Introducing the Class of 2015

Every year, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin writes an introduction for the incoming freshman class

“Let your life speak,” we told the 17,131 applicants to our Class of 2015. And they did.

A poetic religion major set the standard. “I come from funky reggae jams and chai mate mornings…,” she wrote. “I come from the deserts of New Mexico, where I find my family in the sunsets.” Often, a pithy phrase illuminated a personality: “I am a boy, not yet six feet, who loves to read King or Thoreau on a blustery autumn day,” “I’m a Nigerian gospel singer with a passion for Korean boy bands,” “I’m gay, and that’s a different kind of normal,” “I’m a 5th-generation Alabama farm boy with an interest in sustainable agriculture,” “I’m the person who stops on the sidewalk to pet a stranger’s dog.”

They celebrated individualism—“I’m the only liberal, urban, multiracial male I know”—as well as genetics—“I come from a family of mathematicians and could count before I could talk.” A biology major reported, “My family is where the Addams Family meets the Brady Bunch” while a California chemist sighed, “My life sings and dances to the Mexican mariachi although it wants to scream like a heavy metal band…”

Like its recent predecessors, the Class of 2015 is distinguished by excellence in the classroom as it enrolls with an academic profile that sets record highs in several areas: 89 percent graduated among the top 10 percent of their high school class with mean SAT scores of 707 Critical Reading, 717 Math (up six points to a new record) and 715 Writing (also a new high). These new undergraduates are already applying what they have learned in intriguing ways: a Singaporean “loves visualizing stereochemistry,” a Moroccan hopes to “enrich the African economy without destroying its biodiversity,” and others have interests in theoretical time travel, “bloody Renaissance paintings,” green public transportation, giraffes, quantitative morality, Internet diplomacy, ocean acidification, New England burial grounds, pediatric dermatology and the Fibonacci sequence. Korean twins conduct water purification research while an environmental engineer from Connecticut plans to test whether a platinum nickel nano-particle catalyst would be a more efficient and durable fuel source for cars. The debater from Bozeman enjoys arguing about topics like “anachro-communism” into the wee hours of the morning while an Iowa Trekkie enjoys a verbal joust about the ethics of interfering with alien cultures.

A rich and multifaceted background is a clear hallmark of the University’s 156th entering class, as 1,319 students matriculate from 861 high schools in 47 American states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 37 nations. Twenty-seven percent of the class is Americans of color, 217 speak a language other than English at home, and 211 hold citizenship in 57 nations outside the U.S., with international Jumbos arriving from China and Trinidad, Ethiopia and Ireland to name just a few. Forty-four percent received financial aid from Tufts and 149 are Pell Grant recipients, an important indicator of the socioeconomic diversity of the new class.

The Admissions Committee asked applicants to describe the environment in which they were raised, and the new class celebrated places as different as Fairfield County and Orange County, the political turbulence of Cairo’s Arab Spring and the political buzz of Capitol Hill, the chaos of an Iraqi refugee camp in Syria and the tranquility of 35 acres of New Hampshire forest. They hail from Eugene, Oregon and Florence, Italy; from the eclectic vibe of Key West, Florida to the “homogeneous bubble” of middle-class suburbia. They were raised among the high rises of Hong Kong and the freeways of LA; in Minot, North Dakota and Bourne, Texas; by the rocky coast of York, Maine and in all five boroughs of New York City; in a multigenerational apartment in Boston and a village in upstate New York with “three nail salons, four pizza parlors and not much else.” The senior class president from Douglas, Wyoming celebrated her life in the Rockies: “The winters are hard, with wind that bites down into the bones…and if you don’t own a gun you aren’t a real Wyomingite.”

“Baking and culinary invention make me tick,” a foodie from Andover, Mass., announced, “even though I was raised by a man who loves his grill and a woman who hates her kitchen…” A fellow from Edina fondly indentified the host of Minnesota Public Radio his “second mother,” while another described himself as “the child of a Shia Muslim ex-Communist Republican and a Scientologist Jew from Chicago.” They are the children of an LAPD officer and FDNY battalion chief; the archivist for Jim Henson, a heavyweight boxing world champion and Colombia’s secretary of transportation; a Carolina astrologist and a military colonel in Pakistan; a dental secretary in Providence, a mailman in rural Ohio and an Algerian taxi driver in Revere.

Three freshmen have parents who died on 9/11. Another lost her mother during the Al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Poignantly, each plans to major in either international relations or peace & justice studies.

