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Trolley Cars and Mountain Bikes

September 5, 2013

Clive, Rita and Daniel play cards at the campground. Photo by Nathan Yale ’14.

Clark topping out on the most difficult climb of the day. Photo by Nathan Yale ’14.

The OA group on a hike in the San Bernardino Mountains. Photo by Nathan Yale ’14.

A cross-country runner, a quarterback, two soccer players, and an infielder pile into a Suburban. The runner turns to the soccer players and says:

“Okay, but you could also frame it by saying that you are saving one person.”

“How does that make sense? In no meaningful way are you saving the person on the tracks simply by choosing not to flip the switch that would redirect the train towards them. If you weren't there, she would still live, so you can't say you're saving her.”

“You can if you believe killing someone is the same as letting her die. If I could prevent your death, and I don't, then I've killed you.” This is the quarterback now.

“We haven't even talked about the fundamental point: are five lives worth more than one? Can you even make that kind of calculation?” And here's the infielder, chiming in.

This is the debate that a handful of brand-new Pomona student-athletes were having as I drove them back to Claremont, following a night of camping in the pine forests near Big Bear, CA. The Trolley Problem—a classic philosophical thought experiment introduced by Philippa Foot in the 1960s (and since then, it has been analyzed by dozens of prominent thinkers)—received a thorough work-over in the hour and a half it took to drive back to campus. Earlier in the day, we had gone rock climbing and mountain biking, and tomorrow, these athletes would be up early to practice with their teams. Just another day in the life of a Sagehen.

***

Last week, I had the opportunity to tag along with a group of first-year Pomona students as they embarked on their Orientation Adventure. In addition to 25 first-year students and their trio of upperclassmen OA leaders, we were joined by a faculty member, and by President of the College David Oxtoby. Over the course of a few days, the students completed a service project with the US Forest Service, went kayaking on Big Bear Lake, donned harnesses to climb granite pinnacles, and rode mountain bikes in the trails around their campsite.

For the students, it was a great way to try new things, meet new people, and start college off with a bang. For me, it represented the end of my first admissions cycle, and the chance to meet the students who had been files on my desk just a few months earlier.

When you apply to college, you send in a lot of information, all of which is read and examined by members of the admissions team. But there will always be something that is left out in the application: Parker's wry sense of humor, Nadia’s quiet stoicism, Clark’s shocking I-haven't-done-this-for-awhile-but-I'm-still-really-good rock climbing ability, Rita's unflappability while dealing with an irritable bus driver. Seeing applications come to life was exciting, and reminded me that there will always be talents, quirks, abilities, and more that may not translate easily to paper.

In the admissions office, we get to know students pretty well, but over the next four years these students will grow and change in ways we can't predict. And at graduation, we'll still recognize them, because the kernels that made them stand out to us in the application process—their passion, curiosity, energy, and dedication—will persist as a testament to the Pomona spirit, and a product of a Pomona education.

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