Rejected by Ivies, Allderdice student is into school of satire

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Allderdice High School senior Suzy Lee Weiss wrote an essay about being rejected by top schools like Ivy League institutions, and it continues to be one of the Wall Street Journal's most emailed pieces nearly a week after it was originally published.

Because it is both petulant and scabrously funny, the essay resonates with those who can personally relate to its outsized whining but are too aggrieved to catch the satire.

As anyone within zit-popping range of a teenager knows, these are the most dreaded weeks of every high school senior's life. Nervous kids are finding out whether their college applications, letters of recommendation and serial exaggerations about how much they love mankind has paid off, in the form of admission to the schools of their choice. Many of the parents who partially ghost-wrote their children's college essays -- or paid others to do so -- have a lot on the line, too.

NBC video: Student lashes out at college admissions process

In this "Today Show" video clip, Pittsburgh high school senior Suzy Weiss talks about what led her to write a column for the Wall Street Journal that assails the admissions process at elite universities. (Video by NBC; 4/5/2013)

Fidgeting with vicarious ambition and terror, these parents consistently model a sense of entitlement that their kids pick up on. They've done their job -- now the universe, God and the admissions officers at the schools they desperately want to become indebted to must do theirs. No kid is more deserving than theirs.

"Like me, millions of high school seniors with sour grapes are asking themselves this week how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams," Ms. Weiss writes. "It's simple: For years, they -- we -- were lied to. Colleges tell you, 'Just be yourself.' That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself!"

While reading Ms. Weiss' essay, I had a flashback to the famous opening scene of the first episode of HBO's "Girls." Aspiring writer Hannah Horvath is having dinner with her parents at a fancy New York restaurant when they tell her that they're no longer going to support her financially, now that she's more than two years out of college.

Hannah, who oozes a sense of entitlement from every pore, points out that plenty of parents support their adult children until they're professionally established. Later, after her mother insists that they can no longer afford to bankroll her "groovy lifestyle," Hannah goes nuclear and whips out her trump card -- she's an artist deserving every subsidy she's entitled to by birth. "I think I might be the voice of my generation," she stammers, "or -- at least a voice of a generation."

By complaining publicly about not getting into the top schools, Suzy Weiss steps into Hannah Horvath's shoes to display a stunning cluelessness about how the world works.

"For starters, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school," she writes. "Show me to any closet, and I would've happily come out of it. 'Diversity!' I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker."

It's a funny line, though pointlessly cruel. Still, I admire the sheer skill it takes to craft a passage that whines about the death of an imaginary meritocracy without appearing to be a nasty human being like the haters who will seize her satirical commentary to denounce diversity efforts.

While Ms. Weiss appears to have an ambitious schoolgirl's familiarity with Jonathan Swift, she's untainted by the politics of satirists of privilege like Harry Shearer, Randy Newman and Mark Twain. She wields satire in a way that mocks those she perceives to be a few rungs down the social order while completely ignoring the real culprits standing on her neck.

At no point does Ms. Weiss ever blame the thousands of "legacy" students -- the often dull-witted sons and daughters of alumni whose names adorn campus buildings -- for barring her entrance to the Ivies like latter-day George Wallaces with trust funds. Surely, even in her young life she's met more than a few morons who attended Yale or Harvard. The whole world is run by idiots who were at the top of their class.

In a moment of honesty that saves the piece from becoming a banal pity party, Ms. Weiss admits that she "never sat down at a piano, never plucked a violin. Karate lasted about a week and the swim team didn't last past the first lap."

She always knew that these things wouldn't earn her entry to her dream school, so she pursued her real interests. She's a better person for it, even though she didn't get into Yale. I take her at her word that she's only pretending to be cynical for comedic effect. I can relate to that. Being a contrarian is fun.

If nothing else, she could have a bright future ahead of her as an incorrigible newspaper columnist.

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Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG. First Published April 5, 2013 4:00 AM


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