Sunday, April 7, 2013

An open letter to Suzy Lee Weiss

Dear Miss Weiss,

I read your recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, “To (All) the Colleges that Rejected Me,” with some amusement and a great deal of confusion. Since you attend Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, it appears that we live only a few miles from each other, but it seems that we do not live in the same world.

In this piece, you accuse colleges of lying to you, and you attack their emphasis on diversity and extracurricular activities. You now say that the piece is satire, but the tone is insulting. To imply, for example, that Elizabeth Warren got where she is because she is of Cherokee descent, when many Native Americans live in poverty you cannot imagine, is offensive to both Warren and Native Americans.  

I can empathize with you in one respect, though. I, too, remember the college search as very frustrating. It was my first realization that the achievements in which I took great pride were actually quite ordinary. Colleges didn’t care about my prowess in my local TV station’s quiz-bowl game, and their definition of community service didn’t include being my dad’s designated driver on the way home from the racetrack.

But the similarity of your experience to mine ends there. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, in a neighborhood that was near the middle of the bell curve as far as income and social standing. My father ran a barber shop and put four of his five kids through college—and the fifth one makes the most money, of course.

You’ve listed some of the colleges that rejected you—Princeton, Yale, Penn and Vanderbilt. Getting into these colleges was not something my peers and I needed to worry about. Nobody from these schools recruited us and no teacher or counselor mentioned their names. These were mythical places that topped lists that we read in news magazines while waiting for the dentist, nothing more.

For most of my classmates, the college search began and ended with two words—Ohio State. Now, I have many OSU alumni as Facebook friends, so, before they think I’m putting down Ohio State, let me say that it’s a very good school in many respects, and their football team doesn’t suck, either. On the other hand, I’ve never read a magazine article titled “How to Get Your Kid into Ohio State.”

Why Ohio State? Proximity was a factor, as were its size and the ease of admission. But the school’s most important feature was its relatively low tuition. The kids in my neighborhood wouldn’t have been able to afford Princeton or Yale, even if they were accepted by those schools.

In the world where I grew up, being accepted by a college wasn’t an issue so much as paying for it.  I was accepted by four schools—Ohio State, Ohio University, Michigan State and Otterbein. I went to Otterbein, a small liberal arts college in Westerville, Ohio. Most of the people in your social set haven’t heard of it, and those who have probably have it confused with Oberlin. It was not my original first choice, or the second, or the third, or the 50th. Frankly, the only reason I applied there was that there was no application fee at that time. And the main reason I went there? It was the only college that offered me a scholarship--which meant a lot to me, and even more to my parents, who were footing the bill. And Otterbein worked out well. I graduated four years later and have a lot of happy memories of the place.

I think the college search is getting to you, Suzy. Maybe what you really need is a year off. Not to go “find yourself,” whatever that means, but to try a different approach. The U.S. Postal Service is currently taking applications for City Carrier Assistant, which is the job I’m working now. After a year of delivering mail under tight deadlines in all kinds of weather, neighborhoods and road conditions, I guarantee that you’ll be happy to go to any college that will take you.

Might I suggest Otterbein? Who knows? You might like it.

Best wishes,
Bob Fritz

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