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Introducing the Tufts Class of 2012

Lee Coffin, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions

Matriculation 2008

If the Tufts admissions process were an Olympic event in Beijing, the Class of 2012 would have won five gold medals and one silver. Consider these highlights:

  • The University received 15,642 first-year applicants, the largest pool in Tufts history;
  • The School of Engineering attracted 2,018 candidates, the largest pool in its history;
  • 25% were offered admission, the second-most selective year ever (there's the silver);
  • The class enrolls with the highest, two-part SAT mean (1415) in University history as well as the highest mean scores on the critical reading (707), math (708) and writing (709) sections.
  • Among engineers, the mean SAT-M score soared 23 points to 749, also a record high.

But beyond this impressive data, it is the voice of our new class that truly distinguishes it. The 1,303 members of the University's 153rd entering class matriculates from 859 high schools in 43 American states, DC, Puerto Rico and 33 nations, places as distant and exotic as Chile, Egypt, Moldova, Trinidad and Zimbabwe, although South Korea (17) and Mainland China (11) have the largest delegations in the class. Not surprisingly, a language other than English is spoken in nearly a third of their homes.

The class hails from Cape Cod and the Florida Keys; Valley Stream, Long Island and the Rio Grande Valley; from a gated, celebrity-filled community in Beverly Hills to a gritty neighborhood in the Bronx where a student noted "it's not unusual (for me) to be awakened by gunshots in the middle of the night." The streets of New York and Hong Kong as well as tiny places like Buxton, Maine; Sunspot, New Mexico; and Parkdale, Oregon shaped their world views. Many are the products of American suburbia: "I grew up in an upper middle-class, monochromatic suburb with three younger siblings adopted from Bolivia," one wrote. Others were reared by "a very conservative Confucian family" in Seoul and by a single lesbian mother in Wisconsin; on a Colorado alfalfa farm and a trailer park in Maine; and amidst a Cambodian refugee camp in Malaysia. The daughter of faire concessionaires was raised "entirely at Renaissance Faires" in Kansas, New York and Maryland while a candy man from Ocean City, Maryland is a fifth-generation candy-maker in that resort town. A champion New England fiddler calls Celtic music "a gathering place for my family. Nearly 20 have experienced the death of a parent; one is an emancipated minor. Thirteen freshmen enroll from our host cities of Medford and Somerville; 17 are graduates of the Boston Public Schools.

By design, the new class features an array of interesting backgrounds and eclectic voices. The class is preppie and tattooed; carnivorous, kosher and vegan; straight and gay; at least two are trans-gendered. A Jewish Californian wants to learn Arabic so she can study the Quran in its original form while the Dairy Princess for Columbia County, New York proudly calls herself "a passionate orator for agriculture and the dairy industry." A Ugandan refugee from Mississippi celebrated his identity as "a moderate Republican in a high school that was 96% Democratic"; he speaks eight tribal languages. A spunky gal from New Jersey convinced an Israeli shopkeeper to sell her the shirt he was wearing. She concluded, "It was one of those charming moments in life that clarifies what the world, if you give it a nudge, will allow you to do." And a student from Wuhan, China shows promise in Tufts' laboratories: He invented and patented a multi-use Chinese pot to capture energy lost during the cooking process.

Many defied convention when we asked "Who are you?" on the application supplement. "I'm a flamingo in wolf's clothing," a Jersey guy told us. Others said:

  • "People who see me perform slam poetry never expect me to be a pro wrestling super-fan."
  • "I am a proud Puerto Rican tomboy (but) I'm also a diva."
  • "I am the girl who occasionally lapses into iambic pentameter when she forgets herself."
  • "I knew I should be a math major when I got my locker combo on the first day of senior year and noticed with pleasure that all the digits were prime numbers."

Religious identities are fluid. "I may not follow Islam's traditions or avidly practice it," a Turkish-American revealed, "but my faith is a part of me. I chose to be Muslim, Islam did not choose me." According to the Enrolling Student Survey, the Class of 2012 includes students from nearly 40 faith traditions. While nearly 20 percent are Jewish and another 19 percent identify as Roman Catholic, a plurality (35%) reports no religious affiliation. "I am a devout atheist with a voice big enough to dwarf Orson Welles," one announced. Conversely, a Chicagoan is the great-granddaughter of seven generations of Orthodox Jewish rabbis and another is the daughter of a Coptic priest; both report strong ties to their family faiths.

