Early Answers

By Susan Estrich

December 11, 2007 4 min read

This is early decision week. If you don't know what that is, then you're not the parent or aunt or uncle or cousin or friend of anyone who's a senior in high school and waiting on pins and needles to find out whether they've been accepted at their first-choice college. But maybe you were once, or will be someday.

This column is not for the lucky few — the minority who get big fat envelopes in the mail, e-mails that begin, "Congratulations and welcome to the Class of 2012!" To the lucky ones, I'm happy to say congratulations, but you're probably hearing that right and left, more than you need, or maybe deserve.

No, this one is for the rest of us. This one is for the kids who don't get in, who did everything they could, had their hearts set and now feel them broken.

And for their parents.

It's for all the kids looking around and wondering why it is that classmates with richer parents or double legacies, classmates with athletic skills or family connections got in even if their grades weren't better or their boards weren't higher. It's for all the kids wondering whether they might have fared better had their parents had the money to hire a fancy counselor or the connections to get the right phone call made.

And for the parents who tried, and failed.

Everyone will tell you there's a right college for everyone, that it's all for the best, when having your heart broken and your dreams squashed doesn't feel that way at all.

I don't buy that.

It is what it is. That's the simple truth. It's what life is like. It's full of disappointments and pain that all of us who are parents want to protect our children from, even though no one protected us, and even though, ultimately, no one can really protect anyone. All you can do is learn to survive.

I wanted to go to Radcliffe — then the girls' part of Harvard — more than anything. I did everything a girl from my school could do to get in. My parents didn't go there; we didn't have money; I needed financial aid. But I'd made straight A's my whole life, I was president of every organization I had ever joined, I volunteered, did community service, worked part time from the day I turned 16. I tried, I worked, I prayed and I got rejected.

It stung. That is the simple truth of it. It was the first huge disappointment of my life, although, of course, there were so many more to come, so much worse — the breakup of my parents' marriage, the death of my father, sickness and loss, the stuff of life. But when I was 17, rejection from Radcliffe was my first taste and there was nothing sweet about it.

So I survived. My mother had told me I could apply anywhere on the Boston subway line. Wellesley gave me a scholarship. That was that. That was where I went. An all-girls school, the last place I wanted to go, a place where I got a great education and had a terrible social life. For the best? You could never have convinced me of that. Who knows?

What I know is that this is what life is like. It's not about the hand you're dealt, but how you play it; not about who says yes, but how you cope when they don't. What makes us, most of us, is not our triumphs but our ability to survive our failures. I just wish childhood could last a little longer. Luckily, time heals most things. Someday, it won't matter. Or at least not very much.

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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