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Introducing the Class of 2013

Introducing the Class of 2013Every year, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin writes a letter that describes the incoming freshman class.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.02.09] Some believe 13 is an unlucky number but there is nothing unlucky about the Class of 2013.In fact, there's a lucky symmetry as 1,313 students join the Class of 2013 today.

For starters, its academic profile is, arguably, the best of any entering class in Tufts history. Eighty-five percent graduated in the top 10% of their high school class, including 56 valedictorians, 28 salutatorians, and 56 National Merit Scholars.The entering class also posted a record-setting testing profile with mean SAT scores of 709 Critical Reading, 712 Math and 714 Writing.The (two-part) combined score of 1421 is also an all-time high.

Watch Dean Coffin's address:

"There is a Quaker saying," we told the applicants. "Let your life speak." And they did. "My life tells a happy tale," someone said.The son of two Episcopalian priests told us, "Church on Sunday mornings is a way of life for me."He added, "Certainly no one else in my class reads the Bible every morning." A "vegan feminist salsa dancer" was emphatic. "My life doesn't speak, it shouts." Another was humble: "I know which restaurants in Istanbul have the best filet mignon but I'm really a chickpeas and rice kind of guy."

The University's 154th class matriculates from 844 high schools in 42 American states, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 38 countries.As usual Massachusetts tops the list of home states but, continuing a recent trend, California snares the third spot and students from the West Coast represent 11 percent of the new class. South Korea, Singapore, India, Canada and the United Kingdom are the largest foreign delegations but the array of international backgrounds includes new students from Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, Italy, Oman, Sri Lanka and Thailand to name a few.There are three new students from Moscow. In fact, nearly 10 percent reside overseas and 160 have an international background of some type.A language other than English is spoken in the homes of 14 percent of the class.

New freshmen hail from Paris, France and Versailles, Kentucky; La Crosse, Wisconsin and Old Hickory, Tennessee; Fresno and Quito, Little Rock and Rockport as well as Iowa's poorest county, a banana plantation in Guatemala, and a rural village in southwest Kenya. "I am considered the most eligible bachelorette in my Lebanese village," one confided, "but my parents want me to have a college diploma in my hand before I have a baby on my arm."

123 are first-generation college-bound while 94 are the sons and daughters of Tufts alumni. At least four freshmen are orphans, including a ward of the state.The great-granddaughter of Roy Disney and the grandson of a Pakistani prime minister enrolled today, as did the children of a waitress in San Francisco's Chinatown and a fireman's kid from Walpole, Mass. One freshman was homeless during middle school while another lived in the basement of a group home in DC for seven years. Four have a parent in prison.

While most are the offspring of American suburbia many have defining rural roots. A Midwestern farm-girl recounted her daily summer chore: "Every morning it is my job to feed the rabbits and count the cows to make sure no one escaped during the night." Similarly, a Virginian whispered, "Our freezer is packed to maximum capacity with bags labeled ‘venison 2008'." And one of the many city dwellers put things in perspective. "I was born in East LA," he said, "so the sound of helicopters and drive-by shootings are as familiar (to me) as the chirps of crickets."

We asked each applicant, "Who are you?" and they answered our simple query with poignant insights. "I'm an American who's never been to America," said the woman who was raised in Africa but now lives in Sarajevo. A "Quaker-educated Washingtonian said, "I am the third child of a Boston Jew and a French-Acadian Catholic."Another celebrated the "third culture" perspective that defines so many freshmen: "I am Indian by birth and Singaporean by residency with a British and American education." And an aspiring physicist viewed her self-identity through a scientific prism. "If human personality can be classified as three states of matter," she wrote, "then I am liquid (because) I take the shape of the container but never lose my density."

The Class of '13 includes a Chinese feminist and a Presbyterian deacon; a Goldwater-inspired, agnostic conservative Republican with an addiction to Oreos; the "linguist thespian son" of South African missionaries; and a "lesbian multiracial Army brat" as well as someone listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as "The Youngest Person to Ski on All Seven Continents." Tufts welcomes a Hawaiian naturalist descended from an Inca princess; a sausage maker at a British butcher shop; "the tomboy of all tomboys" from Oregon; the unofficial caretaker of a 93-year old priest in Hyde Park; "a skinny, green-eyed Caucasian male" from Miami who loves politics as well as a swimmer from Chicago who claimed "no shower, no matter how long, can eradicate the chlorine embedded within my pores."

Their intangible qualities are clear and defining.As one said, "I know it may not seem normal for a young girl like me to dream of building robots prepared to withstand battle, but normal's not really my thing."Normal is not really our "thing," either.At Tufts, normal people do extraordinary things.

For symmetry's sake, here are 13 notable qualities about the Class of '13:

They are kind. "When a teacher asked his students to name the least likely person to do something hurtful," a guidance counselor reported, "all eyes turned toward him."

They are optimistic: "My Jeep Wrangler is always backed into its parking spot because I don't like starting my day in reverse."

They walk the talk.An engineer was denied the rank of Eagle Scout because he is an atheist, and he would not renounce his own beliefs in order to earn the rank he had worked so long to achieve.

They are full of wonder. A third-generation member of Vermont's ski patrol studies cryptography for fun; she is a likely math major. Maybe her roommate will be the female engineer from New York who believes "computers are the closest mankind has come to magic."

A few are daring. "I push the envelope," one announced. "I even run with scissors."

They are determined. A Vietnamese immigrant from Connecticut, the daughter of factory workers, is reading every novel on TIME magazine's list of "All Time 100 Novels" to enhance her language skills.

