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By Andrea Peyser
May 6, 2016
If only we could all be Malia Obama.
President Obama’s very tall, very fabulous first-born first daughter is heading to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. — depressing her dad and angering the rest of us poor zhlubs by first taking a “gap year.’’
This is known in some circles as a kid’s yearlong invitation to slack off, contemplate her navel and tell the world, “I’m richer than you are.’’
The gap year has grown from a thing practiced mainly in Europe into a veritable industry in the United States. One may qualify for financial aid to help pay for studying endangered tree frogs in Africa, or whatever. But with few programs paying a stipend, and even more costing up to $40,000, they can be mighty steep, even at a discount.
Plus, youngsters can’t get back the 12 months of potential sloth, guarantee they’ll replace brain cells lost due to cranial atrophy, or be motivated to again study algebra when back in school.
“It’s a present — give them a Maserati or a gap year,’’ Amanda Uhry, founder and chief executive officer of Manhattan Private School Advisors, told me. Her firm helps place about 1,250 kids a year, from prekindergarten through university age, in hard-to-get-into schools.
Four out of 10 of her clients who’ve taken gap years haven’t returned to class, Uhry said.
“Their parents are mad! Those who are self-directed and genuinely interested in what they’re doing — such as working with blind kids or kids with cancer — that’s great,’’ she said.
“But those are few and far between.
“Parents who arrange for their kid to go to Micronesia to save seashells — that’s bullsh–t!” said Uhry. “Gap years are for the rich. It turns into a big vacation a lot of the time. Is a poor kid going to take a gap year? Forget it! ‘’ With the cost of tuition climbing each year, “They can’t afford it.’’
Word came from the White House on Sunday that Malia — who at 6 feet, 1 inch, stands as tall as her father and 2 inches taller than her mom — is taking a year off before entering Harvard’s class of 2021 in the fall 2017 semester, when she’s 19 years old. She turns 18 this coming July 4.
The president and First Lady Michelle, famously tight-lipped about their eldest daughter and her sister, Sasha, 14, haven’t revealed how or where Malia will spend her days and nights in the coming year.
But in February, the president waxed mistily on the Ellen DeGeneres Show about Malia’s high-school graduation next month from the elite, private Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC.
“Malia is more than ready to leave, but I’m not ready for her to leave,” he said. “And I was asked if I would speak at her graduation, and I said, ‘Absolutely not,’ because I’m going to be sitting there with dark glasses, sobbing. Yeah, she’s one of my best friends. And it’s going to be hard for me not to have her around all the time.’’
Gap years are promoted by the American Gap Association (it exists), an accreditor of gap-year programs whose officials estimate that 30,000 to 40,000 Americans, and growing, take them. Also by William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, and two other school officials who warned in a chilling essay posted on the school’s Web site that too much academic pressure, too soon, may be hazardous to youngsters.
“Faced with the fast pace of growing up today, some students are clearly distressed, engaging in binge-drinking’’ — this is new? — “and other self-destructive behaviors,’’ they wrote.
These ills, they contend, may be cured by time off.
I guess today’s hyper-coddled students must be given “safe spaces’’ to protect them from the cruelty of being forced to grow up.
Malia seemed to be waiting until after her dad leaves office in January 2017 before starting her studies.
She could have followed Chelsea Clinton’s lead and moved across the country to California’s Stanford University while her dad was still president.
In a year, my daughter is set to graduate from high school. Will she take a year to backpack through Tibet or lounge around our house in her jammies?
I don’t think so.
Her dad and I aren’t made of money. My kid will have to grow up on schedule.>