Tufts enrolled 83 Student Council or senior class presidents, a gecko breeder, a "raw foodist" budding Buddhist from Vancouver, the grand niece of Malcolm X, and a cyclist who pedaled his way from Seattle to Nantucket. The class features over 50 newspaper or yearbook editors (good news for The Daily), the director of a children's theater in Baltimore, and "a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, gay Catholic from 'that family' that receives food on Christmas from the local church". In fact, as the University advances toward a fully need-blind admission policy, socioeconomic diversity is an important characteristic of the new class. Forty percent received need-based financial aid, including 133 Pell Grant recipients, which are Federal awards to students from families earning less than $40,000 per year and a widely-used barometer of socioeconomic access. Overall, the University awarded nearly $13 million in need-based aid to the incoming class, a 32 percent increase since 2006.

Twelve percent arrive with an international background; indeed, global identities are common and ethnic boundaries are elastic. "I am…the only African-American Cuban Muslim woman who is fluent in French that I know," Safiyah West of Washington, DC proclaimed. A Cape Verdean from Shanghai, a Syrian-Croatian from Orange County, a member of Canada's Malisset tribe and a Chinese-Mexican in the Yaqui tribe, and a Somali-Canadian from Maine arrived today. Identities are fluid. "I'm a multiracial woman demanding recognition for my character, not my race," proclaimed a black-Japanese-Swede from California. Overall, more than 27 percent are Americans of color but many listed "human" when the Common Application asked for a racial identity.

While their backgrounds are eclectic the class shares an important common denominator: a record of academic achievement and intellectual engagement distinguishes the new class. It includes 46 high school valedictorians and 43 salutatorians—in fact, 10 percent graduated among the top three members of their senior class—and 85 percent graduated in the top ten percent. As usual, international relations and biology are the top anticipated majors for the College of Liberal Arts while biomedical and mechanical engineering are most common among students headed to Anderson Hall. The Class of 2012 boasts 55 National Merit Scholars; a National Peace Essay winner from Montana; a theater critic for the Washington Post; 24 Eagle Scouts and a dozen Girl Scout Gold Award winners; and the #2 ranked Scottish fiddler in the country (a music major, of course). A Chinese immigrant from New York City won a Nobel writing contest and went to Stockholm for the awarding of Nobel prizes; she arrived in America four years ago with no English skills. Similarly, a Californian was selected to address the G8 world leaders on climate change and energy efficiency as a J8 delegate representing the USA.

As we reviewed their applications last winter, admission officers discovered clear evidence of minds at work. "My best work is inspired by the hardest problems because the solution often hinges on some completely crazy or unique thought that pulls together multiple, ordinary concepts into something extraordinary," a Virginian professed. In fact, it is that type of creativity that truly distinguishes their intellectual curiosity. They are smart but they also have the analytical and practical skills to seek new solutions to contemporary challenges, and many matriculate with clear plans for undergraduate research in topics as diverse as pediatric dentistry, European existential philosophy, gene sequencing of brine shrimp, diabetes prevention in impoverished communities, Bantu education, chameleon nanotechnology for military vehicles, and ocean-based wind energy. "I dream of illuminating the challenging shadows of a theater-in-the-round," one wrote. A fellow artist hopes to invent an electronic music stand to improve efficiency and performances while a determined microbiologist plans "to prove that the kitchen sponge is more hazardous than a toilet."

A robust cohort of 192 students enrolled in the School of Engineering, including an Iowa Homecoming King with a passion for computer programming and a budding NASCAR driver from Nevada—a nominee for Sportsman of the Year in 2007—who hopes to reengineer cars to achieve the best driving conditions so he can drive them "at their top ability." Environmental issues intrigue and motivate many. A Boise native installed a ‘vine canopy' in her hometown to demonstrate the potential energy and environmental benefits of creating shade in a cost efficient way; she hopes to reduce Boise's heat island effect. "I (like to) concoct grand, ultra-modern, green hotels and houses," said Jennifer Lavet of Vienna, Virginia, while a Floridian considers clean water in developing countries a fundamental human right.

Several freshmen have faced personal adversity or political turmoil. One is wheelchair-bound and deaf as a result of muscular dystrophy; he wants to break down prejudices against the handicapped. A Colombian was kidnapped by his family driver and held captive in a Bogota motel for 58 days; he was six at the time. A gay student in a conservative town was tripped down a staircase in school because someone "thought it would be funny to see a fairy fly." A Bengali immigrant summed up his version of the American Dream: "My dad straightforwardly told me that the success of our immigration (to America) depended upon me."

