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College Bound MAG
Two weeks ago I was checking my e-mail when I clicked “refresh” and was greeted by the familiar AOL voice, “You've got mail.” Then I saw the sender, and my heart skipped more than just a beat.
Dear Ms. Lydia Shapiro,
We are very sorry to inform you that you will not be offered a place in the class entering Emory University this fall.
I didn't even bother to read the rest of my gracious rejection.
When I called Grandma to tell her about the e-mail, she thought it was a spam letter. She proceeded to tell me that my actual letter would come in the mail. I felt like a failure.
My parents decided that on the drive back home from Boca we would stop at Vanderbilt University. I'm excited for my billionth college tour, where you roam a large campus as the tour guides spit random statistics at you. “We have more bathroom stalls than any school in the Big East.” Or, “We are home to the largest squirrel population. For every student, there are four squirrels.” Of course we'll choose to pay forty grand a year to that fine institution for the sheer number of bathroom stalls and the high squirrel-to-student ratio.
Legend has it that when you step onto a college campus you can immediately tell if you belong there. They say it takes like five minutes before you just know. Kind of intimidating, huh? I mean, I have never been one to believe tall tales, but nevertheless I am interested to see what Vanderbilt has to offer.
We park and follow the signs to Undergraduate Admissions. I sign in, just another name added to a list of thousands. They split the sixty of us into groups of fifteen. Our tour guide goes by Buddy, and he fits every aspect of his name. An aspiring singer-songwriter from Texas, he greets us with a friendly, “How ya'll doin'?” Despite the khakis and light blue button-down, you know his outfit of choice is denims and a cowboy hat.
The more Buddy talks, the more the red-bricked campus breathes life. He is a sophomore frat boy who strongly advises us to participate in Greek life to avoid “social suicide.” He gives us fewer of the usual stats and more local insight. He talks of a place around the corner where you can get a fried cookie dough egg roll. Or the Pancake Pantry, just a five-minute walk, where you'll find the world's best sweet potato pancakes.
He walks us back to Undergraduate Admissions, which signals the end of the tour. We erupt into applause, and he blushes as he leaves. Now comes the frightening part – the interview. My stomach begins to churn. Everyone knows the first impression can make or break you.
“Lydia Shapiro, Mr. Peterson can see you now,” calls out the secretary. “His office is straight, then to the right.” Why do I always have to go to the bathroom at the worst possible time? Okay, focus. Stand up straight, smile, and shake his hand.
“Hello, Lydia. It's always nice to meet a student from my hometown. How is the Music City treating you?” I am always surprised how young the admission counselors are in real life. In my head I picture middle-aged individuals, who in one motion stamp either “Approved” or “Denied” by your name. They are the hero and the villain, the dream-maker and the dream-breaker.
“Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. Honestly, I haven't seen much of the Music City yet, but my stomach is growling for a fried cookie dough egg roll, so hopefully we'll go to Jackson's Place this afternoon.”
“Excellent choice! You really can't go wrong with all the great food options.” An awkward pause. After all, this is not an official interview; Vanderbilt does not conduct them. So I begin to chat about how great the tour was and how the campus is so beautiful. It's hard to do that without sounding like a certified suck-up. We talk a bit about my volunteering at animal shelters and my participation in Student Council.
Then it happens. He looks at his watch. I know I might be misreading the simple act, but I get paranoid. It's as if he thinks the occasional nod and “mhmmm” will convince me I have his full attention. In reality, he is probably thinking I'm just one of a thousand typical Vandy girl applicants: blonde, Caucasian, good grades, a volunteer claiming she loves helping others because it warms her heart. Someone who says Vanderbilt has been her dream since she was six. Then his thoughts will drift off, wondering if the guys are headed to the Predators game later.
When I finally ask him if he has any questions for me, he shakes his head. I thank him for his time and leave. A chill runs through my body. My future is hanging by a thread.
My family decides to stop at Jackson's Place. I can't even taste the sweetness of the fried cookie dough egg roll. My body is numb from my taste buds to toes. My mother is on a tangent. “Did you know that my friend Shelly said it is better to visit a college campus on a sunny day than a rainy one? Think about it! Jason went to Pitt on a sunny day, now he goes there. Sylvie visited Colgate on a sunny day, now she goes there.” Blah blah blahhh ….
“Maybe I'll do a gap year,” I interrupt.
