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THE VILLAGE IDIOT | Kiefer Sutherland, Being Waitlisted, and a Tragedy of Misplaced Value


I suppose this is a continuation of my attempts to make you feel better about yourselves by admitting how much of a shit I am (hence the name of this little blog). Since this will be my last post this semester, and since the specter of end-of-semester exams is looming, this goes out to those of you that are doubting whether you deserve to be here. I couldn’t possibly assess your human value, but what I can tell you is that your motivation for coming here, however petty, is more legitimate than mine. You see, I owe everything to Kiefer Sutherland.

I was always told, directly and indirectly, that I was special. My parents, teachers, and a bunch of little acronyms made me feel important, and I had no reason to disagree with them. They would use words like “potential” and “intelligence,” but never “direction.” I liked little things and weird things and a lot of things—specialization was not my strength. I joined clubs because they were there; I operated on the principle of “sure, why not?”

I couldn’t possibly be expected to choose a college then, could I? It’s like trying to trying to draw a line through a scatterplot of everything you feel and want and using that to predict the rest of your life. What are the chances of getting it right? I’m sure some of you have wanted to be electro-bio-chemical engineers since you learned to talk, but this post really isn’t for you, is it? For me, figuring out what to do was like playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and I was getting my ass kicked.

I was watching television and filling out my Common App after school one day when, in what I can now call an act of divine intervention, the season premiere of Designated Survivor came on. If you’ve seen the show, then maybe you recall that after the capitol is attacked, Kiefer Sutherland’s character takes the oath of office in an emotional and powerful moment. What you may not remember is that he does it wearing a grey full-zip Cornell jacket. That’s right, Cornell. Only the most impressionable, the most directionless teenager would see that and decide to apply to Cornell, but here I am.

To be fair, the story doesn’t end there, because when Ivy-day finally came, I was rejected by everyone—except for Cornell, which put me on the waitlist. I can’t blame Cornell for playing hard to get—it’s what all the best girls do—but that crushed me. I stumbled through April, committing to the lie that I was going to the University of Alabama while actually planning on not going to college at all. It’s not that I thought I was better than my classmates; I just fiercely wanted to do something different. My school felt like a factory that manufactured high-grade state-school students, which is the reason no one questioned the lie when I gave it.

It wasn’t until the Wednesday before graduation that I found out. I was driving with my girlfriend to our graduation rehearsal when I got a phone call from an unknown area-code. A man from Cornell’s admissions office (who I hate because he must have the best job ever) told me that a spot had opened up (because someone probably chose to go to Harvard instead). He said to talk it over with my family, and to call him back with my decision. I was emotionless during the call, and not because I was in shock. I had become so despondent that I earnestly believed that either the man was trying to scam me or someone was just playing a sick joke.

Even after I called the man back, part of me still didn’t believe that I was really accepted. For the first few weeks here, I still felt out of place—a virus waiting to be destroyed by some sort of academic antibodies. Eventually I would recognize my Imposter Syndrome, but I’m not done wrestling with it. So please believe me when I say that I know what it’s like to be haunted by the thought that you don’t belong here, and I think I can help. I’m not going to give you the usual lecture (that your true value comes from within!). Instead, internalize this fact and never forget it: you are more qualified than Noah Harrelson, and you deserve to be here.

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1 comment

  • Love your writing style! Went to Johnson and was also shocked when I got the call but still think it was the best thing ever to happen to me. Will be forever grateful and appreciative of the experience and opportunity it has provided me.

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