I Still Wish I’d Gone To Princeton

Honestly, it’s probably a good thing for everyone I didn’t. I would reference the fact that I’d gone there all the time. I’d bring it up in casual conversations about F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’d have a Princeton mug. I’d have a Princeton mug that I would curl my fingers around strategically so as to expose the word “Princeton.” I’d generally be a complete and utter asshole about it.

But, as college students head off (like our interns who are returning to their Ivy League schools) I still sometimes wish I’d gone to a college with name recognition. On a practical level, I think I would have loved it. I’d have liked the old architecture. I’d have liked talking to leading academics. I’d have liked to take a creative writing course taught by a novelist. I’d have liked to be around really ambitious people. But mostly, later in life, I think I’d enjoy being able to say I went there.

Not that there was ever a chance in Hell of my going to a top college. I blame the existence of math and science. When my high school physics teacher turned to me and said “you genuinely have no idea what’s going on here, do you?” I was only mystified that she hadn’t figured me out sooner. Essentially all my essays read, “lines. They’re very interesting, aren’t they? So much sturm und drang in a line! Also, kinetic energy, wow, what a concept. You go, Einstein! [insert 17 paragraphs about an unrelated romantic episode in Einstein's life] In conclusion: Joule. It seems like a fun word to say. Joule. Joule. Joule. Well done, Science, I guess you’re not the jerk everyone thinks you are.” Honestly, I don’t think my high school physics teacher was all that bright.

I went to a nice little liberal arts college, where people routinely did things like set their mattresses on fire in order to have a more stoic lifestyle. It was actually very interesting, and there was a lot of ancient Greek and classical philosophy. The class president, last I heard, works as a dog walker.

On the upside, I didn’t spend all of high school doping myself up with Ritalin like the kids in Teen Vogue‘s article on “Varsity Blues”. According to one Manhattan student, after hearing about that scene in Election where Tracy Flick stays up all night baking cupcakes, she replies “Tracy Flick was probably on Adderall. Everyone is.” And then the reporter is all pretend-shocked and wanders off into the bathroom to do some coke to help her get over this baffling trend. Dude, of course they’re on Adderall. They go to private school in Manhattan. Their parents are sending Chauncey out to go fetch them extra-organic-macrobiotic Adderall.

Then Teen Vogue goes on to talk about how it really doesn’t matter where you go to college because “where you go to school doesn’t define you or your accomplishments, your life is what you make of it.” Which is totally true. And yet, yes, it will continue to define you, because people are assholes.

I remember interviewing a fashion designer who, after hearing where I went to school (she had two daughters at Harvard and Yale) replied “Oh. I’ve never heard of it. Well, you’ve  certainly done very well for yourself in spite of that!” Or the time I was out with a group of people who’d all gone to Ivy Leagues and I mentioned where I’d gone replied “were your parents, like, poor? Was that all they could afford?” I hope that person dies in a fire. A fire made of kinetic energy and 7 bajillion joules.

Now I mostly just say “Miss Deaver’s Secretarial School”, because, Peggy Olsen.

Lilit remarks “I used to wish I’d gone to Harvard. It was mostly when I was trying to get assistant jobs, and you needed something to make you stand out, and my school didn’t do that. And the connections. Having some connections would have been really nice. There were all these people who were doing internships at the same time I was, and they were 19, and I’d graduated from college.” And then Lilit said “fuckers” but only with her eyes.

All these inspirational essays about how of course the college you go to doesn’t matter? It matters. Your life is what you make of it, but it matters, because the world is lame and superficial and believes in labels more strongly than a 13 year old girl with a Dooney and Bourke handbag.

So in conclusion kids, take more Adderall. Hoover it down like racehorses. Or study more, or something. Then maybe you can get an internship here. We sure hope you know a lot about science.

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    • Eileen

      Be glad you didn’t go to Princeton. Any school that 1) doesn’t accept transfers and 2) insists on having a graduation addressed in a language spoken only by academics, with notes provided for the rest of the class so that they know when to laugh – is not a school I want to attend. Plus, as a girl whose high school colors were orange and black, I know how much those suck as school colors.

      Honestly, I think other people are more impressed with “name brand” schools than the people who go there are. My school usually comes in somewhere around #23 on “best colleges” lists. It’s a great school. The faculty are really knowledgeable and take the time to get to know their students. Most of the students are really intelligent, and the conversations at a lot of the parties are really nerdy, which I enjoy. It’s a great environment in which to learn – but so are a lot of schools (one of my favorite professors went to the same school Lilit did). For example, I went to public high school, and first semester of freshman year, I was paired for a group project with a girl who’d been to Deerfield. I was really intimidated until I realized that I knew more about the French Revolution than she did. Then I was shocked. She wasn’t embarrassed at all though (and as we got to be friends she made it clear that while she’d loved Deerfield, she knew perfectly well that it didn’t make her any smarter than those of us who hadn’t); she just asked me “What is this tennis court oath you speak of?”

    • Veronika

      People (my teachers, guidance counselor, parents, relatives) were always lecturing me in high school that I “Could have gone to an Ivy” if I had tried harder. Unfortunately, no one sat me down at age 14 and explained the lifelong benefits of being in a special club of rich, privileged people, if only I was willing to nearly kill myself for four years in high school.

      No one did, so even though the ivies like to trumpet that their admissions are blind and not based on class, the rich kids still have a huge advantage.

    • Dana

      I always found the American University system really interesting. I’m Canadian and despite a few elite schools our universities are pretty musch all ranked the same. You get roughly the same education at any school and it doesn’t really matter to anyone where you graduate from. Of course saying the you graduated from Queens, Mcgill or Waterloo usually impresses some people it’s really no that big a deal.