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Days of disappointment

POSTED April 15, 2011 10:39 p.m.

It's that time of year again, the time of year when high school seniors who have done everything right their whole lives discover that it wasn't good enough to get them into the colleges they dreamed of attending. Ditto for college seniors applying to graduate school.

If you got into your first-choice school, with financial aid no less, you — or your parents — can stop reading right now. This one is not for you.

This one is for the kids like me, or at least like me when I was 17 — the kids who got turned down right and left, even though they had straight A's and loads of activities and took all the hardest courses at their high school, even if the hardest courses weren't nearly as advanced as those that better-funded private and public schools offer.

As best as I can remember, I was one for six: one acceptance, five rejections, maybe a wait list or two that I can't even remember.

It didn't matter. My last-choice school — the only women's college I applied to — not only accepted me, but offered a generous financial aid package. My parents didn't even feel sorry for me. To be honest, they were relieved. No fight about going to a school that I wanted more but that had offered less.

I've heard guidance counselors at some high schools tell students that everyone ends up at the right place, that it's not the hand you're dealt but how you play it. I used to trot out those lines myself. It might even be true for some people. But some hands are still better than others, and playing a good hand well is a lot easier than spinning straw into gold.

I got a wonderful education at the women's college I attended and developed self-confidence about my professional skills that have stood me in good stead. I am a strong supporter of girls' schools and women's colleges, and I'm very grateful to the women's college I attended for opening its doors and helping me to enter.

But as I've come to realize, I developed absolutely no self-confidence about myself as a woman in my personal dealings with men. Ask some of my friends. They'll tell you. I watch my daughter at the coed school that was my No. 1 choice (which obviously rejected me), and I see her ease with boys in classes, with boys as suite mates, and I understand that I missed some fundamental steps along the way that I never really made up.

So it goes. You do your best with what you get.

Here's another truth: No one has asked me where I went to college in years. Decades, maybe. I still count among my closest friends some of the women I went to college with. But they are not my only friends, and to be honest, I'd have to think hard about where my other friends went to college, and I might well be wrong even so. At a certain point, where you went to college, or law school or med school or whatever, matters much less than what you've done since.

No one gets through life without disappointment. If not getting admitted to your first-choice school (or your second or third or fourth) is the biggest disappointment you face, then you are beyond lucky. I got raped four years later; that was worse. My dad died three years after that; that was even worse. No one wins at everything — or at least no one I've ever met.

You do what you have to do, accept what is given, come to understand that disappointment is part of life and the only way to deal with it is to have a good cry, take a long walk or hit a few golf balls hard. Then you get back to doing your best. Anger, resentment and jealousy, the easy emotions, get you nowhere.

The same is true for parents. As I said, my parents weren't the least bit upset with what happened to me. But then, they weren't particularly upset about a lot of the tough times I faced. I think most parents are different; I certainly am. I find my children's disappointments harder to bear than my own. I do everything I can, and sometimes more than I should, to shield them from the pain I felt. But as every child — and every parent — ultimately learns, there comes a point where Mom and Dad can't make everything all right, try as they might.

So here's to you, fellow rejects and your parents. You've got plenty of good company. And they're not always right. Not even close.

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