Brandon Hill: Taking a Year On
Imagine jumping off cascading waterfalls in Dominica, sharing a dance with children in a small village in Ghana, scaling the Great Wall of China as it ambles among the verdant tree-filled countryside, imbibing on spicy tea on an antiquated train rolling through jewel-toned India, taking in the remnants of slavery and apartheid in Cape Town, and bonding with your fellow esteemed young men in the hallowed and storied halls of Morehouse College.
Now imagine that those life-changing events are but only a few in a year filled with adventure, wonder and enlightenment.
Intrigued? Welcome to Year On; specifically, Brandon’s Hill’s Year On.
According to Julie Block, a counselor at Eden Prairie High School, most kids opt to matriculate into college right away, but for those who take that gap year, much like Hill has been doing, volunteering, traveling, and tutoring are usually at the top of the list.
Gap years are becoming an increasingly common practice at some local colleges, including the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. “We are seeing an increase in the number of students taking a gap year. This year we’re expecting about 100, which is up from about 50 in previous years,” says Dr. Wayne Sigler, director of admissions at the University of Minnesota. “I think the increase is due to the fact that gap year is getting to be more widely known; the students are talking about it more.”
Most students taking a gap year participate in service work, mission work, traveling or just working for a year to save up for college, Sigler says. The University reviews students taking gap years on an individual basis, but as long as they have a clear plan for the year, the admissions department will usually accept their deferral, he says.
Hill (who we featured in our Prep Elite story in August of 2010) graduated from Eden Prairie High School in 2010 with plenty of accolades. He was an AP Scholar with Distinction, Ron Brown Scholar, Kohl’s Kid’s Who Care National Scholar, and Kare11 Academic All Star. He had plans to matriculate into Stanford University in the fall of 2011, but admissions counselors encouraged him to take a year to travel, to see the world and to experience other cultures.
So that’s what he did.
“The announcement of my Year On was met with almost no skepticism,” Hill says. “My immediate family was very accepting of the idea, and gave me their prayers and well wishes. However, my friends were initially confused about the decision, not knowing what a gap year was or why somebody would take one. Overall, though, most people praised the decision as the perfect direction for me in my current season in life. And in this season, I think that I needed certain perspectives before starting college.”
As someone with a lifelong passion for travel, language, culture and diversity, Hill knew a trek around the globe would be the perfect way to quench his thirst for all. He sought sponsorship from Bloomington-based Best Buy, and he brought a video camera with him that allowed him to capture every moment. Hill is creating a “Year On” movie, and a documentary highlighting academic disparities, economic policy, and achievement gaps within differing cultures that will be shared with the Eden Prairie and Minneapolis Public School districts.
His first semester was spent in a domestic exchange at Morehouse College. “The Black college experience is a rich, vibrant tradition, like none other in the world,” Hill says. “I have shared moments I will always remember with people I could never forget. The vibrant social life coupled with the intense academic rigor of the institution has provided me with a nutrient-rich soil in which to grow and develop as a Black male.”
Hill’s experience at Morehouse was followed by a Semester at Sea that had him “circumnavigating the globe” and visiting multiple countries, experiencing myriad cultures, gaining knowledge and insight on issues ranging from globalization to iniquities of colonialism to slavery, and forming lifelong friendships with fellow students who shared the same exuberance and 600-foot ship.
Hill’s mother, Tori Hill, has seen this once-in-a-lifetime experience affect her son in dramatic fashion. “The entire gap year experience has been life changing for Brandon in so many ways that is very hard to put into words,” she says. “He has captured real-world experiences firsthand, and he has matured personally, mentally, physically, and socially.”
Hill, who has discovered a profound need to serve and a desire for self-discovery in his “year on,” recommends this option to students of all ages. “It gives you a year of experience, wisdom, and insight into yourself and the world,” he says. “It also provides a foundation upon which to construct a highly successful undergraduate career. With a gap year, literally, anything is possible.”
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