If you or someone you love has just opened their email this week to find that they were rejected by their first choice for college, I got that rejection, too.
My first choice was Harvard, which was called Radcliffe in those days. I did everything I could: getting straight A's while working almost full time as a waitress and being the president of the largest region of B'nai B'rith Girls in the world.
I didn't even make the waitlist. Ditto for Brown (Pembroke) and Yale and Princeton.
The rejection letters came in the mail in those days, and you didn't even need to open them to know what was inside. If the envelope was light, it was a rejection. Acceptances weigh more.
When I looked at my pile of letters, I burst into tears. I had one fat envelope — from my last choice school, the college I applied to only because my mother offered to type the whole thing.
Not only did Wellesley College accept me; it offered me enough grants and loans to cover almost the full cost. My parents were thrilled. I was horrified.
The difference between Wellesley and every other school I applied to was very simple: boys. For a girl like me, who learned to twirl a baton and do splits in the mud in a desperate and unsuccessful effort to be popular, the difference was critical.
I did not find a boyfriend at Wellesley.
I found friends for life.
I found women doing everything: running the college, chairing key departments and then going on to amazing careers.
I talked in class. I didn't worry that boys wouldn't like me, because there were very few boys around. I didn't think about all the things women couldn't do, because at Wellesley, women did everything.
Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright put Wellesley on the map. Hillary was five years ahead of me, and Madeleine was 10 years ahead of her. Our classes join together for reunions every five years. My last reunion included a session in which these two superwomen reminded us of the most important gift Wellesley gave us: self-confidence based on the reality that women did, in fact, do everything.
Would I have graduated summa cum laude if Harvard or Yale or Princeton had taken me? I'm not so sure. I do know that I would have spent more time and energy looking for a boyfriend than doing my work.
When I applied to college, I was a middle-class girl from a high school that had never sent a girl to Harvard. I didn't know about test prep, and it didn't matter, because it would have cost too much.
I spent my junior year in an exchange program at Dartmouth. I drank beer, which I don't even like. One night, I even drank Norman Mailer under the table. I danced on pool tables, as Leon Black reminded me when we ran into each other at the Milken conference a few years ago. I didn't find a boyfriend, but I did get straight A's, with enough citations that the president of the college wrote me a congratulatory note. In most of my classes, I was the only girl.
I skipped my senior year so I could work and save money for law school. I knew about test prep, but I still couldn't afford it, so I bought two books to study on my own. I figured out the system: Always pick the most defensible answer. The test scores ranged from 200 (for writing your name) to 800. I got a 795. I couldn't believe it, and frankly, neither could my sister, who asked if the numbers were backward. Was it really a 597? I called the office at Wellesley, who laughed at my question.
I got accepted by every law school I applied to. Imagine that.
I went to Harvard, where I was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review. The girl with the skinny envelopes. The girl who knew how to operate in rooms full of men. For that gift, I am grateful to Wellesley and to Dartmouth.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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