“NO!” my parents say simultaneously.
“Why not? I think a gap year would be perfect. It would give me time to find myself. That way when I go to college I will have spent a year encountering the real world and will be better prepared.” Damn, that was corny. Why did I have to make air quotes around the “real world” part? I suddenly realize this ridiculous speech is an effort not to persuade my parents, but me.
“Absolutely not! Your father and I have spent too much time investing in your future to let you throw it all down the drain in two seconds.” Here comes the Great Aunt Barb story. “You are so lucky to even be able to attend college. Your Great Aunt Barb couldn't afford school. She was the oldest of four kids, and every one went to college but her. If she heard you talking like this, she would rise from her grave. You understand, young lady?”
“Mom, I am not saying I won't go to college. All I'm saying is that I might take a year hiatus.”
“Hiatus shmiatus. No means no. End of discussion.” I see my dad in the corner of my eye, grinning. It's the I-am-staying-out-of-it grin; I recognize it a mile away.
He pays for the snack, and we get in the car. Twelve hours from now I will be home sweet home. The car ride is pretty silent, so I take out the college Bible: Fiske Guide to Colleges. If you want it, Fiske's got it. With approximately 750 pages, there's information on every college in America. I am pretty sure the book can also double as a weight for lifting; I mean it practically weighs a bajillion pounds.
As I skim its contents, I feel uneasy. What if, out of the thousands of schools, none of them wants me? There is so much competition out there. The only thing separating me from someone else could be an extracurricular, or an SAT score, or a recommendation, or an internship. I knew I should have taken freshmen year more seriously! I knew I should have retaken the SAT one more time! I knew I should have challenged myself with one more AP class! I knew I should have ….”
“Lydia, are you car sick? You look awfully green. Do you want Dad to stop at this rest stop?”
“No, Mom, I'm okay.” I really need to stop worrying. I take out my iPod, put on my head phones, and hit play.
“Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing is gonna be all right. Singin' don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing is gonna be all right!”
Oh, Bob Marley, you are like the Yoda of reggae. Maybe you are right. After all, I can't waste senior year worrying about the inevitable. My eyelids begin to feel heavy, and I close them.
POKE. My whole body twitches in response to the stab. I awaken to my mom's face two inches from mine. One of her hands is in position, threatening to poke again.
“Honey, you slept the entire ride. We're home.” She isn't kidding. I look out the window, suddenly aware of my surroundings.
We unload the car, and I carry my suitcase to my room. Then it hits me – in one year this room of memories will not be mine anymore. I hope my parents don't renovate it into an office, or worse – a man cave.
I scrutinize my private sanctuary and exhale a sigh of relief. For some reason, I'm always amazed how everything is just how I left it. As I continue to look, I notice the laptop on my desk, just waiting for my return. I grab it and log on. My fingers automatically type in Facebook, before I can even protest.
The News Feed appears and I see all the latest college updates: “Amherst class of 2017!!!” followed by 200 likes and “BRITT got into PITT!” Then I look at my friend Selma's wall. “Got accepted to Dartmouth! YAY:) HERE I COME!!!!” I cannot help but cringe. Two weeks ago Selma received a letter of blue and gold too.
Dear Selma Roberts,
We are pleased to offer you a place in the class entering Emory University this fall ….
I remember faking a smile as we hugged. I was both jealous and happy she got accepted. Now I realize that Emory was her safety school. Overqualified students should not be allowed to apply to safety schools. If they do, an alarm should go off: “SAFETY ALERT!”
I go downstairs and make coffee; it's going to be a long day. Hoping a boost of energy will kick in, I proceed with my task. No turning back now. If Selma can have safety schools, then so can I. I apply to three schools outside my comfort zone, three schools in my comfort zone, and three safety schools. I used to think all these applications were excessive, but it turns out to be more common than I thought. I read in The New York Times that the average student applies to more than nine schools.
Twelve hours later, and nine applications complete, I finally go to bed feeling accomplished. It only takes one school ….
Just as I am about to fall asleep I catch a glimpse of my alarm clock: 11:11. Make a wish.
“You've got mail.”
As I click on the e-mail, I fear a deja vu moment. I hesitantly open the message.
Dear Lydia Stevens,
We are pleased to offer you a place next year ….
For the first time in four years, I know my hard work has paid off.