فصل 05

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فصل 05

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5

My mother ultimately did go back to work, right about the time I began high school, catapulting herself out of the house and the neighborhood and into the dense, skyscrapered heart of Chicago, where she found a job as an executive assistant at a bank. She bought a work wardrobe and began commuting each morning, catching the bus north on Jeffery Boulevard or riding along with my dad in the Buick, if their start times happened to line up. The job, for her, was a welcome shift in routine, and for our family it was also more or less a financial necessity. My parents had been paying tuition for Craig to go to Catholic school. He was starting to think about college, with me coming up right behind him.

My brother was now full grown, a graceful giant with uncanny spring in his legs, and considered one of the best basketball players in the city. At home, he ate a lot. He drained gallons of milk, devoured entire large pizzas in one sitting, and often snacked from dinner to bedtime. He managed, as he’d always done, to be both easygoing and deeply focused, maintaining scads of friends and good grades while also turning heads as an athlete. He’d traveled around the Midwest on a summer rec-league team that featured an incubating superstar named Isiah Thomas, who would later go on to a Hall of Fame career in the NBA. As he approached high school, Craig had been sought after by some of Chicago’s top public school coaches looking to fill gaps in their rosters. These teams pulled in big rowdy crowds as well as college scouts, but my parents were adamant that Craig not sacrifice his intellectual development for the short-lived glory of being a high school phenom.

Mount Carmel, with its strong Catholic-league basketball team and rigorous curriculum, had seemed the best solution—worth the thousands of dollars it was costing my parents. Craig’s teachers were brown-robed priests who went by “Father.” About 80 percent of his classmates were white, many of them Irish Catholic kids who came from outlying working-class white neighborhoods. By the end of his junior year, he was already being courted by Division I college teams, a couple of which would probably offer him a free ride. Still, my parents held fast to the idea that he should keep all options open, aiming to get himself into the best college possible. They alone would worry about the cost.

My high school experience blessedly cost us nothing except for bus fare. I was lucky enough to test into Chicago’s first magnet high school, Whitney M. Young High School, which sat in what was then a run-down area just west of the Loop and was, after a few short years in existence, on its way to becoming a top public school in the city. Whitney Young was named for a civil rights activist and had been opened in 1975 as a positive-minded alternative to busing. Located squarely on the dividing line between the North and the South Sides of the city and featuring forward-thinking teachers and brand-new facilities, the school was designed as a kind of equal-opportunity nirvana, meant to draw high-performing students of all colors. Admissions quotas set by the Chicago school board called for a student body that would be 40 percent black, 40 percent white, and 20 percent Hispanic or other. But the reality of who enrolled looked slightly different. When I attended, about 80 percent of the students were nonwhite.

Just getting to school for my first day of ninth grade was a whole new odyssey, involving ninety minutes of nerve-pummeling travel on two different city bus routes as well as a transfer downtown. Hauling myself out of bed at five o’clock that morning, I’d put on all new clothes and a pair of nice earrings, unsure of how any of it would be received on the other end of my bus trek. I’d eaten breakfast, having no idea where lunch would be. I said good-bye to my parents, unclear on whether I’d even still be myself at the end of the day. High school was meant to be transformative. And Whitney Young, for me, was pure frontier.

The school itself was striking and modern, like no school I’d ever seen—made up of three large, cube-shaped buildings, two of them connected by a fancy-looking glass skyway that crossed over the Jackson Boulevard thoroughfare. The classrooms were open concept and thoughtfully designed. There was a whole building dedicated to the arts, with special rooms for the choir to sing and bands to play, and other rooms that had been outfitted for photography and pottery. The whole place was built like a temple for learning. Students streamed through the main entryway, purposeful already on day one.

There were about nineteen hundred kids at Whitney Young, and from my point of view they appeared universally older and more confident than I’d ever be, in full command of every brain cell, powered by every multiple-choice question they’d nailed on the citywide standardized test. Looking around, I felt small. I’d been one of the older kids at Bryn Mawr and was now among the youngest of the high schoolers. Getting off the bus, I’d noticed that along with their book bags a lot of the girls carried actual purses.

My worries about high school, if they were to be cataloged, could mostly be filed under one general heading: Am I good enough? It was a question that dogged me through my first month, even as I began to settle in, even as I got used to the predawn wake-ups and navigating between buildings for class. Whitney Young was subdivided into five “houses,” each one serving as a home base for its members and meant to add intimacy to the big-school experience. I was in the Gold House, led by an assistant principal named Mr. Smith, who happened to live a few doors down from my family on Euclid Avenue. I’d been doing odd jobs for Mr. Smith and his family for years, having been hired to do everything from babysitting his kids and giving them piano lessons to attempting to train their untrainable puppy. Seeing Mr. Smith at school was a mild comfort, a bridge between Whitney Young and my neighborhood, but it did little to offset my anxiety.

Just a few kids from my neighborhood had come to Whitney Young. My neighbor and friend Terri Johnson had gotten in, and so had my classmate Chiaka, whom I’d known and been in friendly competition with since kindergarten, as well as one or two boys. Some of us rode the bus together in the mornings and back home at the end of the day, but at school we were scattered between houses, mostly on our own. I was also operating, for the first time ever, without the tacit protection of my older brother. Craig, in his ambling and smiley way, had conveniently broken every trail for me. At Bryn Mawr, he’d softened up the teachers with his sweetness and earned a certain cool-kid respect on the playground. He’d created sunshine that I could then just step into. I had always, pretty much everywhere I’d gone, been known as Craig Robinson’s little sister.

