34: The Basement

34: The Basement

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

The Basement

The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.

~J.K. Galbraith

“I just hope my daughter doesn’t end up THERE. It’s her basement school.”

I watched my mother as another parent belittled her alma mater in front of her without a thought. I bit my nails as my mother bit her tongue. I could see the wheels of disbelief turning in her head. I felt terrible that I went to a school that would tell me that the state university she attended was not good enough for me or my peers.

My parents didn’t buy into the polo shirt-boat print shorts combination culture abounding around me during high school. I had transferred from a public middle school into a K-12 private arena in which pearl necklaces and summer vacation houses were flashily displayed with nonchalance. My parents constantly reminded me that, unlike some of my new peers, I would not be spending four hundred dollars on a pair of shoes. They vetoed frivolous expenditures and preached that my siblings and I were owed nothing by the world or our socioeconomic bracket.

When it came time to apply to college, the differences between my parents’ mentality and the attitudes perpetuated by my prep school once again became apparent.

We had an entire course dedicated to college admissions counseling our senior year. Our counselor worked around the clock to make contacts with Admissions Officers across the country and get our school’s graduates admitted to the best schools in the nation. My high school published a list of the colleges that graduating seniors would be attending in the area newspaper. At the end of April, my high school ordered a massive sheet cake and divided it into squares, printing the name of the university each senior would attend on each square. Going to college in the first place was a given; going to a prestigious college was expected.

We were to construct metaphorical houses for our prospective college lists: safety schools in the basement, likely admittances on the first floor, less certain prospects on the second floor, reach schools in the attic, and the most selective school as a satellite dish on the roof. My high school college counselor never really mentioned the option of attending a state school. The idea was seen as somehow beneath members of my graduating class. Our sizable tuition bill was an investment for the Ivy Leagues, not for the in-state school down the road.

But my mother went to that in-state school down the road. And she was very quick to remind me that it was an institution undeserving of my peers’ upturned noses. The fact that my mother is one of the most intelligent adults I know convinced me that there was no shame or embarrassment in being a state school graduate.

While my peers and their parents discussed where they were applying, their legacies, and their application woes, my parents kept their mouths shut. They refused to believe that college applications should dominate my senior year. They would not give college admissions the weighted importance in my life that other parents did. Even though I was “freaking out” about my future, I had the rare set of parents who were not doing the same alongside me. I felt pressure from myself and my high school, but not my home.

When constructing my application “house”—safety school in the basement, reach school on the roof — my mother made sure I put at least one state school in the virtual abode. I didn’t end up enrolling at a state school, but if I had, I can only hope I would have graduated from there with as much intelligence and wisdom as my mother did. After all, I like the basement in my house a whole lot more than the roof.

~Emma Lee Goode

More stories from our partners