"Gentlemen, 'For what came ye into the wilderness?' Not for conventional scholastic training; not for ranch life; not to become proficient in commercial or professional pursuits for personal gain. You came to prepare for a life of service...."
- From a 1923 letter by Lucien L. Nunn, founder of Deep Springs College
What is a "life of service"?
Andrew Kim reflects on that question often as he nears the end of his two years at Deep Springs. He won't know for certain until he's lived it, but if any place can offer glimpses of what it means, this unique desert-ranch college is it.
"I've never experienced a place before where my part in a community was so defined, and so necessary," he says during a rare hour of afternoon relaxation. "Before I came to Deep Springs, the idea of service to humanity was always sort of distant ... like community work that you put on a résumé.... But here it became something real."
At Cherry Hill East High School in New Jersey, Andrew had been on track for Harvard or Yale. When he chose tiny, nonconventional Deep Springs instead, he says, "it caused a lot of commotion." But, like him, his parents have grown to love the fact that he's here.
Deep Springs is a gift, Andrew says, one not to be taken for granted. "We have a very interesting relationship to each other here as students. We're classmates, we're fellow members of a student body that is a self-governing organization, we're roommates, we're friends, and we're also fellow laborers....
"At certain times, we need to criticize each other or critique each other. And it gets difficult when you and a friend of yours here have opposing opinions on issues.... Diversity is a challenge ... and that's something we learn here. You learn it because you can't run away from it."
They can sometimes take a break, though, whether it's a solo hike on a Saturday or, in Andrew's case, a backpacking trip in Europe during a term off in the summer. "Over my break, I didn't think about Deep Springs all the time, but I was able to evaluate my performance."
Self-evaluation and peer evaluation are both done formally at Deep Springs as well. Coming back for a second expenses-paid year is contingent upon making strides in academics, labor, and self-governance, the school's three "pillars." The Review and Reinvitations Committee - made up of students and staff - conducts interviews and reviews evaluations. Typically, students are invited back, but "we're always asking the question, why do you need a second year?... What goals [do you] have left to accomplish?"
Most Deep Springers transfer to another college after their time here. Some travel, work, or volunteer first. Andrew hasn't yet planned his next step, but he's interested in international relations and sometimes thinks about joining the Peace Corps or working with nongovernmental organizations.
No matter where his path takes him, though, this quietly confident young man is unlikely to ever stop thinking about how best to be of service.
"With other schools, the mission is to provide students with a great education or something, but the mission at Deep Springs is to prepare students for a life of service. For me ... until I have committed my life to service outside of Deep Springs, Deep Springs hasn't succeeded."