Perspective: The Unspeakable Plan

I don’t want to feel like I’m lying anymore. I’m going to community college. Read below to find out about my official educational self-outing.

They flood hallways and classrooms with sounds of their shared excitement as they discuss their dream schools. They are cautiously optimistic stress-cases, waiting to hear from their carefully selected, carefully selective schools. Ask almost anyone about senior year, and the first thing they think of is college apps. Frustrated rants about the entire process seem to fill my ears everywhere I turn. As a senior, you know the drill; it’s the one thing on everyone’s mind. At least that’s the way it often seems.

The subject is omnipresent, unavoidable and on the tip of everyone’s tongue. I feel strange as I sit in silence and listen to it unfold around me. Sometimes I even pitch in with things I’ve heard from family and friends, like a spy, a fraud; as if I’m hiding in plain sight, lying to everyone. I guess it’s more like selective disclosure. I’m vague with my answers. “Where are you applying?” Everywhere I go, I’m asked this question. Parents of friends from elementary school corner me at the farmer’s market and squeeze it out of me. Even complete strangers: my friend and I encounter a deep-voiced, silver-haired woman draped in dangling crucifixes in the Trader Joe’s bathroom who shouts detailed inquiries about our futures from a neighboring stall.

With all the talk about college apps, tours, letters of recommendation and the stress of it all, I rarely feel comfortable mentioning my own post-high school track. I am, by most accounts, a good student. I’m qualified to apply for college. I’ve taken a total of five AP classes, all in subjects I’m genuinely interested in. I hold a leadership position on C Magazine, run an after-school program for younger kids, love writing and am passionate about many things. Yet, I’m not applying to college this year.

It’s odd, though; with some people, I feel completely at ease. I open up and tell them my plan. Recently, I’ve noticed myself caring less and less what people think. Although I don’t bring up the subject myself, for the most part I answer honestly when people ask. It feels strange and burdensome, like some big announcement. Palo Alto’s culture is extremely competitive, more so than that of the majority of the nation. We have a tendency to determine people’s worth and intelligence based on a definition of success narrower than a tightrope long before they have even begun a career. I am not old enough to legally vote, yet I’m expected to know exactly what I want to do. Sometimes we forget that we live in a minute cultural bubble that is, in many ways, largely disconnected from the realities of the rest of the world. When I told our advisor, Mr. Wilson, what my article for this issue was, he smiled, informing me that this stigma around this topic was definitely a Palo Alto thing. Over half of the students at the school he worked at in Michigan went to community college, and the same is probably true of hundreds of schools nationwide. At times, the best thing to do is take a step back and scrap our definitions of what is normal.

I am going to community college. I don’t need you to be supportive. I am not looking for insincere approval from people I barely know while they look at me as if I just condoned cannibalism. I am definitely not looking for pity or persuasion. “You should apply anyway and see what happens.” I know this advice is kindly meant, but believe it or not, I have thought this through, and there is more than one path. There are obviously reasons why I chose to do what I’m doing, but I don’t think I’ll detail them here because it feels like playing into it. I know I am intelligent and have value without proving myself with some on-my-knees type half desperate justification, half plea for people not to think I’m dumb. Think whatever you want. People around here may not see it this way, but I have ambitions that are just as valid, and I’m planning to work just as hard to achieve them. I’m going to transfer to a UC and I don’t mind saving my parents thousands of dollars in the process.

I feel like I am one of those white walls that you project movies onto, except there’s no movie here, just shame being projected onto me. And I get it — it’s compulsive, a product of the environment. I grew up here; I used to feel it too. But I don’t anymore. I’m happy with my decision, excited for the new life and opportunities ahead of me, but everyone around me seems to think that I shouldn’t be.

I am not giving up on my future, and I am not picking what I do for school based on what will make my parents envied at dinner parties. Education is more than that. When I think about the future, I feel nothing but excitement. I want to intern for comedy shows, write for college magazines, learn creative writing from renowned authors. I want to take classes on Greek mythology and the Civil War, screenwriting and sociology, sit for hours in homey cafes and watch open mic performances. I want to travel everywhere. I want to make my voice heard and make an impact on people’s lives. I may not be applying to college this year, but that doesn’t make my future any less bright or my dreams any dimmer than those of my friends applying early to Stanford and Brown.