39: The Seeds of an Idea

39: The Seeds of an Idea

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

The Seeds of an Idea

If a man aspires to the highest place, it is no dishonor to him to halt at the second, or even at the third.

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

The college admission process can be a terrifying thing. At least for me it was. Nothing short of an axe-wielding mass murderer can be scarier than filling out all those long pages about yourself and your academic record for strangers into whose hands you are placing your future. Combine that with the fact that I am a homeschooled senior, which took the process to a whole new level of challenging. Nevertheless I made it through the long, dark tunnel of applications and nervous anticipation and emerged unscathed.

It would be a lie to say that I didn’t start thinking and worrying about college until junior year or so. The truth is that ever since I was a little girl the idea of college had been planted into my head to grow and thrive. When senior year came around it blossomed. My mother was a careful gardener and she made sure those ideas and dreams were seeded carefully and with love.

I started researching different colleges as early as my freshman year, back when I was still in a public school. I’d go online and sort through the vast wealth of information about community colleges, liberal arts colleges and four-year universities. The first choice was the easiest. What type of school did I want to go to? I knew I didn’t want to go to community college. I wanted more than an associate’s degree. But did I want a liberal arts education or did I want to go to a more prestigious four-year university? I decided I preferred the latter.

So I began the difficult task of picking which colleges seemed right for me. I used a variety of tools, tests and search engines, and by senior year I had my choices narrowed down to five schools. My top choice was based entirely on personal preferences and my own ambitions: Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. It wasn’t too far from home and it was famous for its excellent school of journalism. It was just what I wanted; the only problem was that it was top-notch and accepted only the best of the best.

After narrowing down my search, it was time to begin the actual application process. But before that there was one more thing I had to accomplish: standardized testing. I wasn’t particularly thrilled.

Early in senior year, I woke up one morning feeling very, very nervous. It was time to take the ACT test.

“Don’t worry. You’ll do great,” my mother reassured me. I wasn’t really convinced.

Still I hopped into my car and drove to Rockford College, the site of my testing and ironically one of the five colleges I was applying to. As I parked my car and stepped out into the crisp autumn air I was amazed to see so many other high school students just like myself, nervously looking around and wondering what to do, pencils and calculators in hand.

I entered the big brick building with the rest of them and eventually made it to the classroom I would spend the next four hours searching the files of my brain for all the correct answers for the most important test I’d ever take in my life. When I received my answer booklet, the nervousness began to magically drain from my body. I was taking the test and it wasn’t so bad. It was just one more step on the lengthy road to college, but I had taken it and I was that much closer to my goals.

Weeks later I received my results. Envelope in hand I rushed toward my mom. I was almost bobbing up and down with excitement.

I ripped open the envelope and retrieved the papers within. My eyes fell upon the thirty printed on the page and I was stunned and relieved. I had received a good result. My mother’s smile widened and her eyes lit up when she saw what I had seen. Yes, everything was going to be just fine. I had received a good result and anything could happen, anything at all.

That sense of relief and calm lasted until I got the letter from Northwestern University. Knowing that the envelope I held in my hands determined my future, I was reluctant to look inside. Finally, I took a deep breath, opened the letter and read my future.

It was a rejection note.

I did not cry as my hopes and aspirations fell down around me and shattered like fine china, but I was crushed. The smile died on my lips and I felt cold inside. Even knowing that I was not the only person to ever get rejected from their first choice school didn’t make me feel any better. At first I felt totally lost and so I looked to my mother, that gardener of ideas, for guidance.

“So you got rejected from one school,” she said. “Don’t forget about the four others you were accepted to.” She smiled. “It isn’t the end of the world.”

And it wasn’t. She was right. I had been accepted into those four other schools. My second choice school was still a really fine institution. I put the letter aside and decided upon Loyola University in Chicago. I would attend my second choice school as if it were my first. I was still in charge of my future and I was still going to college. Summoning up a smile I filled out the housing contract for Loyola.

I am just finishing up senior year now. Soon I will be going to Loyola to register for fall classes. And you know what? I still have that envelope, that letter of rejection. I keep it because it helps me persevere. As a homeschooled student, I had an added difficulty when it came to getting accepted to college, but I still did it, no matter the fact that my first choice was denied to me. We all face rejection in our lives but that’s not what matters. What matters is what we do with the experience, whether we choose to dwell on the bad things in our lives or whether we learn and grow just like those tiny seeds that were first planted in my mind so long ago.

~Tawnee Calhoun

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