On her resume, a New York City gal listed "the ability to say no to others, no matter how persuasive they may be" as one of her skills.Dean Sternberg calls that "practical intelligence."

They are creative. Two hold U.S. patents: one created a fire extinguisher that suffocates a flame from within its hottest point while a Texan invented a remote-controlled vacuum cleaner.Others tinker. A prospective classicist from Maryland tried his hand as a vintner as he concocted a home-brewed wine using Welch's grape juice, sugar and baking yeast. "It was undrinkable," he lamented, "but I learned a lot about wine." And while no patent was in the offing, a potato chip lover found a clever way to avoid greasy fingers: he eats his chips with chopsticks.Someone designed a combination backpack-pillow for the overworked student while a Nashville vinyl aficionado designed a laser harp.After a "big rain," he also built a pontoon using duct tape and recycled materials from the garbage to navigate the waters.

They speak truth. "Hate is just fear and insecurity wrapped in hostility," a gay student reflected as he explained his self-advocacy.

They are entrepreneurial. A Jersey boy with interests in economics and physics designed the "Electro-Scatster," an amusement park based on the principles of electrical charges and repulsions."

They are wise: "I don't want my generation to be remembered as the one that let the country crumble because everyone was too busy texting each other." An Ohioan said simply, "I wage a war against not knowing."

They are green. A salutatorian math wiz from Maine loves to test hypotheses.She wondered, "What impact do ATVs have on soil?" An environmentalist from Southern California will use his camera to document nature's reclamation of Chernobyl while a Boston swimmer will examine the environmental safety of pool water because "most people don't understand the chemistry behind proper pool maintenance."

And sometimes they simply resist classification: "The only unifying theme in my life is a concerted effort to avoid unifying themes."

The class has its share of dreamers who seek solutions. A mechanical engineer from Albany explores how the capillary action of trees might provide a new way of harnessing energy. A Pakistani electrical engineer, frustrated by recurring power outages in his hometown, hopes to develop a dependable power grid for Islamabad. An IR major plans to "make the sky over Beijing turn blue again"; a geneticist imagines a purple cow; and a Florida valedictorian will try to convert human feces into energy.

The class embodies the broad diversity that defines our world and this campus. Domestic students of color represent 24 percent of the class and a wide array of creeds and backgrounds populate its ranks. A Mohawk-headed, Cha'an Buddhist rugby player from "a free-thinking Christian household" in Colorado called himself "an agent of peace...a pacifist guerilla who moves about the streets undetected, helping those in need and seeing the potential of man."Like our pacifist, a pronounced religious or cultural identity is clear. An Egyptian-Muslim football captain & Homecoming Prince from California said, "I am the only Arab in my high school so I know that hiding is not an option." He participated in the "Listen to the Silence Conference" at Stanford and related the experience of Japanese-Americans after WW2 to the experiences of his grandfather after 9/11.

As usual, talent abounds. For his optional essay, someone submitted a jazz arrangement for Britney Spears' "Toxic."Hard-to-find talents in banjo, harp, bassoon, hand bells, English horn, and cymbals are headed to the Granoff Music Center. The class includes a documentary filmmaker, an animator who creates hand-drawn films, and a triathlete from St Louis who achieved master guild rank in medieval stained glass. With a box of crayons and a set of graphite pencils I can tell a tale without sentences," proclaimed an artist from Shanghai.

Two unicyclists and an outrigger canoe paddler; someone who's hiked 43 of 46 peaks in the Adirondacks; the McCain campaign's high school chairman for Los Angeles and a hip-hop radio host from D.C.; a San Antonio street performer and a high-wire performer from Sarasota arrived today.So did a Rhode Islander ranked in top 20 by the National Hot Rod Association; a You Tube phenom who went eyeball-to-eyeball with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News; and a hockey goalie who composed songs in his head while tending net during low-scoring games.His peers added this line to the yearbook: "What if Conor didn't always have music playing in his head?"

"As a scholar-athlete I have always been hyphenated," one student lamented, "and I hope Tufts will enable me to expand my identity." It will. As usual, the class includes its share of champions and accomplishment. Members of the US National women's squash and the Turkish national women's soccer teams, as well as a sailor who represented Bermuda in the Youth World Championships in 2008 will don Jumbo uniforms this year.Twin brothers from Framingham, Mass., are nationally-ranked speed skaters and a Mainer is the National Bronze Medalist in ice dancing. They join a gold medalist at the National Geographic World Championships; a three-time national chess champ from New York City; the World Champ in flat-water sprint canoeing; the captain of the US National Debate Team; Maryland's state champ in Tae Kwon Do; and an X-Game enthusiast who is the Junior World Champ in open class downhill skateboarding & street luge.

Sometimes the Admissions Committee learned the random, if endearing, things as we read applications."I can touch my nose with the tip of my tongue," one boasted. A child development major from LA celebrated her choreography of the "anaphase dance," which she designed to help her friends remember the stages of mitosis.(She also does math dances.) Someone proclaimed, "I don't just want to be a geek, I want to be THE Geek" while a gal with strong ties to dairies told us she likes to roll down her window and moos to her bovine friends when she drives by a pasture.

They made us laugh. They inspired us.Some made us sigh.When an alumni interviewer asked a student from Greater Hartford what she was looking for in a college, the applicant said, "Someplace where people don't wince when I say I like math."At Tufts, she found that place as well as a new group of peers who understand that it's cool to be smart.

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