The submissions for the teen category of our short short story contest were an interesting bunch. The exuberant inventiveness of the kids' group and the more refined language of the adult submissions blended in an extremely varied way. Before we present the winner, an honorable mention goes to:
- Gabija Liffick
Congratulations to the winner of a $50 Island Books gift certificate, and please enjoy:
All People Want In
by Cecelia Rosenman (age 15)
Diversity is all the same. It's taken years working as a college admissions counselor to understand that. Here I am again, dreading a new tour before it's even started.
It's always the same. I make my speech in a huge beige room filled with exhausted children and their eager parents. I talk about the wonders of my college and urge the overwhelmed kids to work harder because I'll only let in a few of them. Then lipstick-y women push the teenagers in front of me while the fathers loosen the ties that have been choking them for the past hour.
Of course, I was oblivious to all of this when I was eighteen. I rarely left Dad's farm, and was the first in my family to finish high school. That was enough of a shock. Then, I told my parents I was going to college. But all of the kids filing out of the auditorium now have been thinking about college for years. Many of them have been thinking about this college specifically. It's hard for me to admit that in a few months, I'll reject almost all of them.
My boss started out saying that this college should be filled with music geniuses, and running stars right beside physics fanatics and jazz tap-dancers. But as his lecture ended, he began to throw out words like donation and alma mater. As much as I want to recruit a diverse bunch of kids, I need to find people with money in the bank.
At eighteen, I had twenty-one dollars and eighty-six cents in my account. I'd spent a few weeks working with my father's chickens, and I felt rich. I hit reality when I started looking at colleges. The tuitions were big, and the test scores I needed seemed impossible. It felt like time to give up. College was too much money and too much work--and way too big for small-town me. Dad would welcome me back with a hug and orders to chop firewood. Then, an ax felt more comfortable in my hands than a pencil. Now, I rarely have to hold a pencil. My job is a speaking and reading kind of deal. After touring around and telling thousands of kids why they should come to my college, I have to sift through their applications and decide who is good enough for this school, and me.
Reading the applications is the hardest part. The transcripts are similar and the letters of recommendation blur together after the first twenty. But the essays these kids write are so vivid. Each one is a tiny portrait of a life. I still wish I could have met the blondie from Illinois who said her role model was the bearded man living in her gutter who was constantly looking for a green hat that never existed. If only I'd let her into this school.
By the time I got around to writing my own application, I knew it had to be good. My test scores could have been a lot better, and my bank account held no more than fifty-eight dollars. I woke up at five in the morning for a month straight and wrote everything I knew. The time I dropped two dozen freshly laid eggs made it into my application right beside my story of Max, my favorite horse who died as I tried to smooth back his wild mane.
When I think about the hard work I put in, it makes it harder to read other kids' applications. Scanning each sentence, I hold my breath, hoping I'll be able to make a quick decision. I remember Charlie from Manhattan. He'll never know that his father's fortune alone could have gotten him into the school. Still, I remember reading about Charlie's work with his "brothers and sisters." Before he was adopted by his wealthy family, he lived in an orphanage. Today, Charlie works constantly to fundraise for those children to give them better health care. After his first semester at this college, I heard the orphanage had been renamed after him.
But I also remember the long essay from Shilah. After growing up in foster care the girl was excited for college. Maybe her writing gave me hope, or maybe it was because I hadn't read more than ten applications yet that day. Either way, she seemed pretty great. She had good grades and a passion for basketball. I was shocked after finishing her last writing prompt, though. Shilah explained that most foster kids didn't graduate high school. She wrote that she was an exception, but that almost every other foster child never entered the professional world. Because of that, Shilah believed that the millions of dollars wasted on these useless educations was a huge problem. Shilah even included an impressive pie chart that almost made me agree with her. As the essay continued, Shilah said it would be better for the foster kids, and the country, to have these kids spend their lives doing farm labor. My mind instantly jumped to my own childhood, and the sound of rustling hay mingling with a chicken's loud squawk. As I was about to toss Shilah's application into the reject pile, I glanced at a list from the dean. I wish we hadn't been so desperate for a new basketball star.
I've read thousands of these applications. Each application used to seem like a unique piece of someone's life. Now, they all sound the same. Because behind all the different races of the writers, and every single city in which each strange story takes place, all the essays beg, "Let me in."
I know my own essay screamed those exact words. But that desperation didn't get me in, nor did my mediocre test scores. It was just that among hundreds of city kids, the farmer girl seemed a little more diverse. Never mind that the city kids had better scores. A farm girl would look impressive at freshman orientation. And wouldn't it be nice to give an underprivileged child a good education? So I was in. Whether it was because I was different, or because no one else was, I'll never know.