Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 14, 2013

Future full of opportunities

Mercer County student prepares for life at Stanford University

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — When he started applying to colleges last year, Stanford University was at the top of Adam Bowles’s list.

“I applied to West Virginia University, Pitt, Stanford and I wanted to apply to Yale, but Stanford notified me early that I had been accepted there,” Bowles said. “That was where I wanted to go.”

Bowles grew up in Mercer County, attended Glenwood School through the fourth grade and transferred to Mercer School in the fifth grade for the gifted school. He continued with the gifted program through secondary school, and graduated in May from Princeton Senior High School. He maintained a 4.3 grade-point-average in high school, scored a 2310 on his SAT test, and was valedictorian of his class.

“I haven’t selected a major yet, but I’m considering biology or molecular biology,” he said. “I would like to be able to travel and I want to incorporate the sciences in what I major in. The most important thing to me is to have a purposeful career.”

Bowles is an articulate, reserved yet confident young man. He is the son of Jodi Vaughan and First Sgt. Dwayne L. Bowles, commander of the Lewisburg detachment, West Virginia State Police. Bowles, 18, excelled academically at PSHS, but he also enjoyed marching with the PSHS Tiger Band where he played mellophone and French horn.

“Band was one of my favorite activities in high school,” Bowles said. “I’m going to be in the Stanford Band. There’s a great dynamic between the band and the university. I’m looking forward to being part of that.”

Indeed, the Stanford Band has been at the center of some very interesting moments in recent collegiate history. On Nov. 20, 1982, the band played an unintended role in the improbable ending of a game between the Cardinal and the University of California. Stanford took a one-point lead on a field goal with .04 seconds remaining in the game, but Cal’s receiving team executed five lateral passes, returning the Stanford kickoff for a touchdown. The return ended with the Cal return man smashing into a Stanford Band trombone player. The band thought the game was over and marching on to the field.

The 1982 Stanford team was led by the great John Elway. More recently, Andrew Luck — now with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL — the son of WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck, has brought national attention to the school, while Tiger Woods, one of the world’s greatest golfers, spent two years on the Cardinal golf team before turning pro. While Stanford’s athletic teams do not currently have a mascot, the Stanford Band’s mascot — a tree — is often considered an unofficial school mascot.

Perhaps even more impressive is that Stanford — sometimes affectionately called “The Farm” by students — is recognized as one of the world’s leading research and teaching institutions and boasts of having 19 living Nobel laureates, five Pulitzer Prize winners, along with other graduates who have been recognized with the highest honors available in several academic pursuits.

“It’s very intimidating because you never know who you will meet,” Bowles said. “During Admit Weekend, I was in the same room with a guy who is the eighth best Tetris player in the world.

“Still, it’s an inclusive community,” Bowles said. “They call it a bubble. The campus is located on 8,000 acres making it the second largest campus in the world.” Stanford is located in San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., in the heart of “Silicon Valley.” Leland and Jane Stanford established the college in 1891 “to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization,” according to Stanford’s web site.

“They do look for geographic diversity, but the admission counselors also look for an intellectual vitality in students,” he said. Of course, Bowles knows that his past success will not necessarily guarantee success at Stanford — a university that operates on the quarter system. He plans to take classes during the autumn, winter and spring terms. “I asked some of the current students about the pros and cons,” Bowles said. “There are three sets of exams every year instead of just two.”

The pressure to succeed at Stanford can transcend academic concerns. Bowles mentioned that he learned of a concept called “the Stanford Duck Syndrome” that can derail even the most determined students. The “duck syndrome” is Stanford’s paradox. It suggests in essence that the fear of failure can negatively influence a student’s way of thinking to such an extent that he or she might make decisions based on avoiding mistakes rather than embracing opportunities. Rather than trying to mimic a duck’s way of effortlessly floating on a pond, students should look beneath the surface to see the real challenges a duck faces.

“I’m excited,” Bowles said. “It’s daunting, but it’s also a great opportunity. I’d be lying if I said I think it’s going to be easy. Everyone at Stanford is so accepting.” He said that he thought that other students might treat him differently because of his West Virginia heritage, but: “They say: ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ and want to learn more. ‘Oh, why did you come to California?’ they ask.”

He said that there is one other West Virginian in the freshman class at Stanford, and that his first day at Stanford will be Sept. 17, with classes starting on Sept. 23. “There’s a young lady from Hurricane High School that is also going to Stanford,” he said.

“Financial aid is good,” he said, adding that there are some advantages that students from low income families have in getting grants. “Don’t believe the sticker price of $60,000 per year,” he said. Stanford University recently replaced Harvard as the hardest university to get accepted to in the U.S., with an acceptance rate of 5.7 percent.

For now, Bowles said that he hopes to get a bicycle to get around the campus. “They have the Caltrain commuter rail and the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system. It will be convenient to get around.”

Bowles said that he got the idea to attend Stanford in the summer before his junior year at PSHS. “I’m more toward the lazy side,” he confessed. “I spent that summer in China and I started seeing other students on a bigger scale.”

Bowles traveled to China and joined other students who were participating in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. He spent four-to-six hours daily learning Chinese. “It’s one of those things that if you don’t use it, you lose it,” he said. “I think I will be able to pick it up again. I’m interested in languages.”

He said that he understands that the path he has chosen will not be easy. “I know that Stanford is going to be hard, but I also see the opportunity there,” he said.

— Contact Bill Archer at