Thanks to the recent college cheating scandal (and friends and family being on pins and needles about college acceptance/rejection happening now), I’ve been flashing back 20-plus years.
My letter was dated April 1, 1996. It arrived in a thin envelope. “We regret to inform you...” is all I remember. My mom and I cried. “Is this some kind of April Fools joke?” I’d done everything everyone told me to do — grades, extra-curricular involvement, contribution to community and church activities. I’d been officially rejected from the school I’d been dreaming about since the 3rd grade: I didn’t get into UCLA.
As a married mom of two now, I can point at that most stinging moment for what it really was: a test.
My sole reason for wanting UCLA was to get to Los Angeles — to study vocal performance, to become a classical singer/performer/actress (earning a bachelor’s degree simultaneously was a non-negotiable goal). My audition for the music school landed smack in the middle of a severe bronchial infection that silenced my speaking voice and completely derailed my singing voice. Six diligent years of classical voice study and performance down the drain: My audition was painful, forced, disappointing.
That April 1 letter confirmed what I felt my audition day. I had great options to enroll at Fresno City College or Fresno State and try again for UCLA the following year, but like any 18 year old ... I was impatient. You want something bad enough, you fight for it.
I’d be an experiment. I hunkered down and plunked a letter (on my own) and sent to UCLA’s Admission Board of Appeals — my first attempt to harness grace and grit. I respectfully cited how I was never informed that a rejection from the music school would automatically disqualify me from being considered as an ‘undeclared’ student. (At the time, there was a slew of students allegedly rejected from UCLA because admissions did not communicate that a rejection for an impacted major automatically rejected you for general admission.) Fight for it.
About a month later, I was wait-listed for enrollment that fall. This was a test.
Sometime in July, I started calling the Admissions Office. I’d dial the same 310-number from my family’s kitchen with my heart pounding. “Hi, I’m calling to check the status of my wait list number ... has it budged?” I was equally motivated and petrified. I fought through my fear and called every week that summer.
I noticed the same woman would often answer the phone. Her name was Priscilla, she sounded a few decades older than me and was always kind. I started asking for her directly and/or would leave a message for her if she didn’t happen to answer when I called. She soon knew me by name.
My trite test eventually turned into a full-blown emergency — the week of the housing deadline arrived and I still wasn’t off the wait-list. “Hi Priscilla, it’s Jill again. I’m just calling one last time to see if I’ve moved into ‘acceptance’ status? The housing deadline is on Friday...” My panic was palpable. “You know what, honey?” Priscilla’s voice replied with a lilt. “You’ve been so diligent, I admire how you’ve persevered. Your wait list number has moved... you’re in.”
It gets blurry here, but I’m pretty sure I squealed like a wannabe sorority girl and profusely thanked her. I remember her sweet “congratulations” before we said goodbye. My mom stared at me as I hung up ... we cried (again).
I mailed in my housing confirmation, enrolled at UCLA that fall, found Priscilla in the admissions office when I got there (we hugged), did not major in vocal performance, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies in 2000 and sang the National Anthem at my graduation ceremony. Since then, I’ve been fighting through rejections, reinventing career goals and redirecting disappointments in show business and media.
College admissions seem to be drastically different now, but the lessons I earned from my experience remain timeless:
▪ Do not allow rejection to define what you’re capable of.
▪ Reinvent and redirect goals when required.
▪ Fight through fear, or else you’ll never know what might have been.
▪ Ace tests with your efforts, no matter what the outcome reveals.
Tell our kids: Have faith that every hard fight will add up to something positive, through college and beyond. Also, the joke might even end up on the fools in your way.
Jill Simonian was born and raised in Fresno and is creator of TheFabMom.com. She is author of "The FAB Mom's Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby" for first-time pregnancy. Connect with Jill on Facebook and Instagram @jillsimonian.