The other evening I participated in a college panel with colleagues from Columbia and Harvard. This college conversation has become my pre-season for the annual fall college recruitment cycle. I enjoy being in a relaxed setting and speaking with students and parents about the college process.
The questions from students and their families spanned the range from tactical — concerning essay topics and which courses to take — to questions about ‘best fit’ in a college environment. Again pre-season: warming up, no pads, no contact drills. No pressure.
Afterwards, I got into a conversation with a couple in their mid-twenties who were there as friends of the host to help with parking logistics. He was a Lehigh engineering graduate whose areas of expertise are systems, supply chain, stochastic modeling. She studied communications and media, also at Lehigh. It was refreshing to speak to this couple in their mid-twenties with perspective on the world yet with so much in front of them. We spoke about what kind of education a person needs regardless of their interests. We spoke about engineering capstone experiences, internships and co-op educations like those offered at Drexel and Northeastern. It was a great conversation.
When the hosts rang the dinner bell, we moved towards the dinner line, and she and I had a quick moment to continue our conversation. She then told me that she had heard me introduce myself at the start of the panel. She said, “You know, six years ago you denied me when I applied to Penn.” Oops, I thought this was the pre-season. But before I could even come up with a reply, she smiled and said what many of us know about ‘rejection.’ “I would never have had the experiences I did if I followed in my sister’s footsteps,” she told me. “I needed a smaller school and not an urban environment. It all worked out for me.”
I wish the students who had just left for dinner could hear that message. Yes, there are going to be disappointing results throughout life. Those are the times when we need to look deeper, to re-assess. You denied me, and thank you because I ended up in exactly the place I was meant to be. And I hope they both apply to Penn for graduate school!