No One Need Apply

[Free At Last, Foreword, pp. 9-11]

There were no appointments available.

By December, everyone who hoped to attend Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, had long since submitted their applications and made arrangements for an admissions interview. December was late to apply, almost certainly too late to see anyone.

That didn't stop Lisa. Every morning, shortly after 9:00, she got on the phone and dialed Wesleyan admissions. Every morning, a secretary took her call and said, "No openings." Soon her voice and her persistence were known to all the admissions people. She chatted with them, cajoled them, implored them. Week after week.

Why hadn't she applied on time, they would ask. She had, was her reply -- but not to Wesleyan. Her other applications were long since completed. But only just now had she been told by a friend and teacher that she must look into Wesleyan, the perfect school for her. She had visited the campus, talked to people there, and realized her friend was right. Wesleyan was for her. She knew it, and no matter how late her application, she was determined to have Wesleyan know it too.

An interview was essential. To get in, they had to evaluate her directly, look her in the eye, see what and who she really is. Of course, she had written the usual essays and answers on the printed form. But in one way her application was frighteningly different.

It had no grades, no transcripts, no written evaluations. None, not one, from all her years at school.

Lisa had gone to Sudbury Valley School. She had learned many things, but most of all she had learned that she had to make it on her own.

January 8th. "We have a cancellation. Can you come next Tuesday at 9:00 AM? The Dean of Admissions himself will see you." Ecstasy. Of course, she can come next Tuesday, any day, any time.

She arrives at the Wesleyan office. Everyone turns to look at her. So this is the girl who never stopped calling, never gave up. They smile at her, welcome her warmly. The Dean knows.

She disappears into the Dean's office for her fifteen minute audience . The other applicants are waiting their turns and their appointed times. A quarter of an hour passes. No Lisa. Half an hour. Three-quarters of an hour. What is going on in there? Finally, after an hour, the Dean emerges with her, both laughing. They go over to her waiting mother, where the Dean says only, "I hope Lisa decides to come. I think this is the right place for her."

The application, the interview, have worked. Twelve years of schooling, distilled Into a powerful essence, have achieved what they set out to do. She has been invited to attend. She accepts.

Every graduate of Sudbury Valley who wanted to attend college has a similar story to tell. All were accepted, most to their college of first choice. Many were invited. None had transcripts or any of the standard evaluations or recommendation forms.

They had more. They had their inner strength, their self-knowledge, their determination. And each time. in every college admissions office where they had applied, people wondered, "What kind of school is this that turns out such people? What is Sudbury Valley?"

This book is the story of a school, unlike any other that ever was. It took the best from a lot of other places, but the net result was something quite different, both ancient and modern, and endlessly intriguing.

This is a peek at a hotbed of rugged individualism, personal freedom, and political democracy -- a hotbed of American values, flourishing in an old New England town.