Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Did the Mail Come Yet?

It used to be that April 15th was as relevant to high school seniors as it was to their parents.  While the grown-ups were busily putting the final touches on their tax forms before dropping them into the mailbox, the seniors were lined up on the curbstones, waiting for the first glimpse of the mail carrier. 

College acceptance letters were received on April 15th.  It was a big day.

Now, with the proliferation of rolling and early admissions, the process is more diffuse.  Some students know where they're going before Thanksgiving, adding a touch of Congratulations to their holiday celebrations.  Some find out that they're not going where they wanted to go, that they will be spending their holidays finishing applications to schools that are okay but not what I wanted.  All that parental encouragement to finish those other applications so they would be ready to slip into the mail if the worst occurred seem oddly prescient all of a sudden. It doesn't make completing them any easier, though.

This is the first time that kids really stand on their own. Unless Dad or Mom is a Trustee or a major donor there's really no one on the admissions side who wants to hear their kids' tale of woe.  Judged on their own accomplishments, taken or refused based on what they wrote and what they have done, their egos are very much on the line.

As Big Cuter sighed while waiting for his Georgetown letter, it's a very personal matter.  "I just want them to like me, Mom."

I wanted to go to University of Pennsylvania more than anything in the whole wide world.  I wanted an urban campus a train ride away from my east coast anchors - NYC and Washington, DC.  I wanted to walk where Ben Franklin walked.  Unfortunately, they didn't want me.

I remember G'ma's insistence that I go to school, just as I did on every Tuesday.  How have I remembered that it was a Tuesday?  1969 was a long time ago; right now it feels like yesterday. Altering her usual routine, G'ma promised that she would meet the mailman at 11 and drive the envelopes over to the high school so that I could open them right away.  It was a compromise, but one I could tolerate.  G'ma didn't believe in mental health days - if you were breathing, you went to class.

The clock couldn't have ticked more slowly.  The bell could not have rung more loudly.  It was the end of 4th period, and I ran to the door by the gym and there, in the car, sat my future.  I stopped in my tracks and took a moment. It may have been the first time in my life that I stood still and noticed where I was and what I was doing.  I knew that my life was about to change.  My future was in the front seat.

The Penn envelope was slim.  It doesn't take many words to crush a teenager's dream.  They didn't want me.  No explanation, beyond the facts that a lot of smart kids had the same idea that I had and, unfortunately, the school could not accommodate all of us.  There was a dark, rushing sound in my ears. 

The fat envelope from Cornell helped assuage the pain.... a little.  I'd spent the summer after my Junior year in Ithaca, taking economics and falling in love with the campus.  I knew I'd be happy there (and I was) but it wasn't what I wanted.  I'd let myself down.

G'ma was there, as always, with tissues and a comforting pat.  But that was all.  There was no wallowing, no time for self-pity, no reason to mourn.  The Ivy League still wanted me, even if it meant spending time in the verdant hills of upstate New York instead of the gritty streets of downtown Philly. I could get an education, and, with the help of the State of New York and its Regents' Scholarship Program, the cost would be minimal.  I should be happy that I had a good alternative and I should wipe my tears and get back to class.

That's G'ma...... accept it and move on because what else can you do.  It feels as harsh to type it as it did to go through it but it was also the right thing to do.  The halls were filled with seniors with smiles and seniors with distraught oh my God what will I do faces and I don't know how (or why) our teachers taught us anything that afternoon.  We were focused forward; the here and now had suddenly become the past.

And now, 40+ years later, I have received Cornell's list of accepted students from Southern Arizona.  I and my volunteer colleagues have contacted and reported on dozens of applicants.  Four of them have been offered the chance to become Cornellians... one of them with a prestigious University sponsored scholarship/leadership award.  For the others, the talented, athletic, brilliant others, their dreams are quashed. 

We aren't allowed to ask where else they've applied, so I have no idea if they were smart to stretch to Ithaca while having plenty of safer back-ups ready just in case.  I don't know if they'll be as resilient as Little Cuter was when, denied rolling admission to her first choice school, she tossed the envelope aside and said "C'mon, Mom.  If they don't want me I don't want them.  Let's go apply to colleges."

The walk down the hall to her computer seemed longer to me than it did to her.  She was energized, ready to take action, turning lemons into lemonade.  I had a broken heart - my baby wouldn't be riding a pink moped through the streets of Madison, Wisconsin and there was nothing to be done to fix it.  Nothing to be done by me, that is.  She fixed the problem handily, applying and being accepted to all those schools whose applications she completed that awful (to me) week. 

Rejection wasn't the end of the world for either of us, it seems.  It just felt like it, at the time, to me.


  1. Necessary addendum-- I was finally accepted to Wisconsin... Sheesh.

  2. The Cheeses are glad you wound up in Bloomington instead! xoxoox

  3. The Cheeses are glad that you wound up in Bloomington instead! xoxo

  4. MOTG is VERY glad you wound up at IU!


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