Lessons from the the Dolly Parton Podcast

I’m a podcast junkie, I love all kinds of podcasts from news to culture and even listened to a podcast series that dissected every Hamilton song (yes I am that much of a nerd). When the Dolly Parton’s America Podcast kept showing up at the top of my podcast feed, I ignored it. Thanks to friends who used to live in Nashville, I’ve become a bluegrass fan more recently in life, but didn’t grow up listening to Dolly Parton or any other country music for that matter. (Although I did love the soundtrack from 9 to 5). I caved one day, still skeptical about about how a whole series about Dolly Parton could keep me interested. Six weeks later, I’m hooked and get up early on Tuesdays (when new episodes are released) to listen to the show. While the podcast is about Dolly, it’s about so much more; American history, women’s rights, and country music more broadly. As an American History major, I am fascinated by how Dolly’s music is intertwined in our culture and history in so many ways. I am soaking up every second of my time with Dolly.

During this same period of time, while I’ve been listening to Dolly Parton’s America, my senior clients have been knee deep in essay writing. Writing a personal narrative is hard. It’s even more difficult for teenagers who don’t think they’ve done anything profound and/or who have never been asked to write this way before. When my students get stumped, I often tell them to write about their hobbies or things that they are curious about. What topic gets them down a wikipedia or reddit rabbit hole thinking and pondering their interests? What is something that isn’t reflected in your application that you could research or talk about for hours? I love to read and encourage kids to pick up a book as often as they can. But, podcasts, TedTalks, and videos are all other ways you can educate yourself and broaden your horizon.

I’m not suggesting that students should read or listen to podcasts for the sole purpose of their college essays, but I do think it’s important to be curious. Don’t spend so much time on all the things you think you should be doing that you forget to feed your brain and your soul. Maybe it’s a true crime podcast or a sports podcast (yes, even Joe Rogan counts!), or a reddit channel on the band you love. I have one student who saves all of her money from her after school job to go to concerts and music festivals. She talks about these experiences and music with such enthusiasm and passion that it’s infectious. What do you value? Be curious about things that are in line with your values and pursue them. I have tried to get my high schoolers to listen to Dolly Parton’s America so we can compare notes, but haven’t had any takers yet. Maybe once I listen to the Tyler the Creator podcast, I’ll have some interest.

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