Editorial: Bring back the “Rejection Wall”: An open letter to Principal Phil Winston
Published January 24, 2013
Editor’s note: The Paly Voice Editorial Board endorses this letter. This article was published simultaneously by The Paly Voice and The Campanile, and was written by staff members of both publications.
Dear Mr. Winston,
We are writing to you on behalf of many of the members of the senior Class of 2013 about the tradition of seniors posting their college rejection letters on a campus wall. In the past, this wall has been unofficially called the “Rejection Wall,” but it was recently officially named the “Colleges Missing Out Wall.”
We understand and appreciate that the decision to rename the wall was made in a conscious effort to relieve students of any feelings of actual rejection, but we believe that the name “Colleges Missing Out Wall” detracts from its actual purpose.
There are several problems with the current naming of the wall. First, we do not agree that every college that sends a rejection letter to a Paly student is necessarily missing out. That may sound harsh, but it is only reasonable. They have each chosen from a pool of highly-qualified applicants, and they will undoubtedly have incredible matriculating classes next fall. When we say that they are “missing out,” we are suggesting that Paly students are inherently exceptional — we are fostering a community of denial. In a sense, we are practicing an unhealthy tradition of lying to ourselves about why our students are rejected. Instead of accepting that it is entirely possible to be 100% qualified and still be rejected, the wall promotes an obvious and immature misconception: that college admissions boards across the country simply aren’t smart enough to know a good applicant when they see one. While we acknowledge that Paly fosters a class of talented and intelligent students, the idea that every single student can and should be accepted into every college to which they apply is ludicrous.
Second, inherent in a “Colleges Missing Out Wall” is the idea that rejection is shameful. All a student must do to dodge that shame, though, is post their rejection letter on a wall, and in so doing, declare that they are too good for the college, not the other way around. This is an oversimplification of a complex decision process. It both serves to shield students from the truth, and acts as an unhealthy and unhelpful obstruction to student development.
Furthermore, we contend that the name “Colleges Missing Out Wall” undermines the very spirit of the wall itself. The act of posting a letter of rejection on a “Rejection Wall” can be a therapeutic process. It represents the graceful acceptance of one’s rejection and provides an easy first step towards getting over it and moving on with life. The act of posting a letter on a “Colleges Missing Out Wall,” however, is fundamentally different. It forgoes moving on in favor of bitterly dismissing that which students know, deep down, they wanted very much.
Finally, students were perfectly willing to post their letters on a “Rejection Wall” in the past, demonstrating that they were quite able to come to terms with their rejection. And while some students might not have originally intended to post letters, we do not doubt that the more letters they saw go up, the more encouraged they were to engage in the cathartic ritual of posting their own.
As principal, you would be doing a great service to your students if you provided them with the “Rejection Wall,” a mechanism that allows them to cope gracefully and honestly with their rejection. Unfortunately, a “Colleges Missing Out Wall” urges students to grasp an easy explanation that will leave them unhappy, rather than a complex one, that will leave them at peace.
Rejection is a part of life, and students need to know that the best way to deal with it is addressing it head on.
A “Colleges Missing Out Wall” pushes blame onto another party for a blameless event. It makes it easier for students to go into denial about why they were rejected, thus making them unhappy in the long run. What Paly needs is a mechanism that will allow the community to face the truth together, bravely. Only then will students be able to truly move on from their rejections and enjoy their college acceptances.
We acknowledge that you made the change in wording with good intentions. All we ask is that now, having been made aware of our concerns, you reevaluate your previous decision and allow the wall to go by its previous, honest name, the “Rejection Wall.”
Spencer Carlson and Elena Pinsker
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