An article I wrote for a newspaper last year. Pretty please, always keep everything in perspective!
I have never been wildly popular. And while I blame my social ineptitude on the follies of Tiger Parenting, I guess I just never learned to be adept at social maneuvering.
So imagine my surprise when big barons of prestige — the closest institution America’s got to aristocracy — began sending attention my way with e-mails and letters addressed to a Ms. — not Mrs. — █. Suddenly, the idea of touring the East Coast over Spring Break became a possibility. The phenomenon had already begun to wring its hands around the neck of my junior class.
Oh, yes, I am talking about those unmistakable emblems and bold names of private institutions.
Those college e-mails. Those college letters. Those lines: “Your academic achievements suggest that you are looking for… I invite you to consider…”
These are the ways elite East Coast colleges initiate the intelligentsia’s peculiar mating ritual, performed like the dramatic throes of a bullfight. (Those people watching you finesse the red cape in front of that beast of college admissions? Those are your fellow classmates, teachers, guidance counselors, parents and the family you never knew you had, now flooding you with concerns and advice.)
We juniors are at the cusp of seniority; our last obstacle this hurdle through exams and internships in the college admissions process. Sure, some juniors are armed with impeccable scholarships and achievements, but the majority? The majority of us have trouble as it is with the menial task of bringing the correct texts to class.
Then again, it’s never been the majority who find themselves accepted into universities of neoclassical buildings emblazoned with banners of prestige. Those elite schools that produce Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prizes and presidents reject not just the majority but the overwhelming majority of juniors who straddle not only public or private schools but states and nations.
For those who care, it’s a threatening process, not least because it takes something incredulously personal and hurries it through a brutish beast of cogs and levers. Not least because it glances through a package that is somehow to stand as a representative of 12 years of academia and extracurriculars. Not least because it has the gall to mail rejection letters praising hard work and intellectual achievement with the heavy implication that that stuff you had wasn’t the right stuff. It is nigh impossible not to view this as some perverse evaluation of your worth as a human being. It is as if some jewelry examiner had forgotten that old adage about diamonds in the rough and callously tossed you away as petty carbon.
But it’s important to keep all of this in perspective. In a world made flat by technology and the Internet revolution, possibilities are limitless. What you do matters much more than where you go. Sure, social networks and politicking can be built through wealthy men at affluent institutions, but the same relations can be forged from online communication, letters, websites, ingenuity and industry.
Despite the arbitrary impression that a person’s future depends entirely upon the reputation of the school they attend, I have faith in the capabilities and faculties of the human spirit to see beyond this delusion. Both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of elite universities. And while time-tested universities facilitate the emergence of relations and opportunities, it’s always been a human being who took the initiative. A self-made man needs only resources and discipline to become grand.
Some people dream of success.
Others wake up and work hard at it.
Nothing in those envelopes and emails changes that fact.