April 3, 2013

DEIXLER: Any (Saltine, Head-Dressed) Person, Any Study

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Last week my dad asked me to do a “big favor” for him and speak to a friend’s son, David, who had just been accepted to Cornell but was deciding between a few schools. David sent me an e-mail with all of the questions a prospective student is supposed to ask: “What kind of clubs does Cornell have?” (lots); “How bad is the weather really?” (get a coat, you’ll survive); “How was the transition from L.A. to Ithaca?” (fine … until January when you realize you don’t own pants); “Is there a dorm I should try to live in, if I decide to go?” (avoid the Low Rises). The last question, though, caught me off guard: “Why did you choose to go to Cornell?”

While I’m sure that’s a no-brainer for my peers who were breastfed in Cornell onesies, this question took a second of thought for me, as a regular decision applicant who had, more or less, ended up here because of some lucky twist of fate.

The college application process feels as far away as the Stone Age by now, but thinking back, I think my decision to come to Cornell was pretty anticlimactic (and totally uncharacteristic of me). I didn’t make any extensive pro-con lists or color-coded spreadsheets. I didn’t ask every person I knew what they thought I should do and I didn’t even wait until the last hour to make my decision. I’m sure there was some amount of hysteria at the time, but I’ve since blocked it from my memory. I was accepted to a handful of schools, I narrowed it down to a few, visited Cornell first and decided that it seemed like a good fit. When asked, I couldn’t articulate why, it just seemed like the right decision. I sent my deposit and got my free Class of 2013 t-shirt. That was that. Go Big Red.

Since my conversation with David, I have walked by countless campus tours filled with prospective students (congratulations, class of 2017!) and have been forced to think more about that twist of fate that landed me in upstate New York at a school that I knew very little about. Maybe it really was just a good fit? Is that possible?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an op-ed written by a bitter, entitled and too-snarky-for-her-own-good high school senior who complains about the college process, and her disappointing results. She reminded me that colleges encourage students to “be yourself” in applications, and that the process is supposedly “self-selecting.” At age 18, I think those were hard concepts to grasp. What does “self-selecting” mean, and how am I supposed to trust it when everyone else in the country wants to go to the same eight schools I do? And, by the way, who the hell am I and how do I portray that person in an essay?

Although I found Suzy Lee Weiss obnoxious and whiney (and, at times, highly offensive), I can remember how confusing the college application process felt.  However, I can also say, four years later — and now to potential students — the notion of a place being a “right fit” is real. Weiss writes that if she knew about the person she was “supposed to be” to get into college, she would have started a fake charity, “worn headdresses to school” and had two moms because that’s what colleges look for. But Suzy, I don’t think it’s that complicated.

I think we get attached to schools, jobs, people because we like the idea of them. Weiss is crushed that she didn’t get into her dream school, but I wonder what about those schools felt like a dream? Maybe Weiss doesn’t realize that if she has to find a second mom to get into a school, it might not be the dream she thinks it is.

When I think about the students who were accepted into the Class of 2017, I imagine some of them wear headdresses, and some of them have two moms, and some are, as Weiss writes “as diverse as a saltine cracker.” I also know that this diversity — or lack thereof — is not why they were accepted, and probably not the only reason they’re coming here either. Cornell’s culture of “be yourself” is real — even for those of us who “work[ed] at a local pizza shop and [we]re the slowest person on the cross-country team” in high school, as Weiss claims she is. The extraordinary and the pretty ordinary both find a place at Cornell, and that’s — I think — at least why I’m here.

In retrospect, I wish I had told David that I chose Cornell because it’s where every version of me — the saltine cracker me, the headdress-wearing me, the lost 18-year-old me and the now lost 22-year-old me — could find a place. The admission committee somehow saw all of those Hannahs at Cornell, and I somehow saw them here too. In fact, it was no twist of fate at all, but rather, exactly as it should have been. I have made friends, developed interests and even picked up a few important skills along the way, but I’ve never had to be someone who isn’t me.

David — in all his forms (none of which I know, but I’m sure exist) — would and could and should belong here as well. So David, be yourself and come to Cornell! And, if you can, try to live in Mews.

Hannah Deixler is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at hdeixler@cornellsun.com. Shades of Grey appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Hannah Deixler