What you do with where you are and with what you have will lead to success, no matter how you define it.

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As a child of the ’70s, my parents frequently told us stories. They instinctively gravitated to what they had read.

My father hailed from a small farm in Oregon and a large family.  My mother came from a single-parent, “Rosie the Riveter” family in Santa Monica and  a vastly different childhood than my dad. But they both shared their love for the written word. Books were free and available, so they read, voraciously. And into their child rearing, these stories were carried.

After college and working for a defense contractor, my husband and I married and had four children. We agreed on the “big stuff” and went for it.  I navigated with high expectations and mutual respect.

While my husband’s childhood was vastly different, stories were also a central theme and tool used to imbue curiosity, independent thought and a love for knowledge.

Before we knew it, we were face to face with the college-application process. We did a bit of research, attended a few seminars and visited some schools.  We discussed letters of recommendation, activities, volunteering and “the college essays.”

Our kids did not fall into any “categories” — underrepresented minority status, legacy or recruited athlete. We lived by, “do the best you can where you are with what you have.” Elite camps, reaching out to contacts for high-profile internships, or assisting in seeking top awards in international science or art competitions were not part of their experience. Nor were pricey SAT/ACT prep classes.  None had won international awards, or math competitions, or earned a perfect GPA or SAT scores. They applied to anywhere from 13 to 20 schools.

And all four were accepted at Ivy League colleges; and three attended. Since our children were all born in a span of six years, thus very close together in age, the needs-based aid offered and accepted made our costs roughly equivalent to attending in-state schools.

Their acceptance into top colleges had my husband and I  stumped. Of course to us, it all made perfect sense, but without the “parent” factor in the equation, the conclusion became foggy.  They had all gained access into schools with acceptance rates of just 5 to 9 percent. What was it these schools saw in all of our children?

We had a hunch.

In raising our family, books were an obsession; we went nowhere without them. Through middle school, I read stories aloud to them that they would not read on their own. And they lapped it up.

So, what’s so special about words?  Stories fed their curiosity, developed their patience, provided them a way to express their thoughts,  feelings and conclusions. They gave birth to independent thought.  Discussions of plot twists, surprises, confusing jargon and the use of creative language were plenty. They experienced style, theme, rhythm. They learned vocabulary.  They gained an understanding of people, places, diseases, sagas, mysteries, legends, heartbreaks, histories, languages and religions. And they were taught the art of the written word — the ability to delight, to entertain.

Colleges speak often of a holistic approach to acceptance. Isn’t part of “holistic” the ability to think, write and express oneself in an advanced, creative way?

Our kids tackled the essay portion of their college applications with gusto. They saw prompts as launchpads to creativity.

Our eldest wrote about Tantalus of Greek mythology. The Linux Kernel, transistors, electromagnetic waves and Game Theory were discussed in detail.

Another of our boys wrote of Glenn Gould and Richard Feynman.  Seeing a bit of himself in both of them, he was able to write coherently and convincingly.

Our daughter took a quote from the book “The Martian,” by Andy Weir.  She offered how the first colonization of Mars might develop. She waxed and waned on Chaucer, Johann Meckel and the development of language.

So, we aren’t really at the end of the story yet.  What our kids do with their education is on them.  And we have high hopes not merely because of their access to top-level schools, but of what books have done for them.  For we have always believed that it is what you do with where you are and with what you have that will lead to success, no matter how you define it.