As early round decisions arrive…

Notifications from the early round of this year’s admissions cycle will be coming out soon…to be followed by the swirling emotional tide of elation, anger, joy, disbelief, disappointment and purgatorial malaise that these admits, denies, and defers incur.

Having been the one who made these decisions, as well as the one who has commiserated, celebrated, or cursed along with the students receiving them, I have long grappled with their essential paradox. Admissions decisions seem like intensely personal judgments, but they aren’t.

An offer of admission isn’t a pronouncement on someone’s character, values, or worth as a person. It isn’t a report card on the parenting that child received. It doesn’t predict an individual’s path through life. All an offer of admission says is that a particular student, within a specific pool of applicants, had qualities that a small group of application readers found compelling. Sure, it’s always nicer to receive a “yes” than a “no,” but the point is, neither response consigns the recipient to a predetermined fate, for good or ill, no matter how much it may seem so at the time.

The following poem by Billy Collins seems especially appropriate as admissions decisions arrive.  “You’re fine just being yourself, you’re loved just for being you, ” is a message that can’t be repeated too often to students who feel as though they are about to receive a very public reckoning of their life’s worth.  So here is the text, followed by a video of Collins reading the poem himself.  (Video excerpted from a longer TED talk which can be found by clicking here.)

To My Favorite 17 Year Old High School Girl

Do you realize that if you had started building the Parthenon
on the day you were born,
you would be all done in only one more year?
Of course, you couldn’t have done that all alone.
So never mind;
you’re fine just being yourself.
You’re loved for just being you.

But did you know that at your age
Judy Garland was pulling down 150,000 dollars a picture,
Joan of Arc was leading the French army to victory
and Blaise Pascal had cleaned up his room –
no wait, I mean he had invented the calculator?

Of course, there will be time for all that
later in your life, after you come out of your room
and begin to blossom,
or at least pick up all your socks.

For some reason I keep remembering
that Lady Jane Grey was queen of England
when she was only 15.
But then she was beheaded, so never mind her as a role model.

A few centuries later,
when he was your age,
Franz Schubert was doing the dishes for his family,
but that did not keep him from composing two symphonies, four operas
and two complete masses as a youngster.

But of course, that was in Austria
at the height of Romantic lyricism,
not here in the suburbs of Cleveland.

Frankly, who cares if Annie Oakley was a crack shot at 15
or if Maria Callas debuted as Tosca at 17?
We think you’re special just being you –
playing with your food and staring into space.

By the way, I lied about Schubert doing the dishes,
but that doesn’t mean he never helped out around the house.