The Wall of Rejection: Students combat the stress of college admissions

Hallie Faust and

Seniors have put a positive spin on an often disappointing piece of mail through the Wall of Rejection, an annual grade-wide Palo Alto High School tradition in which students voluntarily and publicly post their college rejection letters on campus.

Students read the letters on the Wall of Rejection during brunch on Thursday. The Wall of Rejection is an annual senior tradition where students post their rejection letters in a location on Palo Alto High School campus; this year, the letters can be found on the side of Haymarket Theatre. “I think it’s really cool because these people aren’t afraid to put it out there, even though they’ve been rejected,” sophomore Jenna Hickey said. Photo: Hallie Faust

It is unclear exactly who began the tradition this year, as the only evidence of its commencement is a sign denoting the side of Haymarket Theater as the “Wall of Rejection.” The sign advises students to omit any personal information, so the majority of the names are crossed out.

Many students write notes or draw pictures on both their own letters and those of others in response to the rejections. In reference to the recent college admissions scandal at the University of Southern California, one letter includes a hand-drawn rower, complete with the caption “guess I better photoshop myself onto a rower.” This sketch alludes to one of the accused participants in the scandal who allegedly paid a source to get her daughters recruited by the USC as competitive rowing recruits.

Some students, including senior Calvin Yan, feared administrators would put an end to the tradition in light of the ongoing scandal. Although the Wall generally is not sanctioned by the school, administrators have allowed it with a name change in previous years to the “Colleges Missing Out Wall,” igniting controversy among students who felt that the official name drew away from the true purpose of the Wall.

“I’m happy that it’s still around,” Yan said. “I was definitely worried that admin would crack down on it this year because of all the buzz that’s been surrounding it [college admissions].”

Posting one’s letters is voluntary, and everyone has their own reasons for their deciding whether to contribute. For now, senior Jared Schlenker said he has chosen to not add any of his letters to the Wall.

“It’s mainly because the only rejections that I’ve gotten so far were just by email, and I thought it would be better if I put up something that was made out of paper,” Schlenker said.

It is likely that the Wall of Rejection will continue to grow throughout the next few weeks as more colleges release their decisions.

Meanwhile, Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson advises students not to lose hope when receiving rejection letters.

“I think it’s just part of life, the whole thing, and not everything is going to be smooth every time or you’re not going to always get what you want,” Berkson said. “As long as you understand there’s a place for everyone, and that fit is going to happen when you go off to college, you’re going to be fine.”

The Wall is enjoyed not only by seniors, but also by some underclassmen. Sophomore Jenna Hickey said she views it as an opportunity to learn.

“It’s just really interesting to see where people are applying to and what your chances are,” Hickey said.

The college admissions process is often stressful, and the competitiveness within Paly can add to that stress, Yan said. However, according to Yan, the Wall of Rejection encourages students to embrace an experience that is commonly viewed in a negative fashion.

“People at this school too often see other people’s successes more often than they see their failures, and I think the Rejection Wall is a great response to that,” Yan said.