Boy, did I feel stupid that chilly October day during my senior year of high school, sitting in the Career Development Office with two fellow classmates. Across the table, a very professional-looking Grinnell admission rep (completely at ease, unlike my heart-pounding self) chatted to us all about that small college in the cornfield state I’d never before visited.
And that feeling of stupidity wasn’t really put to ease by the fact that I was costumed for the day in an 18th-century frilly flannel nightgown purchased straight from the Felicity collection at American Girl.
Yes, complete with the lacy bonnet.
I don’t even remember why I was wearing the nightgown anymore. It probably was pajama day for spirit week, and being me I couldn’t just wear sheep jammie-pants like everyone else. I had to be the one girl who looked like she’d just walked straight out of a Charles Dickens’ asylum.
Asylum material. That was the first impression Grinnell had of me.
College, I always thought, was the place where you finally had to grow up. High school was fun and dandy, but college was not the type of place where you could throw scavenger hunts or Star Wars parties or eat as many donuts as fit in your pastry-bloated stomach. Honestly, I don’t know where I got these assumptions, because every single one of those things has happened at Grinnell.
I guess I always associated college with the academic, and the academic with “serious” and “dull.” Even with my college application essay, I struggled and struggled to find a topic that was boring enough for colleges to think I was intellectual, yet showed the “originality” every college-prep book and guidance counselor pounds into your head from day one.
But let me share with you a little secret. Here’s what I learned about essay writing in college that I wish I’d known back in high school: academia gives you permission to write papers about some of the coolest things in existence, some things you’d never even been able to mention to a teacher in 11th or 12th grade. It’s in high school where they give you all those boring five-paragraph essays (oh, how I loathe five-paragraph essays!) about the motif of blood in Macbeth or about the causes of the American Revolution. In higher education, professors will accept with equal seriousness an analysis of wearing red on Star Trek or of the Midwest’s obsession with Brett Favre’s final break-up with the Green Bay Packers.
I know. I was as flabbergasted as you when I finally figured this out. Say what? I can have fun writing essays? Dear lord, if only I’d known that in high school. I might have actually cared about some of those papers I wrote. I might have actually chilled out a little bit when figuring out my college admission essay. I might not have threatened to abandon the college search entirely to go pull a Henry Thoreau and live by myself in the woods (I might have followed through, too, if trees had a place to plug in laptops).
Frankly, the whole college application process would have been a whole lot easier if I’d known that entering college did not mean throwing away my Felicity nightgown. It might mean putting it in the closet for certain occasions (such as when a college representative comes to talk to you), but there’s certainly no need to build a funeral pyre. In fact, after writing multiple college papers on Harry Potter, I’d say my childhood’s pretty happy right now.
Molly Rideout '10 is an English major and Gender and Women's Studies concentrator from Madison, Wisconsin.