71: Four Minutes

71: Four Minutes

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

Four Minutes

That part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope.

~Ambrose Bierce

“April,” I asked, “Are you okay?” She was crying. I helplessly watched the tears well up in her blue eyes as we sat down to history class, wishing I had never asked her how her college application process was going.

Our history teacher was getting up from his desk and bopping over to the board. I say “bopping” because he was not the kind of teacher who strode or stood still. Mr. Hesterson resembled a leprechaun on crack, hopping and yelling as he took us through a PeeWee Herman-esque version of European history. And because he was so crazy, we remembered every lesson.

I tried to turn my attention to him just as April’s muffled sobs got worse and she ran out of the room. And in an impulse of sympathy I never would have followed as a freshman, I went after her.

An hour later, April and I sheepishly returned to History to collect our backpacks and give Mr. Hesterson some kind of explanation. Talking fast and looking at our shoes, we poured out the story of why we ran from his class without explanation, that college audition stress had gotten to us, and we’d spent the past hour in an empty band practice room, trying to stop hyperventilating. We were a bit worried about how he would take it. We expected yelling or at least dramatic sarcasm.

But the short man looked at us with unprecedented seriousness, his pink-faced features twisting into father-like sympathy. “You really don’t have to worry like that,” he told us. “It will all turn out fine.”

We stared at him in disbelief. He didn’t understand. No one understood, not even our guidance counselors.

April and I hoped to attend B.F.A. programs in theater (an Acting program for me, and a Musical Theater program for April). B.F.A. programs focus exclusively on one art. The info sessions I attended described years of courses, each dedicated to a different acting style, instead of college standards like math, history, and lit. I practically salivated at the prospect. I was the kid who had started putting on plays for my parents the moment I learned to talk, who couldn’t remember a period of time when I wasn’t in at least one community theater show, who had always dreamed of becoming a star.

The problem is that B.F.A. programs are incredibly small, and you have to audition if you want to get in. So in addition to the standard essay-writing and test-taking, April and I had spent the past few months selecting and preparing monologues. Two two-minute monologues, that’s all the time we would get to distinguish ourselves from literally thousands of fellow auditionees.

I spent afternoons at Borders going through monologue books, trying to find something that would both fit me and blow away the judges with its brilliance. Nothing seemed brilliant enough. The monologues had to be age-appropriate. After a lifetime of playing quirky little kids and mothers, I could find no monologue for a high school age character that wasn’t incredibly stupid.

The worst part was that no one except April understood the process. I made good grades and lived in an achievement-obsessed area, so when I told people what colleges I was applying to, I only got puzzled looks. Sure, the schools may not have limited themselves to the valedictorians of our nation, but in the theater world, they were top tier. Thousands of students aspired to study acting at schools like Syracuse, UConn, and of course, the Holy Grail of acting schools, the Tisch school at NYU. “You’re a shoo-in,” my guidance counselor assured me. He failed to understand that my GPA, essay, and extracur-riculars were minor details compared to those fateful four minutes.

The true futility of it all didn’t hit me until my Ithaca audition. Being in the college auditorium with what must have been over one hundred other students, I couldn’t really focus on the man onstage who was preaching about the merits of a B.F.A. education. I just kept looking around at the sea of nervous and cocky expressions, of gorgeous girls and goofy-looking guys, thinking, “Twelve students. They’re only accepting what amounts to, like, half of the first row.” And this was just one round of auditions. Rumor had it that the total number of students who auditioned was nine hundred. Twelve out of nine hundred. I had a 1% chance of getting in.

But I had the dream, right? That was what mattered, or so they say, all those famous people who say they succeeded because they never stopped believing. I squinted my eyes like I was wishing on a star and tried to believe hard enough.

It didn’t work.

During March and April, I moved around school like the walking dead, only coming alive when I got to the mailbox that would spit out a verdict on my future, which increasingly seemed to not exist. I would choke back tears to appease my mom until I found April in school, who had equally bad news to report.

“I got rejected from Ithaca.”

“I got rejected from University of Minnesota.”

“Tisch waitlisted me.”

“BU rejected me.”

One day I opened the mailbox and there sat an envelope from Emerson, an unassuming, thin little envelope. It had been my past experience that thin equalled bad. I stood there in the driveway, unsure whether I should even bother to open the envelope that I’d been awaiting all year.

Feeling dizzy, I opened the envelope and read the words “We regret to inform you....”

My sobs were huge and heaving, like someone died. How could I ever be an actress? I couldn’t even get into school to learn acting. I figured that must have no talent and no one had ever bothered to tell me, that all the roles I’d gotten up to that point were pity parts, or else I had gotten them because no talented person had auditioned. I saw myself winding up as one of those bitter, disappointed old people who never lived their dream. I called April, and she didn’t know how to reassure me. She’d just gotten rejection letters from two other schools.

I wound up going to Hampshire College, the only school I’d applied to that didn’t offer a B.F.A. program. I was not excited to be at a school that made me take core classes instead of exclusively study my dream.

Know what, though? Those classes were kind of interesting. I found myself getting into areas I’d never considered, like philosophy theories and social action. I performed in plenty of shows, I took theater classes, and I was on the college Theater Board. But I also studied playwriting, fiction writing, storytelling, education, child psychology, and children’s literature. Through those studies, I found more dreams.

April went to a state school for a year, dropped out, and went through the whole college audition process again using different monologues and songs. She got into plenty of B.F.A. programs. Upon graduation, she got an acting job.

Despite my mere B.A., I also got an acting job right out of college. But I wound up leaving the job early. I found acting professionally to be an all-encompassing lifestyle, and there was too much else I wanted to do.

High schools push you to make up your mind so early. “Decide what you want to do,” grown-ups say, “so you can get into a good school for your future major.” The fact is, most people decide what they want to do way after college. It’s great if you know already, but my point is, keep yourself open to opportunities.

Like Mr. Hesterson said, it’ll all turn out fine.

~Valerie Howlett

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