PERSPECTIVE: Wrong that college acceptances define students

Allison Lazarus

By Jayne Caron, ’10, The Lens Section Editor

For a month I was practically the only senior to not be accepted into any college. Although theoretically I knew that it was unlikely I would be rejected from all 16 of the colleges I had applied to, that fact did not alleviate the knot I got in my stomach whenever a friend, teacher, or neighbor asked where I had gotten in.

The email I received from Stanford University (pictured) in mid-December was short and glib, reassuring me that I was an outstanding applicant but, unfortunately, they could not accept me at the present time. Instead of residing among the treasured elite eight percent, I was part of the more mundane and uninspiring 92% who were rejected in the early round from the esteemed “Harvard of the West.” Sure, I had prepared myself for this likely rejection.  I had listened to the speeches from my parents, college counselor, and friends that no matter how qualified I was, getting into Stanford was still all about luck. Yet the rejection sunk into the pit of my stomach. I felt ashamed and humiliated, as if I had let down my school, my teachers, and my peers. Perhaps some of these feelings came from my own personality, but I also believe that at some level, the culture at CCDS and many other high schools are to blame as well.

Jayne burning her Stanford rejection letter
Jayne burning her Stanford rejection letter

Although as of last week I am now unofficially into a great school, for an entire month-plus I felt like I had let our school down. Sure, no one made me feel bad about my rejection, and most teachers were supportive and encouraging, telling me that “Stanford was missing out.” My parents even threw a ceremonial bonfire and we burned my Stanford sweatshirt and information packets, along with, they hoped, my disappointment.

But I do think that CCDS’s focus on getting students into big-name Ivy League (or similarly prestigious) institutions has created an environment where the name of the college we’re attending, and the classes we took to get there, define our identities at school. We should absolutely feel proud of our Yale, Dartmouth, Wesleyan, Amherst, etc. admits.  Congratulations are definitely in order, and all of our admitted seniors deserve kudos.  However, there is a difference between a brief few moments of congratulations and literally introducing a high school senior with the name of the college they were accepted into. Congratulations are in order, but what makes each of us special is not the college we got into but the person we are.

Yes, I was rejected from Stanford. But I am so much more than that rejection.  But why do I along with my friends mock the University of Phoenix Online, Alaska Bible College, and other less prestigious colleges? We pride ourselves on being individuals, on respecting people for who they are and not just on the institutions they associate themselves with, yet there is a palpable undertone of approval or disapproval of certain colleges based on their perceived caliber and reputation. We all are tempted to mock those schools that we deem to be beneath us. Yet is it really my place to judge the appropriateness of a college for my classmates or for those at other schools? Shouldn’t I take my own advice and view each person as an individual, not categorize them by the reputation of the institution they plan to attend?

CCDS prides itself on cultivating the individual – a place where every student is “known and nurtured.” In such a small community, we have the opportunity to explore our limits, in academics, athletics, and extracurriculars. So why then do the same 15 people participate in all of the academic and science competitions every year? Why have I had basically the same eight people in all of my classes since freshman year? I have grown to love these eight peers of mine, and I have enjoyed challenging, growing and learning together with them through the trials and tribulations of high school.

But I have also been severely limited in who I can engage in academic discussion with, oftentimes missing out on the differing and diverse viewpoints of those seniors who are not on the honors track. While I was thrilled to be inducted into the Cum Laude Society, the award ceremony made me uncomfortable. I felt simultaneously judged and judging as I looked at the rest of the school from the stage. Although  I believe  we should reward academic excellence, it can feel limiting and discouraging to be defined by my GPA, which places me in direct comparison with my peers, making  clear distinctions about who makes the cut and who doesn’t. I do not have an answer to any of these concerns. But I do feel that there are divisions within our school which need to be addressed and acknowledged even if they cannot entirely be remedied.

I am proud of my GPA, just as I am sure Anna Lemen is proud of her softball, Joey Fritz of his tennis, Sebastian Koochaki of his precise and rapid titrations, and Cam June of his penchant for being kicked out of public places. I am proud of my GPA not because it defines who I am as a person, but rather because it reveals an aspect of myself, a passion for knowledge I have nurtured.

I should not have to feel ashamed because Stanford did not accept me. Their rejection did not change this aspect of who I am. Despite their decision, I still watch Lifetime movies at 3 a.m., sing loudly and off-key in my car to indie rock, drink (too much) Diet Coke, and laugh with my friends.  I am still Jayne Caron. A student’s identity and legacy at CCDS should not be tied to the prestige of the college they chose to attend. Instead, we should value each student for who they are and what they bring to CCDS, academically and otherwise, Ivy acceptances be what they may.

Stanford campus photo of businessweek.com.  Letter burning photo courtesy of Jayne Caron.