Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Ivy Isn't Always Greener
So here I am in the library, two days before Christmas, studying for my last final exam. The halls buzz with pretentious students eagerly memorizing more physics equations and reciting Latin phrases and boasting about their high GPAs. The Culties all call me up via Skype, and I see their bright beautiful faces beaming with laughter, full after a dinner of seven different types of tofu at our favorite restaurant. There’s absolutely nowhere I’d rather be than on those soft carpeted floors of my best friends’ house back in the Midwest, lying on sleeping bags and playing truth or dare like we are thirteen again. But, alas… Oh how I hate school right now.
In my first weeks of school, I learned to hate the Ivy League. It’s this elite illusion, a way to simultaneously enlighten and torture the world’s brightest and/or richest while all the while making you question if you even fit into either of these categories. Someone’s always going to one up you: the girl sitting next to you in a seminar already published two novels, the student sharing your desk (if you are even lucky enough to grab one) at the library is writing his thesis in seven languages, that person has better shoes, this person has a private jet… The competition here just felt way out of my league. Pun intended.
And then I got my first essay back. For weeks, I slaved over the paper. Picking perfect adjectives to modify my nouns, strong verbs to excite my sentences, brilliant quotations to make my IQ seem higher than it actually is. That was why I came to Columbia after all, to prove myself as the Pulitzer Prize winning author I aspire to be. But, of course, a week later I get the paper back, exhilarated at flipping the cover page to discover my grade and read my praise: B-.
What? No! That can’t be right! My teacher said I was a talented writer. WHAT?
The B- haunted me through the weekend: never before had a received such a low grade on a written assignment, let alone one worth 25% of my grade. I walked across with my head down, swiveling between high school valedictorians, star athletes, international superstars. Will I ever be good enough?
Seventy two hours later I sat down with my teacher, discussed the issues of my paper, and arranged a process for the re-write. He assured me that “a B- at Columbia is much better than an A at most other schools.” I slouched down on the library steps and wondered how I would explain that to Harvard Law.
For the rest of the semester, I labored even more meticulously over my work, ensuring that everything was not just perfect, but even better. As well as I could write, someone else could probably write better, but I wasn’t going to let that show. So what if they went to an elite boarding school? So what if they have the highest academic ranking in the country? So what if their family name is recognized worldwide? Suddenly, I regained my footing in the competition. Yeah, I may not have come from an even starting ground as the rest of my league, but I sure could catch up, and I was determined win.
Perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t just discover I got an A in the class. That my hard work paid off and I felt I earned what I deserved. But it did and I did. I worked harder for that A than almost any other grade in my entire life; seeing that letter brought a bigger smile to my face than it ever did on a high school report card.
And while this could have happened at any school, in any class, it happened here. I still maintain that the Ivy League is overrated, with its nonsensical traditions and proudly displayed green flags, but I guess I’ve learned not to hate it quite so much.