Parker Hershberger spent more than 10 years at The Orchard School before graduating in 2014. In a few months, he will graduate from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School and be on his way to Dartmouth College. Parker believes his Orchard education played a crucial role in his acceptance to an Ivy League school. Read our Q&A below where Parker gives advice to current Orchard students, recalls his most memorable moments as an Owl, and explains the importance of Orchard's Progressive education.
Parker, we are very proud of you and we are excited to see what you do next!
We heard that you were accepted to Dartmouth College. First of all, congratulations! What other colleges were you considering and why did you ultimately choose Dartmouth College?
As I began my college search process, I knew that I wanted to attend an institution on the East Coast. Additionally, I wanted a school with strong academics as well as a significant athletic presence. I was interested in continuing my swimming career at a collegiate level. My original list consisted of over ten schools. This past summer, I was offered recruiting trips at multiple schools. However, I only accepted visits to Dartmouth College, William and Mary, Georgetown and Williams College. My decision to attend Dartmouth was based on the liberal arts structure, small class size, and the flexibility provided by the quarter system. Additionally, Dartmouth offers numerous global learning opportunities and a wide array of extracurricular clubs and activities. Dartmouth’s emphasis on school history and tradition is an aspect of the college that is important to me. In many ways, Dartmouth reminds me of Orchard. In the final days before I had to decide where I would be attending next year, I received literature from the Dartmouth Admissions Office that pictured the tradition of students tapping maple trees and making their own maple syrup. This was the moment I knew for certain where I wanted to spend the next four years.
What will you be studying at Dartmouth and why?
Part of the reason I chose Dartmouth was because of its liberal arts structure and curriculum, allowing me the opportunity to take a variety of classes before determining my concentration. While I am undecided on my desired major, there are many areas of study that I find interesting. For example, I am interested in government and politics, but I am also interested in working for an NGO, or a bank. My dream is to one day hold public office in hope of bringing about positive change in our society. What excites me about Dartmouth is that I can continue to be curious and explore multiple options before finalizing my decision. I will not be required to declare a major freshman year and study within my major for four years. I can continue to grow as a student while finding my passion and make the decision the end of my sophomore year.
With Orchard being your educational foundation, how did our Progressive model specifically help you get to where you are today?
My Orchard education provided a strong foundation and contributed to my acceptance at Dartmouth. I certainly would not be the student I am today if it were not for the over ten years I spent at The Orchard School. I believe one of the most important characteristics a student can possess is intellectual curiosity and a love for learning. Every child is born curious, but that curiosity can be lost if you are not continually encouraged to explore, question and challenge ideas within the classroom. At a progressive school
like Orchard, intellectual curiosity is not only encouraged, but it is further developed. To this day, I love learning and look forward to continuing my academic journey over the next four years.
In addition to fostering my intellectual curiosity and nurturing my love of learning, Orchard helped me develop strong communication skills and learn the value of teamwork. Orchard taught me the importance of expressing my point of view as well as the value of listening to the other person’s perspective. Being able to communicate effectively and listen with understanding is something that is lacking in society today. I believe Orchard helps students develop a compassion and understanding for others while teaching you how to express your thoughts and opinions respectfully. From a young age, Orchard emphasized the importance of teamwork and collaboration. I learned how to work with my peers to accomplish a common goal. The multiple presentations, projects, discussion groups, etc. that I participated in at Orchard helped me fine-tune my communication skills and develop a comfort level in working with others.
You mentioned being at Orchard for more than a decade. What are some of your fondest memories from that time?
Preschool: One of my most fond memories from preschool is “being the king of big blocks” in Ms. Wingate’s class. I never wanted to leave the big block area.
Elementary School: My all-time favorite memory of elementary school is participating in the fourth grade play- “Who Knew There Would be Ghosts”.
Middle School: My favorite memories from middle school are obviously all of the middle school field trips, but also re-enacting the British taxation of the colonists with Mrs. Fidler, and the seventh grade musical, Brigadoon.
I think it is extremely hard to pick specific memories from Orchard that I am fond of because what makes Orchard special are all of the little moments. Moments like Teacher Appreciation Day, 12 days of Christmas at Winter Pageant, history class with the dynamic Mrs. Fidler, celebrating the 700th win with Mr. T, and completing the high ropes course challenge. It is the Orchard experience as a whole that makes The Orchard School a very special place to learn.
You’ve spent more than half your life at Orchard. In what ways do you envision Orchard being part of your future?
As an Orchard alumni, I hope to always remain involved in The Orchard School. I credit Orchard with much of my development as a student and a person, so I believe that I owe it to the Orchard community to give back and remain connected. My sister, Meredith, is currently in the fifth grade and I look forward to visiting her in the classroom when I am home on breaks.
We like to close with advice. What advice to you have for Orchard students hoping to pursue a degree at an Ivy League school?
I have a couple of thoughts for any Owl who hopes to one day attain admittance to an Ivy League institution. My first piece of advice is that there is no clear path to being accepted to an Ivy. It is not always the student with the perfect ACT or SAT score that gets in, or the kid with the two-page list of extracurricular activities. You need to find your passion and become totally invested. Do not spend time trying to involve yourself in clubs and activities that you do not enjoy. Be true to who you are, explore your interests and continue to challenge yourself.
My next piece of advice is not to have an Ivy or bust mentality. Do not limit yourself to looking at just the Ivy League schools, there are hundreds of phenomenal colleges to explore. You just need to keep an open mind and research the many options that are available.