Life Will Still Go On: Keep Moving Forward

04/16/2015 05:01 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015
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Over the past few weeks, millions of anxiety ridden, adrenaline-filled high school seniors have been receiving those "my life hangs in the balance" envelopes from various colleges and universities they have applied to. Some will scream with joy when they read the words "welcome to (fill in name of school)." Others will experience considerable disappointment as they read the words "we regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you admission to the class of 2019."

Yes, you younger members of Generation Y, this is the season of college acceptance or rejection letters. From this moment on, life will begin to move in a direction. Your performance in high school becomes virtually meaningless. Your postsecondary career has begun.

There is no doubt that this was one of the most competitive years in recent history to gain admittance into some of the nation's most competitive institutions. To those of you who "hit the jackpot" so to speak, congratulations. Hopefully, your four years will be happy and productive ones. To those of you who were not as fortunate, it is not the end of the world.

Indeed, the fact is that:

· There is no one pathway to success;

· A student's first-choice school may not necessarily be the best one for them;

· Many people who eventually are successful often fail along the journey; and

· Things tend to have a way of working out.

There were possibly a number of reasons as to why you were rejected by a particular institution. Your SAT or ACT scores were solid but not exceptional (trust me, test scores will not predict your future success). Your transcript was very good but not outstanding. Other reasons could apply.

Working in an admissions office as a graduate student more than two decades ago afforded me the opportunity to hear stories from admissions officers who would tell me and fellow students what stood out about the applicants that led to the unpredictable decisions they often made. One student gaining admission was a first-rate violinist, another young lady grew up on a pig farm in Kansas and a disabled student was an outstanding poet. Hearing such stories was revelatory in a number of ways.

In his national best-selling book Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be, op-ed columnist Frank Bruni of The New York Times makes a very convincing case that too many people far too often overemphasize prestige when choosing a college as if this is the only thing that matters. I would go further and say that not everyone is cut out for or even should pursue a traditional path toward earning a college degree. The old adage "no one size fits all" is certainly true in regards to higher education. Vocational education, apprenticeships and internships are just a few of paths that some students can, and in some cases, should pursue.

Look at some people who have been significant achievers in life and see where they attended college:

· Lyndon Johnson ― Southwest Texas Teachers College

· Mario Cuomo ― St. John's University

· Oprah Winfrey ― Tennessee State University

· Bill Gates ― Did not complete college

Get my point? All are respectable schools, but not necessarily elite institutions.

The hard reality is that life is not going to always to deliver what you may want it to. You may not get that job or promotion you wanted. You may endure a bitter divorce. You may become afflicted with a disease that hinders you. These things happen. Sometimes bad luck and personal misfortune is out of our control. As someone who has endured such misfortune at varied periods of my life, I can personally attest to this fact.

Ironically, dealing with adversity early in life can often be positive in the sense that it can often make a person stronger and more resilient as they get older. People who have been knocked down in life early on are often much better able to cope with the occasional roadblocks and curveballs that will undoubtedly come their way as they get older.

These are the sorts of experiences that can make rejection from your first-choice school seem as trivial as drinking a glass of water. The reality is that, for 90 percent of you, by early summer you will probably have moved on from whatever initial disappointment you initially harbored and, by fall, you will very likely be happily nestled into the fabric of campus life at the school you ultimately decide to attend. Life will indeed go on.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. Is a professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the co-author of Beginning A Career in Academia:A Guide For Graduate Students of Color (Routledge Press, 2014)