Dear Graduates, So Sorry That We Have Failed You

Dear Graduates of the Class of 2019,

We have failed you. I’m embarrassed to be a part of this generation that has created an unattainable expectation for college acceptances. Our system is flawed, and you are the unfortunate inheritors of this whacked out process we’ve created in the last few decades to get into college.  I’m so sorry that we have told you a 4.0 GPA isn’t good enough and that your hard work in high school means nothing.

Let me debunk that myth: a 4.0 GPA is beyond good enough and speaks volumes about your character and work ethic.  This admissions mania has planted the wrong message in the minds of those we want to lead our country in a few short years.  I want our future leaders to be raised up and empowered, not defeated, and discouraged.

Instead of celebrating your incredible accomplishments, we have told you they are not enough.

How we have failed the the graduates of class of 2018

My office has been buzzing for the past three or four weeks with dejected students who didn’t get into the colleges they had hoped. I feel for them and I know their pain is real.

While I thoroughly believe we land where we are meant to grow, that’s hard to tell that to an 18-year-old kid who feels like their dreams have been smashed and their hard work and grind was for waste. It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that everything happens for a reason when they feel rejected and discarded by a place they proudly sported a sweatshirt from.  It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that they should be proud because they did their best when they are being told their best wasn’t good enough.

It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that things will be okay when they feel hurt, unwanted, and snubbed by the school they dreamt would be their home for the next four years.  It’s hard to tell an 18-year-old that the person matters more than the path when they have been told for so long to work towards getting into a “good college” if they are to be happy and successful.  We are sending a mixed message and the message couldn’t be any more wrong.

The daughter of one of our family’s best friends has over a 4.2 GPA. Not to mention she was in student government for three years, participated in athletics all four years and was the club president of a service organization on campus.  She got over a 1460 on her SAT (out of 1600) and killed the writing part of the SAT, scoring one-point shy of a perfect score.  She is one of the valedictorians of her academically competitive high school and was elected to Girl’s State the summer of her senior year.  She volunteers at community events and has a job on the weekends. She is political active, passionate about civil issues and an all around bad-ass chick.  And she was denied at UCLA and waitlisted at UC Berkeley.

I can’t wrap my brain around this. It makes no sense to me.

I get it—the world is competitive and I’m sure other students had higher GPAs or test scores but give me a break.  She did beyond what was asked of her for four years and the message sent was “Sorry, not good enough”. 

This amazing student is going to move mountains when she is older because she is well-rounded and has a fervent desire to make positive changes in the world.  Any university would be lucky to have her as an alum because she will represent herself and her college to society in a manner that make a difference. She is a game changer, an influencer, and a visionary into what will make the world a better place. I hope she keeps her denial letter and one day when she is a US Senator, a Pulitzer Prize journalist or a Civil Rights Advocate she mails her letter back to UCLA and thanks them for reminding her that it’s not where you go that determines your success, it’s who you are.

I strongly believe at the start of their senior year in high school every student should read Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. So many ah-ha moments.  Bruni writes such a refreshing perspective on the college selection experience and the deeply flawed thought process that too many young people subscribe to: that they will have their future determined and their worth established by which schools say yes and which say no.  Bruni reminds and reinforces his readers that where you go isn’t who you’ll be.

One of the best examples in the book is about Condoleezza Rice, once the United States Secretary of State and now Professor at Stanford University who went to college at the University of Denver.  She talks about success not reflective of where you study but rather success is “that special combination of what you love and what you’re good at.”

She shares that great educations aren’t passive experiences, they are active ones. How much you throw yourself into your college experience will pave the road to the opportunities that follow. Rice emphasizes that more than formal education, the relationships you make in college – especially with your professors – will help determine the trajectory of your life’s path.

So, there you have it – less about where, more about what really matters.  Over the past few years I’ve also learned the phrase “good college” is so subjective. Kids fret over the idea of going to a “good college” and parents put ungodly amounts of pressure on their young students to aim for a “good college,” as if that determines their fate in life. It’s the reason I see 13, 14 or 15-year-old students struggling with anxiety and panic attacks at a time in their lives when they should be having fun, going to school dances, and learning about the life skills it takes to be successful.  Not to mention, I know plenty of crazy successful people went to community college or who are plumbers, contractors, finish carpenters, web developers or electricians that went to a trade school and do what they love every day. Lucky them – that’s the true definition of success.

I went to a state university (gasp!) for my undergraduate studies and while you may not refer to it as an elite college or one of great prestige, I firmly believe it is a great college and prepared me to be successful in so many areas of my life.   I had incredible professors who cared about their students, professional mentors that inspired my learning and met the best friends I could ask for.  While none of us followed the same career path, each of us is successful in our own right. When speaking with my old chums, most of us look back on our college days as positive, valuable, and helpful in our life’s travel.

Getting into college isn’t the end of your journey, it is just the beginning.  If you were denied to a school you hoped to get into, it’s not the end of the world.  Please don’t take a denial as a personal refection of who you are or what you are accomplished. You are more than a letter, a rating, or a standardized test score. Lean into all you have done to get where you are and all that lies ahead that will help mold and shape the person you will become.

Work past your disappointment (it’s okay to feel it, just don’t dwell on it) and go do great things with your life.  Embrace the schools that embraced you.  There is not one perfect school, there are many. Be open to something different than you planned and you may be pleasantly surprised with your decision.  Getting into a selective school does not equal success. Hard work, determination, discipline, and grit are so much more important to your future than what college you get into.

Class of 2019, you will do amazing things.  You are ready to launch into a world that is excited to welcome you.  I hope you learn from our mistakes and focus less on praise and more on the passion.  Focus less on image and more on imagination. Focus less on status and more on satisfaction. Do what makes you happy and be proud of whatever the next step in your journey looks like.

Stay hungry, stay humble and have integrity. Now is the time to discover who you are and open a new and exciting chapter of your life. Onward!


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About Kelly Richardson

Kelly Richardson, "Thera-mom" is a Licensed Psychotherapist, mom of 3 and a blogger. She lives in Northern California with her husband who coaches college football, her two college aged sons who are back home due to Corona-virus, her high school daughter and her amazing black lab Sunshine. She loves watching any and all sports her kids play, traveling anywhere that has an ocean and hanging out with her tribe of women she calls her "trenchips."

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