The Envelope, Please

The Envelope, Please

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

The Envelope, Please

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.

George Bernard Shaw

When I found out I didn’t get into the colleges I wanted to go to, I was in New York City on a school trip. I called home from a pay phone, and my little sister, Alex, said four envelopes had arrived: Georgetown, Cornell, William and Mary and the University of Massachusetts. She then opened and read them to me in her adenoidal, ten-year-old voice: “We regret that we do not have a place for you. . . .” Rejected from Georgetown. “You were one of many qualified candidates. . . .” Rejected from Cornell. And number seventy-three on a waiting list of seventy-five at William and Mary. Accepted to U Mass, my safety school.

I didn’t digest the rejections immediately. I toured the United Nations, took Amtrak home and went back to school. Then I realized that other people had gotten into schools they really wanted to go to. Up to that point in my seventeen years, I hadn’t really failed at anything. I got good grades, made varsity and scored well on my SATs. I hadn’t experienced any major disappointments in my life—no deaths, no disease, no divorce, no cavities even. So being rejected seemed apocalyptic.

I had always assumed I’d go to one of the “good schools.” I really wanted to be chosen: This is the place for smart people, and we want you. U Mass, on the other hand, had the reputation of being a party school—to which, come September, I’d be headed with the guy who sat next to me in tenth-grade history and who, during tests, left his book open on the floor and flipped through it with his feet.

I became bitter. I compared everyone’s grades and talents to my own in a desperate attempt to make my own misfortune add up. “Of course she got into Harvard. Her dad went there. Who needs a frontal lobe when you’re a legacy?” I was melodramatic. Talking to teachers, relatives or friends, I’d say, “I’m going to U Mass,” projecting my indignation onto them. Not U Mass, I’d imagine them thinking. Not you. I’d draw a deep breath, raise my eyebrows and frown slightly, like some old Yankee farmer confirming the death of a faithful plow-ox.

I did not get proactive like my friend Heather, who, having been rejected by her first choice, made I Love Lucystyle plans to drive to the Duke campus with her soccer ball and her science-fair project to show the admissions board exactly what they were rejecting. I simply adopted the mantra, “I’ll transfer after one semester.” And I’d say things like, “I’ve decided to forego the bachelor’s degree and take a cake-decorating course.” The subtext in all these conversations was: I’m stupid. The world isn’t fair. I made my jokes right up to the registration desk in my dorm, where I had my little sister present my paperwork and pretend to be me.

The strangest thing happened, though: I liked U Mass. I met Marci, my soul mate, whose first choice had also been Cornell. However, U Mass had been her second. Finally I’d found someone who would take a nightly three-mile jog with me to buy a sundae. And I met lots of other smart, funny, interesting people.

I liked my classes, too. It didn’t take me that long to figure out that basically, college is college, wherever. Sometimes on weekends, when I didn’t want to see anyone I knew, I’d head downtown to study in the library at Amherst College—the Shangri-la of competitive colleges. Walking across campus, I’d think, Why don’t I go here? Inside, the students weren’t so unlike the ones back at U Mass, whether they were studying, napping or procrastinating. I realized that trading U Mass for any other school would be a pretty shallow move: I’d be deserting my friends and my classes so I could have some Oriental rugs and hi-pro name on my T-shirts, diploma and résumé.

Now I only occasionally wonder if going to some fancy-pants school would have made a difference in my life. My one friend from Amherst calls me every so often— collect—to beweep her unsatisfying stints as a waitress or a receptionist at a company whose name she can’t pronounce. She tends to say, “God, I should have just gone to U Mass.” And then, “The real world is so unfair.”

Welcome to it, I think.

Rory Evans

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