — made the American University of Rome his first choice.

He got in. Immediately, he asked school officials to defer his entrance until next fall.

They agreed. A gap year, after all, is a European tradition.

His parents and guidance counselor — here in the US, where taking a year off before college is sometimes looked upon as strange, or even an admission of failure — were supportive too.

“I was only 17. I wasn’t ready to go right to college,” he explains.

Johnny loves the outdoors. He researched a number of programs, before choosing Rustic Pathways. It’s old, well established, and runs service programs in areas of real need.

Johnny’s gap year began this fall, with 3 components. In Fiji, he and his group — 13 American students, 1 Swiss, with 3 leaders (2 Americans, 1 Fijian) — would work with local communities. New Zealand promised adventure, while in Australia they’d work on self-improvement.

Johnny Donovan (far left) and 3 group members, with one of the tables they built for a school in Fiji.

Johnny had no idea what to expect. “I just went in with an open mind,” he says.

Fiji proved to be the hardest month of Johnny’s life. His first homestay was with a family in the highlands. They had no running water or electricity.

But, Johnny notes, “my family was ‘rich.’ They had doors. And the toilet was inside.”

Johnny and his group built tables at a local school. He and most of his group also got sick. It was a bonding experience.

After weeks of living and working in the highlands, Johnny says, “all we wanted was a hot shower and clean clothes.” They moved to a beach village, where they reconstructed a community hall that had been destroyed by a cyclone.

It took leaving Fiji to appreciate his experience there. “When I looked at all my photos I realized how nice the family was, not how sick I got,” says Johnny.

New Zealand — where the group stayed in hostels — was filled with amazing experiences. Johnny went skydiving, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping and rock climbing. He went on the world’s largest canyon swing, and tried zorbing (climbing into a giant ball filled with water, which is then pushed down a mountain).

Johnny Donovan in New Zealand…

Johnny calls New Zealand “the prettiest country in the world, with the nicest and happiest people.”

But part of his experience was living with the same 14 people for 3 months. He calls it “a 2017 version of ‘The Breakfast Club.'”

In Australia Johnny earned a sailing certificate and a bronze lifeguard medallion (after taking a very demanding course). He surfed, ran on the beach, and celebrated his 18th birthday with “the best meal of the trip.”

Just before Thanksgiving, Johnny suddenly felt homesick. For the first holiday ever, he was away from his 5 siblings and parents.

“Besides Fiji, that was the toughest part of the trip,” he says.

But Johnny went skydiving again, and did 2 more bungee jumps.

… skydiving …

The trip ended with a service day in Sydney — and a Jack Johnson concert at the Opera House.

The 22-hour flight home was a time for reflection. Johnny thought of how much he’d learned about himself, others, and the world.

“Now I know how daunting it is to be away from home for so long,” he says. “I understand things like culture shock.” He says he is more emotionally prepared for college than if he had not traveled. He looks forward to using Rome as a base to explore the rest of Europe, and north Africa.

But first — after Christmas — comes the next part of Johnny’s gap year. He’ll do 2 months of service work in Chile, then head to Cuba for more service. In both countries, he’ll live with local families.

Back in September, when his friends left for college, Johnny wished he was going too. Now however, he can’t imagine not having done what he did.

… and at the Sydney Opera House.

He recommends it strongly for others. “A gap year isn’t just for dropouts or burnouts,” he says.

“It would be great if everyone had the opportunity, support, and financial resources to do it. The rest of the world thinks a gap year is great. Here, people are a lot more condescending. They say, ‘What happened? You didn’t get into college?'”

Johnny Donovan certainly did. And when he heads off to college next fall, he’ll already have a year of coping — and learning — under his well-traveled belt.

Click below for a video Johnny created, about his month in Fiji:


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: harrymoritz@hotmail.com