It’s three weeks until I move in, and the past is on my mind. The way I see it, I’m only going to get more nostalgic as Wildcat Welcome week approaches. I figure I’ll reach critical nostalgic mass some time during the second week of September, at which point I’ll be sobbing in the fetal position on the floor over how much better the original 151 Pokémon were.
But I’ve been thinking about the past lately, about all the stuff that’s led up to the next few weeks. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that some of it has lost its significance over the past few months. Lord knows my PSAT and ACT scores have lost virtually all meaning. I don’t know when it happened, but my life has turned into a Talking Heads song.
And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
A little over a year ago, I did a campus tour of Northwestern. It was the Friday before Memorial Day, my junior year. I hadn’t given too much thought to the college application process at that point, but I could see it fast approaching. I liked what I saw in Evanston, as I’m sure you could figure, but my enthusiasm for the school was tempered by one thing, one lone qualifier that gave me no shortage of stress over the following six months.
The journalism program will be great — if I can get in. I’ll be able to take classes in subjects that actually interest me — if I can get in. Evanston will be fantastic — if I can get in. And so on. It was hard for me to really enjoy that campus visit, what with all the doubt nagging from the depths of my subconscious.
I didn’t want to kid myself — Northwestern wasn’t a sure thing, not by any prudent definition of the term. My grades and test scores were pretty good, but they could be better. I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
So I wasn’t sure how quite to respond when my parents told me, at the end of our tour, that they wanted to buy me a Northwestern T-shirt. What I told them was that I didn’t want to jinx it, which was partially true. I’ve never been a superstitious guy, but this wasn’t the sort of thing I was willing to risk. The words “tempting fate” came to mind.
Truthfully, it was more complicated than that. On the one hand, I didn’t want to open myself up to any sort of public failure. Wearing a school shirt at the end of junior year would be a tacit admission that I was looking at the school. I was planning on applying Early Decision, but I wasn’t going to speak too openly about it until the decision came one way or another. In case I didn’t get it, well … I didn’t want to think about that.
On the other hand, there was some serious social posturing involved. Much of my interest in Northwestern — serious interest, at least, the kind that would actually get me to apply — was kicked off by an ex-girlfriend. She had taken summer classes there, and I knew she was looking at the school. She was the one who had dragged me all those months ago to a Northwestern informational meeting at our school.
I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing that I was looking seriously at Northwestern. I was too proud to announce to the world that she had been right all along.
Maybe she was right, after all. Maybe all of this is her fault.
Truth be told, Early Decision was probably the sanest decision I could have ever made. By this past November, I had made peace with the fact that my acceptance was still up in the air. If I got in, I’d go to Northwestern. If I didn’t, I’d go to the University of Minnesota. No worries.
I still occasionally stressed about it. In my first-hour class, I sat across from a girl who had applied ED to Brown. Every day, I’d walk into class at 8 in the morning, and she’d lean across the aisle, an increasingly unnerved look on her face.
“Oh, my God, Sam,” she’d say. “Aren’t you just dying right now?”
The truth was that I wasn’t, except for whenever she’d bring it up. Maybe that was why I didn’t want to wear the T-shirt after I did the campus tour. If I wasn’t thinking about it, it wasn’t a problem.
Well, spoiler alert: I got in. The first thing my parents did was order an unhealthy amount of Northwestern paraphernalia, which I received in staggered shipments for a period of no less than four months. This was what I had earned: the right to use a Northwestern-branded toothbrush.
I guess it’s worth mentioning that I ended up at a party this past March with that same ex-girlfriend who had first sparked my interest in Northwestern. She was acting weird all night, and not just the kind of weird that I could expect from the fact that she was my ex.
Finally, towards the end of the night, she explained to me what was bothering her. She told me that she didn’t think I had “earned” my acceptance. She didn’t think I had worked hard enough. Not as hard as she had, at least. She hadn’t heard back from any of her schools yet, so college was a tense point of discussion. (She ended up getting into Northwestern, but taking a place at a school in Texas that gave her more financial aid.)
I shrugged. “Yeah, you’re probably right about that.”
I was wearing my Northwestern sweatshirt that night. I wonder if that was what pissed her off. Same as it ever was, I guess.