The Waiting Game

It’s the thing all Ivy kids fear: not living the first class life worthy of 100+ Facebook likes.

If I told myself one year ago about what graduate admissions turned out to be like, she would have been preciously horrified. Being a fool, I only applied to a few schools and now am on the waitlist for one. I realized 2015 and the years following graduation would be filled with uncertainty when some of the places I applied and thought I would get in for sure shocked me on decision day (New Year’s Eve) with silence or with the dreaded sentence: “We have had many qualified candidates this year, but…”

After the initial shock and raging disappointment, I was left with two options. I could keep beating myself up, sulkily asking my family and friends why on earth did I not get accepted? Why did some other person get in? Why? Why? Why? Of course, I never get an answer satisfying enough. Admissions and life are both reasonable but random.

Or there’s the other option: scarier, over-dramatized by motivational posters, but effective. After a month of self-pity and my parents treating me with kid gloves, I realized that failure was actually an extraordinarily underappreciated opportunity: it was the best excuse ever to spoil myself. It was like an adult version of a sick day!

Friends and family would be a little bit more forgiving at my Netflix binge for 10 hours straight after a certain application did not turn out well: in fact, they would even ask me what food I wanted to go with the show binge!

The Waitlist Season – the name I gave Spring 2015 – thus became ironically the best semester I have ever had. It’s the silver lining approach that can be compared to Luck of the Irish. Suddenly admissions decisions did not seem so awfully nerve-wracking as they did before, for my response to failure suddenly became a major source of comedy. Whenever good news came my way, I would be naturally happy and celebrate it with friends; but when bad news arrives, I roll out every wish and bucket list I had available and start checking off the items!

My parents shake their heads and sound amused on the phone as I explained to them why I suddenly took up beginners skiing and art history classes. Oddly, I now suddenly have an incredible collection of books, chocolate, and weird music (a strange mix of everything from William Kempf classics to Trap Nation, my music taste is even worse than my cooking) that I never would have thought of getting if admissions had sailed smoothly.

If I had to sum all this up in a song, it would be that one chipper line from “I Whistle A Happy Tune” from the “King and I”: “I whistle a happy tune/So no one will suspect I’m afraid.” Since life deals out lemons routinely, we might as well figure out how to profit from the lemonade stand that shall be inevitably built.

Sally Ruge Gao

Sally Ruge Gao

You can contact Sally Gao at rg387@cornell.edu.

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