Whether adversity touched them directly or not, many share Tufts' commitment to intellectual citizenship. "I am not a passenger," one proclaimed. Indeed, he is a proud atheist who wants to debate the intersection of religion and public policy in America. Vivian Mbwauike, a pre-med from Boston's Community Leadership Academy, believes "there is no use for education if you can't analyze your findings, gather with your community, and create change." Vivian's optimism is shared by many freshmen: "I want to change the world, and I want a college that not only encourages it but fully expects me to (do so)," wrote Samantha Turner, a women's studies major from Augusta, Maine. Voicing a similar refrain, the son of a lesbian couple addressed the Vermont Legislature on behalf of his mothers' right to marry and to bear witness to the "intolerance" his family has experienced, while an abusive father produced an activist against domestic violence: "my father's hostility provoked my desire for justice." An Ohioan chaired the National Eating Disorder Association Fashion Show while an activist from California programmed the White House phone number into her cell to bring President Bush's attention to the Darfur crisis on a weekly basis; she also received a $36,000 scholarship in recognition of her humanitarian work.

Talent abounds. The lead singer in an Istanbul rock band; flamenco and ballroom dancers from Texas; a documentary filmmaker from Maryland; and the principal cellist for the New England Conservatory orchestra joined the Tufts community today. The class includes hard-to-find talent in euphonium, ukulele, harmonica and tuba; a New Delhi poet who published a book called Confessions of an Enlightened Teenager; and a Californian who created eight new languages (so far) as "a fun form of self-expression." Jumbo athletics will be enhanced by Florida's four-time state champion in rowing; South Carolina's Player of the Year in lacrosse; Olympic hopefuls in men's figure skating and competitive shooting; and a nationally-ranked half-pipe skier. More than 200 captains of at least one sport in high school; two dozen earned received All State recognition in 10 sports (as well as chess, cello, choir and violin) and four swimmers are Scholastic All Americans.

Freshmen are the children of the famous and not so famous. An antiquarian bookseller in The Hamptons; a taxi driver in Honolulu; and a retired Navy Rear Admiral from Virginia have children in the Class of ‘12. So does a Vietnamese manicurist in Santa Rosa, California; a baker for Whole Foods and a Mennonite nurse; a shrimp farmer in Guatemala and a shopkeeper in Paris; a mason in Maine and an astronomer in New Mexico. Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, a Turkish diplomat and a former US Secretary of the Treasury are all Jumbo parents. More than 11 percent of the new class—147 students—are the first members of their family to attend college while 90 are the sons and daughters of Tufts graduates. Thirty are the children of Tufts faculty and staff.

Some of these parents were rather creative when they named their children 18 years ago. At the risk of playing favorites, the New Mexican named "Speed" is intriguing but Kaiya Snow Namaste-Bercow and Kismet Lantos-Swett are also contenders as the Most Original Name in the first-year class. However, such exotic monikers are not the norm. In fact, many parents were attracted to the very same names when they perused the Name Your Baby book back in 1989. So here's a practical tip for class discussion: if you call on Katherine, Matthew or Alex, look around to see who responds. The class boasts 33 women named Katherine and 24 men named Matthew. There are also 23 women known as Sarah, 20 Michaels, 17 gals called Elizabeth and 16 guys named Daniels. But if the 34 men and women named Alex are united, it emerges as the #1 name in the freshman class.

The Class of 2012 is a particularly dynamic group of students filled with idealism, enthusiasm and questions. They share a palpable optimism about how they will use their intellect to find solutions to contemporary problems; how they will lead with integrity and wisdom; and how Tufts will enable their aspirations to take root. "Tufts will push me outside my comfort zone into a place completely unfamiliar," Harrison Jacobs of New City, New York noted in his application. "I want an education that makes me look outside the comfy box I've put myself in and (to) be forced to interact with cultures and people that are completely different from me." His new classmate, Clinton Oxford from Medfield, Mass., concurs: "Tufts is like a prism, an astonishing medium that will enhance and alter my current world view, forcing me to observe life through more discerning lenses... I am certain Tufts will provide me with a new vocabulary that will redefine my world."

The Tufts Class of 2012 has arrived and the University has been transformed anew.


Photos of Lee Coffin by Melody Ko, University Photography

This story originally ran on Aug. 27, 2008.