12/22/2012 06:26 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2013

The Opportunity That Comes in a College Denial


"Dr. O'Connor?"

"Angela, how are you?"

"I know you're busy, but I wanted to thank you for your help with my applications, and give you these."

"Your grandmother's jelly cookies! I remember these exquisite morsels from when your brother was a senior."

"Yeah. My brother, who got in at Northeast Michigan State."

"Still thinking about your deferral?"

"I took every hard class we have to offer, aced the ACT, was named all-state libero, and made twelve dozen jelly cookies for the senior center. My grades and scores are higher than my brother's, I did more in the community, I'm smarter, and I'm a better person."

"And humble, too."

"Yeah, well, most days."

"And Northeast Michigan State knows that."

"I know, and I really appreciate you calling them this week. I just wish I would have known how tough it would be to get admitted this year."

"That's the hard part with college admissions. You never know what the quality of the applications looks like until everyone applies -- but once you know that, you can't really do anything to set yourself apart from the crowd. By that point, you are who you are."

"Try telling that to Jimmy McDowell."

"The concert band's bassoon player?"

"His mother made him start bassoon at four -- she read some article about how colleges can never find enough bassoon players."

"But if that advice is in a popular magazine..."

"Right. Turns out Jimmy was one of 75 bassoon players applying to Northeastern. Now that he's deferred, he's learning to play the piccolo."


"I told him I was in the same boat, that we'd both get accepted after our applications are reviewed again in February -- but he wouldn't buy it. He said he hopes the Mayans are right."

"About the end of the world?"

"Yeah. But then he said, he knew the Mayans were wrong, since his world ended when NMS deferred him."

"That's a pretty strong statement."

"I know. He's seen his counselor, and he'll be fine -- but I wish I could say something to bring him out of his funk."

"Why don't you tell him he can have his wish?"

"To play the bassoon at NMS?"

"No -- to have the world end."

"Dr. O, you're creeping me out here."

"'Maybe when we wake up tomorrow the old world will have ended, and a new one will have begun. Maybe in this new world a child's life will be more precious than an adult's liberty. Maybe we will value love more than money, harmony more than vanity, peace more than domination. Maybe the freedom to win an argument won't be as important to us as the person we might argue with. Maybe we will learn how to care before we learn how to take. Maybe our honesty and integrity will elevate us higher than our intelligence and cunning. Maybe we will be measured by what we have given, and not what we have amassed. Maybe mirrors will show us the people who have stood behind us in life, who have loved and forgiven the person who stands before us. Maybe we will learn to love and forgive too.

"'Maybe the world will have ended. I kind of hope so.'"

"Wow. Did you write that?"

"Nope. Someone named Mike D'Emilio."

"So it's only a thought away -- a new world, a new year..."

"...a new way to look at college decisions."

"This is just the thing Jimmy needs -- and just what I needed, too."

"Cookie for the road?"

"Are you kidding? If I eat one more jelly cookie, I'll gag."

"Nice visual, Angela."

"Merry Christmas."