Caracotsios: Confessions of an entitled suburbanite


Julian Caracotsios , Columnist

After a record number of applications – 32,772 in total – 4,554 lucky high school seniors received what, to many of them, will be the opportunity of a lifetime: admission to Northwestern’s class of 2017. Like many of my peers, getting into college was the ultimate validation of 12 years of hard work; the day I found out I was waitlisted at my top choice, the University of Chicago, I felt like life had given me a slap in the face. Looking back, this was a blessing in disguise, but at 17, I had no such perspective.

Anger and resentment should come as no surprise to anybody who has experienced the college admissions process. I was shocked – and to be honest, angry – when I saw the hurricane of criticism stirred up by a recent opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal. “To (All) The Colleges That Rejected Me,” written by high school senior Suzy Lee Weiss, is a canonical expression of the stress, anxiety and frustration that comes with taking the first step away from home and into a much wider world.

Caity Weaver, writing for Gawker, unleashed a scathing sentiment, calling it a “spiteful rant, flinging glasses of white whine into the eyes, not only of every college that denied her admission, but also every person who has ever been accepted into a college, ever.” She continued, saying that while “some try-hards spent their high school career trying … to build an impressive resume,” Weiss – naively – opted to take what Weaver denigrated as the “more virtuous path” of sticking to what she felt was right. And that is where I stopped. One word told me everything I needed to know: resume.

Preparing for a career and writing a resume is a ubiquitous part of college life, but not the life of a 15-year-old. Nevertheless, our high school “careers” start early, and we’re faced with choices that we lack the capacity to make for ourselves. Weaver chastises Weiss for mocking “killer SAT scores,” which despite being questionable measures of academic performance at best, we recognize as something we have to get through. But that’s not the way I saw it at age 17. I spent my weekends with a Kaplan tutor drilling myself with practice tests — but not from a reasoned cost-benefit analysis. I studied from the rather irrational and childish fear imposed upon me. Was this decision a reflection of maturity? Hardly. Do the tiger cubs Weiss references in an allusion to Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” really have a mature, enterprising view of what it takes to succeed as adults? Or is that our parents?

I can’t know what exactly Weiss was thinking, but it rang more than a few bells as I read it. My take on her “rant” is that the college admissions process can be an unexpected cold shower for many of us by no fault of our own. My parents — who worked themselves up from poverty and didn’t have the time or money for extracurricular activities — imbued me with the values that made them successful: If I focused on my studies, I would excel as they did. Past that, my parents let me do as I pleased, sticking to myself and reading books — no mention of violin lessons. In retrospect, I regret many of these decisions because I see the wisdom in doing more than academics, but back then, I thought that I had my priorities straight.

When I found out that much of what I believed wasn’t enough, I railed against the tiger cubs, the hospital volunteers and the “one-thirty-second Cherokees.” I didn’t feel entitled, I felt lied to. I wasn’t a tiger cub, but through no fault of my own. It’s not that I didn’t care, but that I didn’t know. I did, unfairly and immaturely, get angry with my parents for not “doing enough for me,” but at heart could never blame them for doing the best they could. Weiss got a lot of flak for supposedly absolving herself of responsibility, asking why Chua couldn’t have adopted her as one of her “cubs,” but she ends by admitting that, “To those claiming that I am bitter — you bet I am! An underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures? That too!” Learning that the world doesn’t revolve around our personal values is part of growing up, and adults should be held fully responsible for this. But this first time it hits?

Well, it takes only a shred of empathy to see why that might hurt.

Julian Caracotsios is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].