Dream School, Written 5/16/15

When I wrote “What Would You Do for Your Dream School?” a little over a month ago, I had no idea that I would be writing a love letter to my future self.  The idea of a dream school is something I’ve struggled with for at least half my life.  Well, I guess it wasn’t a struggle until I got rejected by my first dream school a year ago.  Princeton was the be-all, end-all of my academic identity.  I never once questioned what the point of hours of work each night, constant sleep deprivation, and excessive competition with my peers was, because of course it all made sense.  The point was Princeton.  The point was getting into my dream school.  The point was that unhappiness in the present was going to pay off in the future.  And the future was real soon if only I could hold on that much longer.

And sure, I applied to other schools, but realistically I had never imagined what it would be like to attend any of them.  I had never taken the time to analyze what it was that I wanted from my college experience, what factors would make some place feel like home and suit my needs.  I hadn’t thought about how my personal experiences would shape the person I would become, and how those experiences were incompatible with certain other experiences I could encounter at certain schools.  So when it came down to the wire (literally the last day I could possibly make the decision), I chose to attend Georgetown, because it was the school that I got into that most closely aligned with what I had thought I wanted from Princeton.  Prestige.  Rigorous academics.  Tradition.  Elitism.

Sometimes we look back and realize that we were staring an opportunity that could change our lives right in the face, and that we didn’t take it.  When an acceptance from Georgetown came rolling around right after four Ivy League rejections (and one waitlist), I thought this must be my saving grace.  I thought it would be the ticket to proving to everyone that I was indeed smart enough and accomplished enough to attend a top-tier school.  I thought that by saying yes, I could still become that person who I had wanted to be my whole life.

A year later, and I have to wonder: did it ever cross my mind that I thought wrong?

Just like I had spent eight years doing with Princeton, I spent that summer after saying yes building up Georgetown into my idealized version of a dream school.  The sweeping relief and happiness that so many of my peers felt after finally deciding where they would attend never came for me.  The lingering doubts about the choice I had made remained, but I tried to brush them off in favor of throwing myself into the little tasks of college preparation.  Finding a roommate, registering for classes, making a list of items to buy for my dorm, deciding which things to bring and which things to leave behind.  Interacting with future classmates.  Searching for that feeling of solid ground on which I could build the next four years of my life.

I can tell you that I didn’t find it.

By the time I flew into Washington in late August, I had done a decent job of brainwashing myself into excitement.  Other students seemed to glow with a sense of purpose after finally setting foot on the campus of their dream school.  I tried to fake that sense of belonging into myself as well, but it just didn’t take hold.  I tried to give it time, but by the end of the first week of classes, I knew that I had gotten it all wrong.

One of the more frustrating aspects of trying to decide where I would go to college was the spark.  Everyone told me that you can just feel it, deep down when you visit a school and just intuitively know that you’ve found your new home.  And I felt that with Princeton, so the wild scramble to find that feeling again with another school was confusing, and disheartening, and ultimately misleading.  I had tried to convince myself that Georgetown was the new place for me, where I wanted to go and where I could become the best version of myself, but I guess truthfully I’d have to tell you that it always felt like chasing an elusive idea about who I was, and never the actual reality of being me.

That amazing, life-changing opportunity that you’re not supposed to give up?  Yeah, that was NYU.  I thought the shot in the dark was me fulfilling my dreams of attending a top-tier school after almost certain rejection, but the real challenge I was meant to overcome was exactly that idea of myself.  I was supposed to take a leap of faith.  I was supposed to reject Ivy League greatness just like it rejected me.  I was supposed to believe in myself, shed my pride, and accept the fact that sometimes the most wonderful things in life spring from the most terrible grief of losing part of your imagined future self.

So what do I do now?

I’m not going to give up.  I can’t imagine giving up.  Not like this.  Not after everything I’ve been through the past year, not after how much I’ve learned about myself and grown and changed.  Not after seeing what my life could have been, time and time again.  I just can’t.  But I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how I can possibly hold on to this missed chance, this one opportunity to make it all right, when I just don’t have the ways and means to do it.  I need help.  But from God-knows-where am I going to find it?


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