How’re things going today? Good? Hope so. You seem good. I just picked you up from school a couple hours ago, and you told me you had a great day – you kicked butt on the high jump in P.E., you feel confident about the math test you took, and you and your buddy Griffin bonded over drawing Pokemon characters at lunch. Awesomeness all around.
I was surfing the Internet this afternoon while you were doing your homework, and discovered an item that went viral a few days ago (as usual, I’m the last to find out about stuff). I wanted to share it with you because it’s pretty interesting.
Here’s the story: there’s this girl named Suzy Lee Weiss who’s a high school senior, and she’s been applying to a bunch of colleges over the last several months. She applied to a bunch of the big-time impressive schools like Princeton and Yale, which we call Ivy League. Way amazing schools.
See, getting accepted into any university isn’t easy, let alone one of the Ivies. You have to have really good grades, get outstanding scores on the SATs, and in general show that you have a lot going for you, even outside of school: musical talent, or maybe a commitment to service, outstanding achievements of one kind or another, etc. You have to show that you have something to contribute: to the school, to your community, to the world even.
(Before I continue, I should make it clear that I have no idea whether your future will take you to one of those big-time schools or not. I really don’t know. Despite the fact that I do care about your grades – more than many readers think I should, apparently — it’s not really a major dream of mine for you to get into Harvard. I just want you to go to a decent college that will give you a good education, broaden your perspective on the world, and help you figure out where your passions are in life. Luckily, there are a lot or schools like that around.)
So here’s what happened: this girl, Suzy Lee Weiss, apparently didn’t get into the fancy schools she applied for. And she was so mad about it that she complained about the whole thing in an editorial that ended up in the Wall Street Journal.
From everything I’ve read about her, she’s a smart, articulate kid. Good grades. Perfectly acceptable SAT scores. Spent the last five years of her life solely focused on getting into an Ivy League school. That’s it. She just really wanted that cool Ivy League badge.
According to her WSJ rant, she doesn’t feel she was rejected because there was something lacking in her own application. Nope, instead of considering that as a possibility, she decided that she’s basically being punished for a) not being in a minority, b) not spending all of her free-time doing charity work, and c) not being lucky enough to present some unique backstory like having gay parents (which as you know is, like, soooo trendy right now).
In her article, she said she felt lied to by schools, counselors, and her parents about what she needed to do to get into college. She wrote:
“For starters, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it. “Diversity!” I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker. If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything.”
She also wrote:
“I also probably should have started a fake charity. Providing veterinary services for homeless people’s pets. Collecting donations for the underprivileged chimpanzees of the Congo. Raising awareness for Chapped-Lips-in-the-Winter Syndrome.”
I have to confess to you, my daughter: I don’t think I like this girl’s attitude.
I get that she was trying to be funny in her article. (In a Today Show interview, she called her piece a satire, comparing it to an episode of 30 Rock. Ahem.) And she was also venting some frustration after getting several rejection letters on the same day. And I can see that when she wrote it, she simply might’ve been trying to present an argument about how ridiculously competitive it is to get into college these days (as if that’s something new). But this belief she has about being denied something to which she felt she was entitled? That part was totally sincere. You can tell. She was so pissy about not getting what she wanted, that she decided to mock other people in the world who have struggled through the challenges of being in a minority, and get snarky about people who’ve devoted themselves to making the world better by doing something besides just walking around imagining themselves in a Princeton sweatshirt. I’m calling it: that wasn’t satire. That was just a crappy, entitled ‘tude.
I can’t see you ever turning into a girl like that, Beloved Daughter. But still — her article made me think about you, and wonder what your approach might be in a few years when you start applying to colleges. So here’s what I want you to know up front:
1) No one in this world owes you anything. Sure, I think you’re smart, creative, talented, and unique. I think you’re a sparkling unicorn in a world of plain ol’ ponies, and I think any Smarty-Pants college would be lucky to have you. But if you ever, ever feel entitled to something just because you really want it, think again.
2) You are a white girl. Suzy Lee Weiss thinks that kids like her and you are the new oppressed demographic because colleges are giving away all their spots to kids from ethnic minorities to fill a quota that’s more important to them than anything else. I used to work in college admissions, and I can tell you that many schools do have a commitment to diversity, which means they’re keeping an eye on the multi-cultural construction of their student communities. It’s part of the job, and it’s important. It doesn’t mean that white Honors students are being robbed of something by underachieving Asian or Latino kids. There are approximately four zillion students trying to get into colleges every year. It’s hard to get in anywhere, let alone one of the Ivies. When application time rolls around for you, you’ll be in the same boat as many, many other high school seniors, of all colors, from all backgrounds, all sweating over the entire process. No one will have an automatic free pass.
3) Fake volunteer work? Lame. Real volunteer work? Yes! I don’t know whether Miss Weiss actually stepped out of her house during high school to do something for others or not. In her TV interview, she vaguely mentions something about charity work. But when I read her editorial again, I’m guessing that contributing to the greater social good wasn’t high on her list. Is she a bad person because of that? No. But would she have been a better person if she had? Quite possibly. Her blithe comments about peers who devote their time to a cause really ticks me off. If your mom and I are raising you right, you see the value of small acts that make a big difference in the lives of others. And frankly, even if high school students today are doing volunteer work solely to pad their applications, as skeptical Suzy claims, I say great — helping others for selfish reasons still results in others getting helped.
4) All you can do is be You. The only way to ultimately stand out on a college application, any college application, is to spend your years before then being the best, most authentic version of yourself that you can. Do the things you love. Do them with every fiber you’ve got. Do study, and do work hard. But get out of the house too. Think about what your want your role to be in this world, and fill that role by doing stuff that feels right to you. Be brave enough to figure out who you are and be that person, all the way. If you do, schools will accept you. I don’t know which ones, but some will. And if you’ve been true to yourself, it’ll be the right fit, wherever it is.
And, um… if all else fails? Remember that you have a gay dad. That’s college essay gold, Kid.