It is college admissions season, and I am the parent of a high school senior. So we are deeply enmeshed in the daily drama of emails from colleges and Facebook proclamations from friends. So far, things are going OK in our part of the world – returns are not yet fully in, but thus far our senior has been accepted at two wonderful schools that were at the very top of her list.
Of course, it is not all wine – ahem; grape juice – and roses; along with the acceptances have come a certain number of waitlists and we’re-sorry-to-inform-you’s. And it is clear that even with plenty of love coming from her favorite places, those rejections still sting.
As a parent, I try to model balanced reactions to the situation. I remind my daughter that she can only go to one school, after all, and that she has fabulous options; that she should be glad that she is not taking an admissions slot from some other kid at a school she is not likely to select; and that she needs to find her sense of self-worth from within, and not from a tally of schools that do or do not admit her.
Nah, maturity is overrated. Here is my typical response to a text from my daughter about a school’s (clearly misguided) decision to turn her down:
At least I kept it clean, right?
I am also quite fond of the Sour Grapes response. I remind my daughter that this was the school where we had witnessed the machinations of Operator Mom, a woman with an expensive haircut and impossibly chic clothing, who kept maneuvering her equally well-dressed daughter to the front of every crowd. She got in, and stayed in, the face of the admissions officer who ran the info session, and even dominated discourse with the hapless undergrad who ran the tour. Thus this text:
Yes, Shakespeare was right about that “sweet are the uses of adversity” business. We do grow from our failures. Both of my daughters have taken on very difficult challenges; both have had their setbacks; and both have dusted themselves off and kept at it. I am enormously proud of them for their persistence and resilience, two of the best virtues going.
But rejection is its own special category of setback. It sucks, every time. It just does.
For my own part, I remember every single rejection in my personal history. The a cappella groups who turned me down in college. The plays in which I was not cast. The editors who rejected my writing. The jobs I did not get. I’m not sure that I remember all the groups in which I did sing, or the plays in which I did perform – but dammit, those rejections have staying power. Of course, what makes it so pathetic is that it is so terribly one-sided. The people in those a cappella groups had forgotten me before I even walked out of the audition room.
So, to all the seniors who are dealing with rejections right now, I have this to say:
Those colleges that didn’t take you? THEY ARE DICKS. Go shit in a shoebox, address it to the Admissions Department, slap on a few stamps and pop it in the mailbox. You’ll be so glad you did.
And to the directors of “Bye, Bye Birdie” (1975), “Look Homeward, Angel” (1978), and “A Doll’s House” (1982); to the members of Red, Hot & Blue and Proof of the Pudding (1981); to the eleven publishers who rejected the book I wrote on suburban homelessness (1990), let me reach back across the decades and wish you a hearty FUCK YOU.
Oh – and watch your mail – a shoebox should be arriving shortly.