I grew up in Norwich, Vermont but went to a high school in Hanover, New Hampshire where Dartmouth college is located. When I was in high school I knew it was a unique learning environment which my college experiences and my teaching tenure has definitely confirmed.
The word progressive accurately depicts the learning environment of Hanover High and I hope, one day, to teach in a school that balances the pursuit of academics, athletics, and the arts as well as my alma mater. That being said, it is important to note that the majority of the traditions I remember as a high school student were far from the typical American public school experience. In fact, the school pretty much avoided the typical traditions like homecoming king and queen, Friday night football, school rings, and senior pictures. But one tradition that we maintained was how we handled college rejection.
To set the stage, dependent on our collective behavior, the senior class was awarded access to a room without a door to use during free periods. Wisely, this was situated directly across from the main office so supervision was pretty constant. There were times when caution tape was plastered across the entrance to the lounge because people chose to jump out of the one story window or our noise was excessive. However, when open for business, the Senior Lounge was a wonderful space for class bonding.
One such practice that commenced at Hanover High in mid-December was the posting of college letters. Once admissions offices shared letters of admittance and deferment or rejection to my classmates we would promptly post a copy of the letters on the wall of the senior lounge. But the uniqueness came from posting the rejection letters, not the ones showing admission. Yup, we shared our rejection. We voluntarily shared our bad news organized in columns by university or college for all seniors to see.
Twenty years later I realize the college process has changed immensely. In fact, I see this process every year. I’ve seen students open emails during class and then share the good news with the peers. Likewise, I have seen students leave school early to go check their mail at home. But I have never seen a group of driven individuals share their bad news in such a visible manner.
Here is why I liked the wall-I think it is easy to share joy and that the bad news is harder to process. By posting rejection letters it answers all those potential questions, “did you get in?” and allows students to have a collective experience with their bad news. Bad news is bad. But I guess I felt like this ritual made the bad, less bad. Yes, I would see many ivy league rejection letters addressed to high caliber students, but statistically speaking this is normal and to be expected. The wall certainly normalized this process.
November 1st is annually the anticipated deadline to submit college applications and at present I know many students stressed with their college application process. I’m hopeful that universally my students get great news, but statistically speaking, given their ambitious reach- they won’t. I know, for many, their college decisions will serve as the first rejection many students will face. Therefore, I wish they attended Hanover High in 1996 and could go to the Senior Lounge for support.
Rejection is inevitable in a long, goal driven life complete with rapid change. I am not stating that we should necessarily share all of our break-ups and professional failures on social media, but we certainly don’t need to hide behind them either. In fact, I’ve seen friends leave social media for periods of time after separations or job changes to avoid the questions.
While I don’t necessarily possess the naivety of my youth, the next time I face rejection I will remember the Senior Lounge wall plastered with letters from Harvard, Yale, Middlebury, or Wellesley that my classmates posted, and I’ll find strength in numbers. Numbers of people have faced various rejections and continue to strive with ambition to their next aspiration which may end in rejection as well. Just like my classmates were able to pursue academics at colleges they loved; collectively we can find the silver lining of rejection, too. The silver lining, in reality, may be the inspiration for change which we wouldn’t have faced without the bad news we never hoped to hear.