By Jacqueline Nguyen
It’s spring. The blossoming flowers spray their perfume and joy across the campus, the sun is no longer already setting by the time Homework Center closes up and friendships are breaking. It’s the most wonderful season, filled with lots of laughter and excitement for the nearing end of the school year. This is especially the case for the seniors.
“OMG guys I got into MIT,” enthuses Britney as she whips out her phone to show the pristine e-mail to all her friends.
“I totally don’t hate your guts right now for getting into my dream school,” exclaims Christina, her head turned down with burning emotions because of Britney’s joy.
Oh but it gets even merrier!
“She only got in because she’s famous,” Felicia assumes.
“OMG! Bye Felicia,” Dana dismisses Felicia.
Don’t believe me? Ask Natalie Portman. This is exactly what Natalie Portman felt was going on when she started attending classes at Harvard University. She thought she wasn’t smart or serious enough to be amongst America’s finest and more, and after tiring herself out with serious Hebrew literature and other super serious courses, she eventually rekindled her love for acting during her four years anyway. It’s that little voice in her head that told her she wasn’t insert adjective enough for insert top school name that perfectly illustrates what’s wrong with our society. We, moreso teenagers and parents at Senior Honor Night who clap only for the kids who are heading to prestigious and—wait for it—top schools, weigh far too heavily some ranking based on random factors (graduation rates, selectivity, purpose, etc.) to “objectively” quantify the quality of education. Most people don’t even know how companies such as US News and Forbes rank universities. There’s no reason to use rankings as something more than an aid in the college search, like the popular determinant of one’s worth. These companies will tell anyone the same thing.
However, it’s when the Felicias come and spoil the fun for whoever got into insert school name that really irks me. Why can’t we all be happy for Britney for the fact that she got accepted into a school that she wanted to get into? What happens if Britney decides to go to a state college or some school nobody’s really heard of? Is Felicia going to just patronizingly say “oh you poor thing” as she looks away in absolute disgust? I have witnessed all of these situations with friends and acquaintances before and they all prove one thing: we care more about where other people go to more than where we’re going ourselves, and all it does is bring out the ugly in us.
I think it’s unfair to blame ourselves for instigating this type of behavior. I think it’s mainly nurture, some nature. We grow up in a world where our parents tell us to work hard to get straight A’s and the perfect SAT score in order to go pre-med at Stanford, at least for most of us. That kind of rubs off on us subconsciously. It’s still completely unfair to compare the girl who got into Harvard to the girl who got into San Jose State. The girl who Harvard accepted isn’t a god and will tell you such random worshipping is bogus. The girl who got into San Jose State isn’t a mere plebeian among the inferior masses. They’re just people.
Why is it so extraordinary and rare that someone got into one of the top three schools in the nation? It doesn’t mean anything besides the fact that insert school name sees his or her awesomeness. And even then, not getting accepting into US News’s top ten schools does not mean one isn’t awesome, just like how the fact that Chris Evans’s abdominal muscles have never achieved People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” title does not mean they aren’t the sexiest man alive. Although the students are notorious for having the class make time to give the girl who got into insert top school name a standing ovation, sometimes even the teachers and adults subconsciously get a little too excited about their students. I realize that it’s all in good intentions. However, it does more harm than good when the teacher or adult takes time out to congratulate the one senior who got into insert top school name, but doesn’t for all the other seniors. For the many other students in the class, it doesn’t promote a healthy image of going to college. The action is effectively reinforcing the notion that us students have to get accepted by these schools in order to somehow impress society. Either congratulate them all or leave it up to the students to announce their acceptances to whoever they choose.
The way top schools pick their students is more random than it is some arithmetic formula for quantifying the perfect student. Of course there are the test scores, GPA, essays and all that jazz. But what happens after an applicant makes it through the door? Ex-interviewer for and alumnus of Yale University Ben Orlin explains, “With so many uber-qualified students lining up, top colleges don’t—as you might expect—look for the ‘very best.’ They don’t even operate on a single, well-defined notion of what ‘best’ means. Instead, they pick and choose. They go for balance. They’re just trying to fill their campus with a dynamic, diverse cohort of freshmen. Consistency and ‘fairness’—whatever that would mean—have nothing to do with it.” Ex-University California at Berkeley application reader Ruth Starkman quit his position because of how hair-rippingly confusing the arbitrary process of admissions really is. It all boils down to a rapidly increasing population reaching for a set number of spots. They’re just looking out for own interests.
I know it’s hard to not be a Felicia and be a good person. Most people just don’t have the kindness in their hearts to feel good about someone else when they’re not doing as well as they’d like. College acceptances can be a horrible experience for most. I know. I get it. By the time this is published, I probably am going to be in the middle of inputting my name and address for all the UCs I’m applying to. I’m not asking everyone to fundamentally change who they are. I just expect everyone to have the decency of at the very least applauding, even if one has to force it, and congratulating the girl who got into Harvard AND the girl who got into San Jose State at Senior Honor Night. We don’t need to start wars over something that has such a trivial impact on our lives. No one really wants to end high school, or the school year, on a negative note. Save your energy for the next four or ten years of your lives.
All students, repeat after me: The college I go to does not define my mental ability, my future jobs (well, for the most part) and most importantly—my worth. It does not elevate me above others. It doesn’t mean I’m not smart enough or whatever enough. Now’s the time to focus my energy on the future.
And to the seniors: It’s our last year. Let’s not make it a bad one.
Author’s Note: Britney and her friend group are all fictional characters and do not represent specific individuals.