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The Thin Red Envelope

In this moment I realized I could want something so completely, try my very best, work really hard, and still fail.

My father went to Yale. He never pressured me into following in his footsteps but instead just regaled me with fabulous collegiate stories about the intoxicating songs of the Whiffenpoofs, the late nights at the Yale Daily News, and the mysterious and powerful secret societies: Scroll and Key, Spade and Grave, and Skull and Bones. While other kids were learning to tie their shoes, I was dreaming of a life amid the gothic and Georgian buildings, the ivy, and the other incredibly smart people. I would major in theater, of course.
I wore Yale T-shirts with a certain smugness usually reserved for people getting their master’s in social work and by sophomore year of high school had proudly placed a bumper sticker on my car--a tradition usually reserved for senior year once you knew for sure where you were going. But I knew I was going to Yale. It wasn’t just my first choice; it was my only choice. With all AP classes, nearly perfect grades, diverse extracurricular activities, brilliant essays, and, of course, being a legacy, I thought I was a shoo-in.

It was mid December when the envelope arrived.

I had confidently applied early admissions. I was milling about the kitchen, my future still bright, when I saw the post lady walk up our driveway. I excitedly bounded outside to meet her and went through the stack of mail. Then I saw it. It was thin. Not only thin but small. A regular-sized envelope. Not the big folder filled with cheery glossy pictures of students in the quad, dorm room info, and commissary eating options.

Ashamed and angry I stormed over to my car and tried to rip off the bumper sticker but the Miami heat had melded it to the rubber and it wouldn’t budge. The blue and white YALE glared at me as if to say, “That’s what you get for your hubris, silly girl.” My father walked out of the house as I sat down on the driveway, defeated. “I didn’t get in,” I said. In this moment I realized I could want something so completely, try my very best, work really hard, and still fail.

I also realized, although I was sitting in a fetal position, that I was still standing, so to speak. I was still alive and breathing and failure hadn’t killed me. There was something liberating in this knowledge. I could try lots of things and fail many times and my future was still bright, and full of safety schools.


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