Rejection and Reconsideration from College
About a year before it would be application time, my parents took me on a road trip to investigate potential college destinations. We drove through Georgia, whisking past Auburn and discussing Emory briefly. And we eventually toured Davidson, Wake Forest, University of North Carolina, and Furman, but really, we were mainly speeding towards Duke to where all expectations and hopes were aimed. I could see advantages and/or preferences in comparing my potential college experience choices, but there did seem to be a genuine and divine funnel guiding me to Duke and I wanted to go there as much as my folks wanted it for me.
Once home and getting into my senior year of high school, my mother spent lot’s of time with me assisting in my college application process. With her connections and friend network she knew at least one or two excellent friends of the family or colleagues of my father at the clinic who would provide glowing recommendations of my boyhood thus far to each of the colleges where we sent applications. With Duke being the stretch for me to achieve, thankfully my application would have the added booster fuel in how both of my parents were alums and the specter of their past and ongoing donations both to the undergraduate endowment, and to the Duke Medical School as well where once my father had been the Chief Resident 30+ years prior.
Looking at my resume, and my GPA and student ranking at a moderately ordinary public high school in rural central Florida, my parents and I both knew Duke was likely to deliver a quick rejection, and they did. Meanwhile, I received a status of “Wait List” from Wake Forest, and we awaited hearing from a few others at least one of which was a fall back. There was some disappointment, but all was not yet lost for my mother said how I should write an official letter requesting reconsideration of my application to Duke.
Mom explained to me how the admissions process is a giant undertaking with many ebbs and flows in the current and how the most important thing to making the waiting list would be to keep my application somehow near the top of someone’s stack. She described how there were likely a few dozen people with desks piled high with applications in process; nearly 10,000 or more would be whittled down to less than 1,300 or so and she gave me a glimmer of hope if only I could find a way to make my rejected application still stand out and hover nearby. To her credit my mother would never do my work for me, but she would offer strong suggestions as to theme, content, and form, and so it was natural that she discussed with me what the 1st paragraph of my letter should say, and the 2nd, etc.
“Keep it short and to the point, but give them a reason to reconsider you,” she said.
I went back to my room and contemplated my future. Wake Forest was a beautiful campus and I really liked the solitude of Davidson. There was no way I would get into Duke if having both parents and one sibling attend there with distinction hadn’t already pushed me over the hurdle then no letter of reconsideration from me begging and pleading would do it either. Compared to somebody who scored a perfect SAT and was learning his 4th language after rebuilding a hydro-electric dam for Green Peace over this last summer, who was I kidding.
I sat down at the typewriter and put in a piece of my Ed M. Verner stationary that my parents had given me the previous year and wrote out a letter akin to the wonderful suggestions from my mother and showed it to her. Then I went back and spat out a different more truthful version; my short letter of reconsideration. I signed it, sealed it, and mailed it without showing my mother. It went something like this:
I received your rejection of my application and I wish to give you a chance to correct your mistake. You should hurry as I’ve been wait listed at Wake Forest. Though I’m sure I will make an excellent student anywhere, Duke is my first choice. I’ve enclosed my picture– take a look at that face and know how I won’t be requiring financial aid and I will be a successful graduate one day.
(I placed a snapshot of myself just being me, I think it was a shot of me playing tennis.)
Less than two weeks later a letter arrived from the Duke Admissions Office welcoming me to the graduating class of 1986. Somehow my application had made a miraculous leap from total rejection, past the wait list, and unto acceptance without any explanation. I ran to tell my parents and their utter amazement was genuine. I naturally assumed that either of them had called again on any cohorts or fellow graduates who might know anybody still at Duke to put in a good word, and/or they might have called the alumni donation office to politely bully them with threats of reduced future donations if I were not accepted. I can’t be sure, but it was telling how their reaction to the news was one of profound shock as was mine. Over the next week I had a few private breakfasts with my dad and interrogated him about who did he call or what did he do to get me in, but neither of them have ever laid claim to the change in my application status.
As the years went by and I’ve thought about my smartassed letter of reconsideration I’ve conjured up a romantic notion that I would love to believe possible. I picture some schlepp sitting up there reviewing the dozen or so letters each day coming in from perfectly groomed nerds, politely submissive youngsters all abjectly begging and pleading for any way to be noticed or reconsidered. I imagine the boredom combined with the seriousness of how all week long he must politely write back to each of them with a heartbreaking “no, but thanks for trying” message. I picture this man opening my letter and it jolting him for a moment… a laugh… slight at first with only a chuckle to himself. But in my version he puts his coffee down and has to show the letter to another midlevel coworker. ‘Can you believe the balls on this kid?”
He walks my letter over to the chair of the admissions department and uses one of his rare chits that perhaps each may have a few of up there, and says “Let this kid in.” Then he laughs to himself and mutters under his breath, ‘Good luck kid,’ and destroys the letter.
I know it can’t work that way, and I feel sure it didn’t work that way, but I’ve always wondered what happened to that letter. I doubt it is in any file.