Confessions of an Elitist

Editorial  /  by Isabel Karohl '18  /  January 12, 2018

A few weeks ago a couple other students and I attended an Lawrenceville alumni Christmas party—uncomfortable heels on, makeup covering my face. Though I say party, I think we all know that Lawrenceville festive gatherings are more like banquets and balls. Groups of middle-aged men in skinny ties discussed the important work they accomplished over the past couple months, and the orchestra conductor played Charlie Brown Christmas on what I’m sure was a very expensive piano. I enjoyed the party thoroughly, though. Between bites of fondue, I learned of elaborate and somewhat foolish House traditions, of ostentatious pranks that I’m sure would land us majors, if not expulsions, if attempted nowadays. But amidst handshakes and small talk, insights and intrusive questions about future college plans, a voice gnawed at my conscience:

What if this is the most elite group I will ever be admitted to? What if I won't be in an environment this intellectual ever again? What if my Lawrenceville acceptance letter three years ago is the most I’ll ever be recognized for greatness?

To confirm my anxiety, one can take a tour around one of many Irwin tables: students from Turkey, Belgium, Singapore, Hong Kong, Pennsylvania, Texas, and New Jersey sit side-by-side. The group holds national and international accolades in opera, science, fencing, songwriting, squash, and history that constantly debate digital ethics; they are friends that enjoy watching funny television shows and sneaking in clever jokes between classes. I know I live in the company of incredible people—a circumstance I fear is disappearing as I move to the next stage of life, all because I failed to meet the bar of admission to a similarly selective institution.

So, a couple hours before departing for Winter Break, I added another Ivy League school and a slew of other reputable universities to my college list. And to be honest with you, I can’t quite tell you exactly why. Perhaps I’m in fear that admissions and faculty deceived me when they told me I earned my spot here. Because if I truly deserve to go to a school this intellectual, this prestigious, and this well-known, then it will be affirmed by my acceptance to a university that’s also this intellectual, this prestigious, and this well-known.

At the end of the day, I derive self-worth from saying I attend Lawrenceville—to have breathed in the important air of a hallmark institution where ideas are born, leaders are made, and greatness is the expectation. I value myself for being selected by Lawrenceville and refuse to believe that Lawrenceville selected me because of my value. This sentiment, which we’ve all surrendered to at one point or another, is the bedrock of elitism. It’s the idea that my own worth is the reputation of my school, and later my job, and later my family, and I use the reputation of others as an assumption for their greatness too. But it’s flawed.

We're told admission to an elite prep school is a golden ticket deserved by its holder, but I think what we all learn within two years, or three or four, is that ‘elite’ does not necessarily mean ‘earned.’ There are Lawrenceville alumni with actualized dreams and unbridled passion and Lawrenceville alumni who are quietly and ashamedly discontent with the lives they live. Graduating from Lawrenceville does not guarantee greatness, no matter how much we assume our lives will flourish because we were selected to be Lawrentians. This is not to say that Lawrentians do not go onto do great things, but merely going to Lawrenceville is no indication that you’ve “made it” into the elite. In fact, there is no definitive marker—no school name, no top management position, no finite amount of money—that divides the successful from the near-misses. Each of us will leave Lawrenceville for a bigger world, and years down the road we’ll have something more substantive than a school name to stake our self-worth upon: our ideas, skills, work, friends, character, and hearts. Though admission to one school or another is a factor in dictating our lives-to-be, we must trust ourselves as the primary determinant in what we will become instead of relying on our institution’s name for self-confidence or future success.

As for me, I’m not quite there yet, but I soon hope to be.