by Dennis Greene
When things are going great and I feel smugly pleased with myself, I try to remember the famous words of Golda Meir: Don’t be so humble–you are not that great.
And, because I save stuff, I have the documentary evidence to remind me just how not great I am.
In 1969, five years after compiling an abysmal academic record at Lafayette College, I decided to stop being a mediocre engineer and become a lawyer. I took the LSAT, did reasonably well, and applied to most of the best law schools in the country. Two of these schools, Harvard and Columbia, each required a recommendation from the applicant’s undergraduate institution. I had no contacts at Lafayette who might remember me favorably, but I nevertheless forwarded the forms to Dean Chase with a letter acknowledging that he might not remember me but nevertheless requesting that he complete and return the required recommendation forms. I had been one of only seven students in my class on the Dean’s List in our first semester, and I hoped that he would notice that and overlook that, later, I was on both academic and disciplinary probation. But nothing slipped by Dean Chase, and he replied as follows:
Contrary to the first paragraph in your letter, I do indeed remember you. In fact, I remember writing to you a letter, perhaps it was prior to your sophomore year, explaining why it was not wise for a student to have an automobile. I believe I pointed out that academic difficulties often arose when this became the case.
In light of what happened to your academic record at Lafayette afterwards, I am appalled at my success as a prophet. While I am sorry I was accurate in your case, I can only wish that my track record were as good with everybody else.
These somewhat garbled comments were followed by rejections from Harvard and Columbia. I also received rejection letters from Stanford, Penn, NYU, Berkeley, and Michigan. The Stanford letter, received only weeks after my application had been submitted, was the most crushing.
I am aware that we have not yet received all the documents required to complete your application…. however, the Admissions Committee… acts on applications whenever in its judgement the information available is sufficient to permit a decision to be made.
I had received an “early decision” rejection years before such actions became routine.
Happily (and luckily), I was admitted to BU Law School, but just barely. My application for financial aid was denied. When I met with the Dean of Admissions to discuss this decision, he informed me, with little warmth, that I should feel fortunate to have been admitted at all, as I had the lowest undergraduate GPA of any student who had applied that year. He then repeated, with emphasis: I don’t mean the lowest who was admitted, I mean the lowest of anyone who applied.
I asked if I could defer admission for a year so that I could earn enough to pay tuition, and he coldly informed me that he would not recommend it. I would be required to re-apply, and the way the BU applicant pool was improving, my board scores might not be enough to gain me admittance again.
I accepted admission in the class of 1973 and figured out how to make it work. I finished the first year near the top of my class, worked hard, got some breaks, and have had a wonderful life, so far. But I might just as easily have ended up spending my life scraping the barnacles off the hulls of rich people’s sailboats.
I’m not that great.
Whether it’s pop culture, sci fi, memoir, or whatever is on his mind at the moment, Dennis provides us with his own blend of humble humor–which is, of course, great!