Mountlake Terrace senior shares view from the middle of the pack
By ERIC STEVICK
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The observations Chris Jensen offers up to the nation each month are not filled with insights about how to get admitted into Harvard.
A young woman from Kansas wrote those columns last year.
His, instead, provide the perspective of a student in the middle of the pack during his final year of high school in middle-class America. They are meant to inform rather than impress.
Jensen, a Mountlake Terrace senior, is writing the column for ACT Inc., the company behind the college entrance exam. His conversational diaries are being published in student magazines nationwide and on the company’s Web site, www.act.org.
Jensen is one of 2.9 million students expected to graduate from U.S. high schools this spring. He sees himself as another face in the crowd.
"I’m just an average guy living an average life," he wrote in his introductory column. "I wake up every morning, shower and head off to my second home — Mountlake Terrace High School."
That voice of "the average guy" was part of his allure to the testing company.
"We wanted someone who students can relate to," said ACT’s Kristin Crouse, who knew the Jensen family when they lived in Iowa years ago.
Jensen is the good son, the helpful brother, the football player, the student who prefers calculus to English and the guy with the part-time job at a bowling alley.
Like thousands of high school seniors, he is trying to figure out where he will go to school next fall. He’s looking for an in-state college that is the right fit for him, preferably one with a good teacher-training program, small professor-to-student ratios and an intramural bowling league.
At times, he said, his house feels like "college central" with all the brochures, financial aid forms, drafts of his resume and scholarship paperwork.
"The pressure is starting to get to me," Chris wrote in October. "I’m dealing with homework, sports, my job and — oh yeah — finding a college. I don’t have much time for anything else."
Well, he does have time for his mom’s visits to his room.
"She will just come in, give me a hug or a kiss on the cheek, and I’ll say, ‘What are you doing?" and she will say, ‘I’m not going to be able to do this next year.’ "
Chris realizes separation will be a two-way street. "I’m not going to be able to say, ‘Mom, what’s for dinner?’ "
His mother, Deb, is also writing regular columns for ACT from a parent’s point of view.
"We’ve raised him to take flight and pursue his own dreams," she wrote in a fall column. "And I certainly am not one of the mothers who wants her son to always be her little boy! OK, well, maybe I’m not totally ready to let go of the apron strings."
Even so, when her son is gone, "I just think I am going to be crying buckets of tears," she said.
What is sometimes lost in the crush of shining resumes, stellar grade point averages and top-notch college entrance exam scores is the essence of the applicant.
Jensen may describe himself as an average guy, but his politeness and respect for others is far above the high school norm, said Steve Gering, a Mountlake Terrace assistant principal.
Chris Jensen has a soft spot in his heart for special-needs children and has shared that in his monthly column. His younger sister, Whitney, has Joubert syndrome, a rare genetic condition characterized by neurological involvement, developmental delay, low muscle tone, and eye, liver and kidney problems.
Whitney, a student at College Place Middle School in Lynnwood, has achieved far more academically, physically and socially than many experts once predicted.
When she was 4, it was Chris who coaxed her into taking her first steps and called Mom and Dad to see for themselves. As she grew older, her brother helped with her athletic teams and recreational endeavors, such as bowling and skiing, which catered to children with disabilities.
Teaching Whitney has taught Chris that he wants to make a career out of working with young people.
"She kind of opened the door to me to become a teacher," he said. "I have seen her progress and have seen her defy what all the doctors said. You can’t really express it, but it’s a good, good feeling."