Everyone is talking about how Malia Obama is taking a bridge year and whether or not bridge years are beneficial or not. I, as a student who recently returned from a bridge year can attest to how meaningful and important bridge years are.
I read a book recently called The Road to Character by David Brooks. In this book he lays out the details of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s philosophical essay The Lonely Man of Faith. In this essay Soloveitchik describes two different Adams, the Adam in chapter one of genesis and the Adam in chapter two. Soloveitchik argues that these two Adam’s present two opposing sides of human nature. This is where David Brooks comes in, he modernized Soloveitchik’s categories of the two different Adams. Adam I, as Brooks describes, is career- oriented, he wants to observe, design, and create things while climbing his way to the top of his career latter. This, I believe, is what we foster in high school in college. In high school we were so focused on what college we are going to attend and how to get there, what ap classes to take, what extra curriculars are going to look best on our application, and so on and so fourth. We were focused on ourselves.
This brings me to Adam II, who wants to have, as Brooks describes, “serene inner character”. Adam II’s goals are not what’s next on the career latter, but how he can give himself to serve and help the people around him. He has a strong moral character and understands that no one human is above another. Adam II asks himself, “how can my skills benefit the world around me?” This is Adam that schools often forget about and I forgot about until I took a bridge year to Senegal with Global Citizen Year and was able to live in a Senegalese village with host family.
While on my gap year I learned about humility and empathy and compassion in a way that I had never had to before. I began to understand that life is so much more than than the college on your t-shirt or the fancy title of your job. No one cared about my accomplishments they cared about who I was and they were excited that I was trying to embrace their culture and trying to learn from them. I learned about privilege. Not just privilege of skin color or economic status, but of how I am able as a U.S. citizen get a free education and then I have many options for school after high school, whether that’s college or vocational school, it is a privilege that many do not have in the world. Many of the students in my adoptive village have attempted to pass their final exam to finish high school and go to university or just get a high school diploma two or three times without success. Here in the states graduating from high school is taken for granted, we forget what a privilege it to have an education.
Now, I am not saying that everyone who takes a bridge year is an Adam II and those who don’t are an Adam I, but what I am saying is that a bridge year can help foster your Adam II brain in a way that regular school doesn’t. It made me think about who I was and what type of person I wanted to be rather than what career I wanted. It humbled me in ways I can’t explain on paper. I didn’t come out an Adam II, but I came out recognizes how I want to become an Adam II. I have a better sense of my flaws and talents and I understand that I am no more important than anyone else even though my default setting in my brain is only thinking about myself.
“The essential drama of life is the drama to construct character, which is an engraved set of disciplined habits, a settled disposition to do good. The cultivation of Adam II… for Adam I to flourish.” -David Brooks
My final capstone video: