Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Very Tragic Tale of Poor Sad Tom

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" I'm here blogging at school today, so this sad tale will be brief.

Both of my daughters attended Snobville High School, a bastion of cutthroat academics and one-upsmanship. The goal of almost every Snobville High student is to be accepted into multiple Ivy League schools. Just for backup, many students also apply to prestige universities like Duke, Stanford, and my alma mater, Johns Hopkins.

Rare is the student who fixates on one particular university and bends all of his or her accomplishments toward admittance to that institution. Poor Sad Tom did just that.

PST has spent the last ten years lusting in his heart for Princeton University and only Princeton University. He was class president all four years at Snobville High, did community service until he dropped from exhaustion (literally he was dazed at last year's Snobville Community Book Sale from stacking heavy boxes of books in the hot sun). He took the requisite accelerated and AP courses and did well on them. He aced the SATs after much diligent practice. He's a polite, sincere young man with just the slightest pinched expression to indicate his obsessive ambition.

Admission letters went out last week. While a few other Snobville High students made the grade and got into Princeton, PST did not. He wasn't even wait-listed.

PST only applied to one other university, the lowly Rutgers, seen as a venue of last resort for Snobville's Ivy-bound egotists. (Can you imagine not being happy about getting accepted at Rutgers University? Me neither.)

Apparently, PST is overcome with grief. He is literally re-living his past four years and looking at the places in his life (sparse though they are) where he wasted time that he could have spent studying. Literally, as Spare recounts it, PST is berating himself for watching some t.v. series that he liked. And he deeply regrets the dating he did. Could have been home studying.

I don't fault PST for this tragedy. It's bigger than him. It begins with the idea that some universities are like diamonds that, once obtained, assure you a magical ascent into the one percent. It extends to the despicable notion that affordable state colleges are beneath contempt because, oh gosh, they admit lots of normal people. It morphs into the idea that your identity is the college you attend, your standing with your peers rests on acing the SAT and pulling in that "on behalf of the ... welcome to ..." letter.

If I knew PST well enough, I would have this sage advice for him:

In two weeks a major publishing house will release my husband's nonfiction title, a real, live book for which he was paid an advance.

My husband has so many award plaques that we have nowhere left to hang them. He's also gotten tropies, framed artwork, been collected in anthologies, and received an effusive blurb for his book from one of the major authors of this era.

Any Princeton professor of writing would cut off a finger for this kind of success.

My husband dropped out of college after two years in which what he mostly did was fail his courses.

PST, weep no more. Life begins at 18. Watch some t.v., take that girl out for an ice cream, and then find yourself a bored deity who will inhabit you, shower you with worth, and help you discover the special you that you've stuffed in some drawer in your bedroom. Don't sit in the lecture hall listening to the Learn'd Astronomer! Get out there in the mystic night and stare at the stars.


Maebius said...

Amen to that!

As a ..um.. "valueless college dropout".. while I do not have the shiny awards, I count myself a heckovalot more successful in the things that matter to ME compared to some folks in my HighSchool that were driven to Excellence.

The biggest lesson I got out of slanting towards my current Philosophy of Life is to re-define "worth" away from finances to family.

For some, Worth may be awards, or Art, or Cashflow, or Elite peers in the white house. Chase your dream, and be prepared to Live it.

There's much more out there, indeed!

Anonymous said...

"I don't fault PST for this tragedy. It's bigger than him."

Indeed. Like PST, I didn't get into my top notch university choice. Feeling like a failure at 18 is not a good way to start adult life.

I went to the second string college, studied my brains out, only to graduate and find that I had no idea what to do with my life. I was good at attending classes, doing homework, and singing in the choir...and that's it.

If I could do it all over again, I'd say "screw this" to the rat race, aim for the state university, get B's, and focus on life experience and becoming a complete and happy human being. Intense academic achievement is so empty.

alex said...

Tell him to go hike the Appalachian Trail, THEN figure out what to go after in life that might actually be fun going after.


tell him to join the peace corps.did I spell that right?