Seventeen year-old Berling Chen is graduating from the City of Ten Thousand Buddha's high school, Developing Virtue High School (DVHS) this June, and she will be the school 's fourth graduate. She has been accepted into the following universities: Stanford, Yale, Rice (Texas), University of Washington (Seattle), UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UCLA. From UC Davis, Berling was awarded a Regents' Scholarship, a merit scholarship that covers full financial needs and which only eighty-five out of the more than 20,000 applicants are awarded. Her final decision on which school to attend will await financial aid results from the remaining colleges this Spring.
In answering many of her college applications, Berling wrote about life as a boarding student at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, mentioning such activities as Buddhist ceremonies and volunteer work. Rice University's application asked the applicants to fill an empty square with something that appealed to them. Berling drew a beautiful, moving picture of Shakyamuni Buddha and wrote in the four corners of the square, Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Renunciation.
Berling feels that her Buddhist background and the experience of living in a monastery gave a boost to her college applications, because the better universities want students from diverse backgrounds with unusual talents. Furthermore, since Developing Virtue High School is a small and unique school, its students have an excellent chance of getting into good colleges, as long as their grades are consistently high.
Four years ago, Berling's mother decided to transfer her to DVHS after a semester at St. Francis High School. She felt that teenage years were the time when a child would become either a good or bad person, thus they were the most critical period in a person's life. Thus she wanted her daughter to study in the best possible environment.
As Berling grew used to being a vegetarian and going to school in the City, her father stopped worrying about her withdrawing from St. Francis. Since DV was a rural high school, Berling's mother was concerned about her daughter's ability to enter college. Berling's father has a M.A. from UC Berkeley, and her mother had to discontinue Ph.D. study, also at UC Berkeley, in order to raise Berling.
Comparing DVHS with other American schools, Berling feels that DV lacks the intense social pressure regarding boys, clothes, and popularity that pervaded both her grade school, and her first high school. Another advantage to DV is that it lives up to its name: it develops virtue in its students. Berling says in her experience, many of the top schools in the area, which may be excellent in academics and athletics, still neglect character development.
Since DVH School is unable to provide a full range of courses, the school arranges for students for take certain classes at the nearby Mendocino Community College. By the time she graduates, Berling will have taken eight classes at community colleges (Mendocino and De Anza), classes which she feels were helpful toward the SAT. Developing Virtue High School's first graduate, Shari Epstein, (class of 1988), who now attends Stanford, also took many community college classes while at DVHS. Shari's community college credits were accepted by Stanford, allowing her to graduate this June with a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Asian Studies. In the fall, she will pursue a Ph.D. in Asian Studies at Stanford.
"Math classes at DV are great, "Berling says. "We use Saxon math books, which are incrementally developed. Saxon makes difficult subjects understandable, and makes math seem like an enjoyable game." Her math scores on college entrance exams speak well for DV's math curriculum: 99th percentile on PSAT math, 94th percentile for SAT math, and a 770 on the Math II ACH." My Chinese teachers have all done a splendid job; they taught us the language as well as the philosophy, combining textbook knowledge with insights into life. I also took a dynamic English class from a Dharma Master, where we used college freshman texts and had to spew out essay after essay."
Berling feels that the City's pure and peaceful environment is ideal, because it allows her to focus on her studies. Her high score on the SAT and ACH prove the point. In fact, Berling scored in the 99th percentile on the verbal part of the SAT.
When an old Harker classmate recently told Berling that she hadn't been accepted into Stanford, Berling was quite surprised. "I was amazed when my friend and I compared college test scores and our lifestyles during high school," says Berling. "I had scored a lot higher that she did on many of the college tests, whereas at Harker, we had the same G.P.A. and similar results on standardized test scores. As for lifestyles, hers was much more wild." Berling guesses that her friend had too many social distractions and hence couldn't concentrate on her studies.
Berling does well not only in school, she is also good at basketball and art. In 1989, she won first place in a statewide poster contest. Berling enjoys teaching Physical Education in the girls' school and drawing people, animals, and Buddha images in her spare time. As for school and dorm life at the City, Berling says "Both were great!" The following is an excerpt from one of Berling's essays on her Stanford application:
"Working at and living in a monastery during high school has been an invaluable experience for me. Not only has my work exposed me to a peaceful, non secular lifestyle, but it has also allowed me to have close interaction with the nuns and laywomen, and observe firsthand their lofty morals and code of conduct. Whether we were cooking lunch for the rest of the community, gathering wood, or even scrubbing toilets, none of them ever complained or tried to shirk responsibility. Instead, each person strove to uphold the Six Principles the Abbot had stipulated: no fighting, not being greedy, not seeking, not being selfish, not pursuing personal advantages, and not lying. Observing the people in my community, I saw that a person achieves greatness not by what she has to show outside, but by what she has accomplished inside."