Here’s a repost from the original blog, written March 28, 2018. It appears as/is. I know it’s not currently college application season, but I think this post could be useful for some people.
Yesterday, my alma mater did a fundraising drive called #LoveYourLongwood. This is apparently a new development. For many years after my graduation in 1994, Longwood University was rather relaxed about fundraising efforts. I’d say in the past ten years or so, they have become much more assertive about pushing alums to donate money. I usually ignore the pleas, although I did donate during the holiday season.
I probably would have made a donation yesterday, had I not looked at our rather paltry bank balance. March still has three days left in it. Still, as I get older and our finances have improved, I have given some thought to donating more money to my college. The truth is, I owe a lot to Longwood. Maybe my time there didn’t lead to a smashing career, but it did leave me with a lot of intangible gifts like wonderful friends, some excellent experiences, and the opportunity to study music simply because I love it. It was a warm, nurturing place to go to college. Today, almost 24 years after I graduated, I still reap the benefits of my four years there.
I have written about my college admissions experiences before, but I’m going to briefly repeat the tale for anyone out there in Internet land who is currently experiencing the pain of rejection from college. I’m inspired to write about this after reading an article in the Boston Globe about the immense pressure high school seniors are dealing with at this time of year. It takes me back to the spring of 1990, when I was myself trying to find a place to go to school.
I may call myself “The Overeducated Housewife”, but the simple truth is, I was a very ordinary student. I didn’t earn great grades in high school and didn’t have super high SAT scores. I did do well on standardized tests, particularly in writing. However, I was a singularly unimpressive student in high school, even in English class. I would get praises for my writing, but I didn’t care enough about the books we were reading to put a lot of effort into my papers. Consequently, I earned average grades.
My parents, who had already raised my three sisters, didn’t really care too much about my performance. I got through high school pretty much on my own efforts, with lots of Bs and Cs and the occasional D. I remember working hard in school, particularly in my math and science classes, but not as hard as I probably should have. I didn’t have any extra help, nor did I have anyone pushing me to excel. I was also completely unmedicated, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think if I had grown up ten years later, I probably would have taken meds for depression or perhaps ADD. I was encouraged to get good grades, but it was entirely up to me to accomplish that. I didn’t really know how.
In high school, I spent most of my free time riding horses. I did do well in that activity, although I wasn’t particularly talented. My success in riding was mainly due to my fabulous pony, Rusty, a dedicated riding coach, and a lot of dogged hard work. I was definitely not “born in the saddle”.
When it came time to decide on a college, I had sort of a beer budget and champagne tastes on every level. I didn’t have the money to consider attending private schools. I didn’t have the grades or impressive resume to consider trying to get scholarships or applying to super competitive schools. My mother, ever the pragmatist, told me I shouldn’t bother applying to the one school I really wanted to attend. She didn’t think I’d get in there. She was right. In fact, Longwood was the ONLY school out of the four I applied to that accepted me.
Looking back on it, I think I would have had more choices if I had applied to a couple more schools. The other three that I’d applied to, besides Longwood, were in a slightly higher league– too high for me at the time. I do think I would have ultimately succeeded if I had gotten into any of the other three schools, but they were very popular choices among my peers. My crummy grades and mediocre test scores were simply not competitive enough and I got the dreaded rejection letters. Even Longwood accepted me conditionally, mainly because I was struggling in math. Fortunately, I had a wonderful math teacher my senior year who made sure I got through with the required C.
My trend of mediocre academic performances mostly continued at Longwood. I never once made the Dean’s List; however, I did blossom in other ways. It was at Longwood that I finally started doing what I was probably born to do.
People who knew me when I was growing up didn’t know that I could sing. My mom knew that I had absolute (perfect) pitch, because I took piano lessons when I was very young. My piano teacher noticed I could name pitches without a reference note. But I would never sing in front of anyone because I was (and still am) very sensitive to bad singing. I knew I could sing on key, but didn’t think I sounded particularly good. So I wouldn’t sing in front of other people, and was never encouraged to try. My parents were both musicians, though, so it makes sense that I’d have a knack for music.
To earn a bachelor of arts degree at Longwood, I needed to take a course in one of the fine arts. I chose music appreciation and a one credit voice class. I ended up excelling in the voice class and my teacher invited me to study privately. Before I knew it, I had joined Longwood’s Camerata Singers, which required an audition. I was soon singing with people who had been in choirs all through high school. That experience was truly life changing for me. Making music is now something I do most days, even if not many people hear my efforts. It’s made me a much happier person.
It may seem like a minor thing now, but that one voice class opened up a whole new world to me. I only wish I had taken it sooner. I might have majored in music instead of English. I both excelled in and loved my music classes. I got straight As in them, with the lone exception of that one music appreciation class I took. By contrast, I was a mediocre English major, except when I took writing classes. In my writing classes, I excelled like I did in music.
It was an adjunct music professor at Longwood who cared enough about me to encourage me to study music, even if she couldn’t persuade me to change my major. I can’t help but wonder if I would have gotten the same attention at any of the other schools I had considered. Looking back on it, it seems as if I was destined to go to Longwood. Maybe I wasn’t a superstar student, but I think I flourished there. Even today, I communicate with professors who knew me in the 90s. My husband, Bill, attended much more prestigious American University and he hasn’t seen or spoken to any of his former professors since the 80s. Sometimes, the less famous college offers a better value. I know I’ve often mused about how much more I got out of my time at Longwood than I did the University of South Carolina.
After Longwood, I joined the Peace Corps kind of on a whim. I was soon exposed to people from other parts of the country and then the Republic of Armenia, a place that had been mostly off limits to Americans only four years prior to my arrival. I used my music skills a lot in Armenia. Then I went to graduate school and earned those two master’s degrees that I don’t use… which became the reason I call myself “overeducated”. Still, I recognize that I was able to compete with people who went to “better” schools, both as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student. I don’t regret any of those experiences now, but sometimes I wonder how in the world I ended up here. In some ways, I have been extraordinarily lucky. I often feel kind of like a fraud, but I know deep down that I’m not one.
I empathize with high school seniors who are now dealing with the hell of trying to get into college. I don’t envy them at all. They’re dealing with so many things that I didn’t have to deal with. Life has gotten super competitive on many levels. I thought it was bad in 1990, but my generation had nothing on their generation.
It’s harder and more expensive to go to college these days. So many young people are racking up huge debts, and competition for well-paid work is stiff. Young people are having to worry about gun toting lunatics invading their schools and killing random people. We have a total buffoon in the White House who doesn’t care about anything but making rich people even richer (ETA: Remember, I am writing about Trump, not Biden).
I don’t envy you young folks at all, although I am very impressed by how young people are standing up and making their voices heard. And young people today are doing such incredible things… things that perfectly average, mediocre people can’t conceive of doing. I would imagine that the pressure to stand out must be insane… and yet it gets harder and harder every year.
I’m impressed by that insane drive to succeed that some young people have, but I have a heart for those who were perfectly average folks like me. It’s true that life is not a dress rehearsal, but most people end up okay, even if they aren’t stars. These years on the brink of adulthood can be tough going, but eventually, most people come to a place where grades and test scores no longer matter. So take heart. There’s life beyond the spring of your senior year. You just have to get through it and keep your eyes on the prize.