Haunted

I bring a lot of navy blue baggage to my kid’s college application process. But it’s time for me to unpack right here, right now.

I recently read an article in The New York Times with the headline, “Being a Legacy Has Its Burdens.” Trust me: That can be true. My father and grandfather were Yale men. As part of research for a memoir I’m writing about my dad, I spent a few days last year in the basement of Yale’s Sterling Library, threading microfilm into a clunky viewing machine. I read Dad’s contributions to the Class of 1940’s class notes published in the Yale Alumni Magazine. I learned that in 1942 my father had somehow managed to get the final Yale-Harvard football score while at sea in the South Pacific. He reported that he was thrilled that the Yale football team had had the best season since his freshman year. He ended by saying that “[t]he spirit of Eli will haunt me until the day I die.” It did. And by extension that spirit haunted me for a long time.

When my sister, his second daughter, was born, Dad wrote into his class notes that he would start lobbying for co-education at Yale. Women were admitted to Yale five years later, in 1969. Ten years after that, I applied to Yale and planned on living in Dad’s old room in Branford College.

But I didn’t get into Yale. My father didn’t say much when I got the bad news. He didn’t have to. His eyes welled up when he read the rejection letter.

But that’s not the whole story. I had a full ride at a great liberal arts college and got a graduate degree at another Ivy League school. I married an Ivy Leaguer who went to Dad’s favorite school after Yale. His granddaughter will be attending another Ivy that he liked very much.I think that in the end I made my boola boola father proud. I’m 50 and my Dad’s opinion, even posthumously, matters to me.

It’s ironic that the SAT–a potential Golden Ticket to a dream school–was founded in 1934 to level the playing field by identifying outstanding students who were not from elite private schools. Sadly, taking the SAT has evolved into a bloodthirsty sport. We believe that filling in the correct dots seems to have the power to make or break a student’s career.

The reality is otherwise.

Listen up kids, I’m going to tell you something that has taken me almost three decades to understand fully: You can have a happy, successful life no matter where you go to college. It’s not where you get your education that matters. It’s what you do with that education after you graduate that counts.

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