How Scholarships Help: Issa Wilson ’18

29 April 2015

Issa Wilson ‘18
Herb ’73 and Barbara Fritch Scholars Program

As a top swimmer and a top student in high school, Issa Wilson got used to people telling him he was special. In fact, he often agreed with them.

That’s what made his first term at Carleton so rough.

“I came in with a bit of a superiority complex,” he admits. “I thought I was super awesome, and I interpreted all information in ways that would reinforce what I already knew.”

Things began to get better for Issa after he read Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite by William Deresiewicz; Issa says it transformed him.

“I don’t know where I would be …” Issa muses. “The book helped me put a lot of things in perspective.”

Among other things, Deresiewicz attacks the famous college ranking system by U.S. News and World Reports and rails against stress and exhaustion many high school students put themselves through during the overly competitive college admissions process. 

Issa recognized himself in that description. Before being admitted to Carleton, he applied to a dozen colleges and obsessed over college rankings. That competitive spirit followed him to campus; initially, he was competitive with his peers. “I wasn’t relating with my peers as people,” he says. “I saw them all as competitors.”

Now, Issa says he relates much better to his peers eye-to-eye and has gotten involved in student activities and clubs. He went on the Book Across the Bay trip with the CANOE club, and he’s also tutored first graders with the America Reads and Counts program in Northfield public schools. “Working with first graders is always a highlight of my day,” he says.

But perhaps most importantly, Issa has started a book club with his advisor to facilitate discussions of the book that impacted him so significantly. Issa’s experience of a rude awakening isn’t unique, and about two dozen students, faculty, and staff have signed up to share their take-aways from Excellent Sheep. The group discusses the role and purpose of higher education as well as Carleton’s role within that landscape.

With his social life on track, Issa is now trying to determine a major—likely it will be English, mathematics, psychology, or some combination of those three. While he has embraced the fact that he doesn’t need to be the best at everything, he still strives to learn as much as he can. But what motivates him now is the learning itself—not simply the drive for good grades.

“In high school, people didn’t want to talk about academics,” he says. “Here, more often than not, people will bring up something from class, and it will be casual and fun. What you learn in the classroom doesn’t stop there.”

Life, he says, is so much more enjoyable now. He came to Carleton assuming that college would make him happy. And it has – but not in the way he expected. Ironically, realizing that he wasn’t going to be the best allowed him to thrive in more ways than he ever could have known.

“I’ve learned to critically evaluate what I had been working towards and what success meant to me,” he says. “And I thank the donors of my scholarship to putting me in a position to learn more about myself and for helping me think critically about my purpose in life.”

Issa Wilson '18, recipient of 2013-2014 Herb '73 and Barbara Fritch Scholars Program

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