Nearly 10 percent are first-generation college bound while, on the other side of the educational spectrum, a dozen are the children of Tufts faculty and 94 are the sons and daughters of Tufts graduates. That includes the Cincinnati politico whose mother defended her graduate thesis while she was pregnant with him.

Tufts welcomes Nora the full-time nanny from New York City and a nanny from Nashville named Natalie; a quarterback from Santa Monica who plans to study Dadaism; and the son of a lobsterman whose 13th birthday wish list included eight buoys and a small loan to buy his own boat. The Class of ’15 includes 58 high school valedictorians, 42 salutatorians and a record-setting 92 National Merit Scholars (more than twice as many as last year). We salute the 2010 “Poetry Out Loud” National Champion, one of Oprah’s “O Ambassadors,” South Dakota’s State Champion in debate, a semi-finalist in a Chinese national rock band competition, the Grand Prize winner at Maine’s Student Film Festival and a nationally-ranked Cajun fencer via Brookline, Mass.

Say hello to “Alex the Ripper,” the environmentalist from Chicago who pulls plugs out of electrical outlets; the female firefighter from New Jersey and the Swahili-speaking, Lady Gaga-loving Tibetan Buddhist from Boca Raton. ’15ers include the lead singer in a Vegas rock band; a Brazilian pilot and a Palestinian feminist; a member of the US National Ultimate Team; a blogger from Kathmandu and a stone mason from suburban Boston who restores the foundations of historic barns.

PT Barnum would be impressed by the Big Top chops of the newest stewards of Jumbo’s legacy: two trapeze artists, a unicyclist from Denver and a fire-spinning Pennsylvania pole vaulter all chose Tufts. So did two-thirds of a set of Turkish triplets (one of whom was the first to enroll in the class); the French announcer for the Youth Olympic Games, a hula dancer from California and a sitar-playing rapper from Boston’s South Shore. The Admissions Committee was impressed by the Panamanian math Olympian, the catcher from LA who bats clean-up, the Westchester engineer who supervises hangman tournaments at an assisted living facility, the German opera singer from Michigan, and the manual laborer on a Peruvian llama farm. We were intrigued by the computer engineer from Providence who rock climbs while blindfolded; the HIV outreach worker who distributes safe sex kits on the DC Metro; the “Shakespeare nut” from Evanston and the viral video artist whose parody of Lost has more than 16,000 hits on YouTube.

Monica Zoe Brown Ramos Maradiaga owns the longest name in the freshman class while Ha Do is the shortest. The class features a gal named George as well as a menu item at a West Hartford deli: the “Jack Kent” is a chicken cutlet with BBQ sauce, bacon, cheddar, lettuce & tomato for $5.99. Michael and Emily emerged as the most popular names in the Class of ‘15 and, while Zobella staked a strong claim for “Most Original,” I must bestow that honor on the gal from Sammamish, Washington called “Qxhna” (pronounced Chee-na).

2010-11 was the most selective undergraduate admissions cycle in Tufts’ history, with an acceptance rate of 21.9 percent, and personal qualities were often determining factors in an admission decision. We asked each applicant, “Who are you?” and the vivid voice of the incoming class reflects their varied responses to this simple query.

If I may borrow a literary device from the film The Help, allow me three ways to celebrate their personal characteristics:

They are smart. A playwright from Singapore penned a satire banned by her conservative school because it was set in a world where homosexuality is the norm; a Connecticut actress loves words so much she scribbles new ones on her arm in blue ink; a women’s studies major from Hawaii likens archeological artifacts to Tweets. “It’s really an instant link to the past that resonates in the present,” she observed.

They are kind. “Every morning I wake up and think ‘what can I do to change someone’s life today,’” one reported, while a Bostonian took a more activist approach: “I am the once-bullied kid who acts as an advocate for those who are rolled over by the Establishment.” And a vegetarian worked on a bull farm “to lend a hand in making animals’ lives better” before she realized “all the pigs can’t be saved by weaving webs of literary praise…”

They are (going to be) important. A computer whiz from New York City might be his generation’s Mark Zuckerberg: he’s already developed 30 iPhone and iPad apps that have been downloaded over 2 million times! Or maybe political fame will find the founder of Slum Free India, who launched a nationwide crusade to eliminate his country’s slums through an investment in education.

We wondered, “Why Tufts?” and their answers were endearing. “Tufts is the first inanimate object on which I’ve had a crush,” one confessed to the Admissions Committee while a Minnesotan explained, “I love being around people who understand a joke about Martin Luther and don’t confuse him with Martin Luther King.”

But perhaps my favorite “Why Tufts?” response came from a gal from Chevy Chase, Maryland. She said, “Tufts makes me laugh without even trying.”



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