Now, though, I was just Michelle Robinson, with no Craig attached. At Whitney Young, I had to work to ground myself. My initial strategy involved keeping quiet and trying to observe my new classmates. Who were these kids anyway? All I knew was that they were smart. Demonstrably smart. Selectively smart. The smartest kids in the city, apparently. But wasn’t I as well? Hadn’t all of us—me and Terri and Chiaka—landed here because we were smart like them?

The truth is I didn’t know. I had no idea whether we were smart like them.

I knew only that we were the best students coming out of what was thought to be a middling, mostly black school in a middling, mostly black neighborhood. But what if that wasn’t enough? What if, after all this fuss, we were just the best of the worst?

This was the doubt that sat in my mind through student orientation, through my first sessions of high school biology and English, through my somewhat fumbling get-to-know-you conversations in the cafeteria with new friends. Not enough. Not enough. It was doubt about where I came from and what I’d believed about myself until now. It was like a malignant cell that threatened to divide and divide again, unless I could find some way to stop it.

Chicago, I was learning, was a much bigger city than I’d ever imagined it to be. This was a revelation formed in part over the three hours I now logged daily on the bus, boarding at Seventy-Fifth Street and chuffing through a maze of local stops, often forced to stand because it was too crowded to find a seat.

Through the window, I got a long slow view of the South Side in what felt like its entirety, its corner stores and barbecue joints still shuttered in the gray light of early morning, its basketball courts and paved playgrounds lying empty. We’d go north on Jeffery and then west on Sixty-Seventh Street, then north again, zagging and stopping every two blocks to collect more people. We crossed Jackson Park Highlands and Hyde Park, where the University of Chicago campus sat hidden behind a massive wrought-iron gate. After what felt like an eternity, we’d finally accelerate onto Lake Shore Drive, following the curve of Lake Michigan north toward downtown.

There’s no hurrying a bus ride, I can tell you. You get on and you endure. Every morning, I’d switch buses downtown at Michigan Avenue at the height of rush hour, catching a westbound ride along Van Buren Street, where the view at least got more interesting as we passed bank buildings with big gold doors and bellhops standing outside the fancy hotels. Through the window, I watched men and women in smart outfits—in suits and skirts and clicking heels—carrying their coffee to work with a bustle of self-importance. I didn’t yet know that people like this were called professionals. I hadn’t yet tracked the degrees they must have earned to gain access to the tall corporate castles lining Van Buren. But I did like how determined they looked.

Meanwhile, at school I was quietly collecting bits of data, trying to sort out my place inside the teenage intelligentsia. Until now, my experiences with kids from other neighborhoods had been limited to visits with various cousins and a few summers of city-run day camp at Rainbow Beach, where every camper still came from some part of the South Side and nobody was well-off. At Whitney Young, I met white kids who lived on the North Side—a part of Chicago that felt like the dark side of the moon, a place I’d never thought about nor had reason to go to. More intriguing was my early discovery that there was such a thing as an African American elite. Most of my new high school friends were black, but that didn’t necessarily translate, it turned out, to any sort of uniformity in our experience. A number of them had parents who were lawyers or doctors and seemed to know one another through an African American social club called Jack and Jill. They’d been on ski vacations and trips that required passports. They talked about things that were foreign to me, like summer internships and historically black colleges. One of my black classmates, a nerdy boy who was always kind to everyone, had parents who’d founded a big beauty-supply company and lived in one of the ritziest high-rises downtown.

This was my new world. It’s not to say that everyone at the school was rich or overly sophisticated, because that wasn’t the case. There were plenty of kids who came from neighborhoods just like mine, who struggled with far more than I ever would. But my first months at Whitney Young gave me a glimpse of something that had previously been invisible—the apparatus of privilege and connection, what seemed like a network of half-hidden ladders and guide ropes that lay suspended overhead, ready to connect some but not all of us to the sky.

My first round of grades at school turned out to be pretty good, and so did my second. Over the course of my freshman and sophomore years, I began to build the same kind of confidence I’d had at Bryn Mawr. With each little accomplishment, with every high school screwup I managed to avoid, my doubts slowly took leave. I liked most of my teachers. I wasn’t afraid to raise my hand in class. At Whitney Young, it was safe to be smart. The assumption was that everyone was working toward college, which meant that you never hid your intelligence for fear of someone saying you talked like a white girl.

I loved any subject that involved writing and labored through precalc. I was a half-decent French student. I had peers who were always a step or two ahead of me, whose achievements seemed effortless, but I tried not to let that get to me. I was beginning to understand that if I put in extra hours of studying, I could often close the gap. I wasn’t a straight-A student, but I was always trying, and there were semesters when I got close.

Craig, meanwhile, had enrolled at Princeton University, vacating his back-porch room on Euclid Avenue, leaving a six-foot-six, two-hundred-pound gap in our daily lives. Our fridge was considerably less loaded with meat and milk, the phone line no longer tied up by girls calling to chat him up. He’d been recruited by big universities offering scholarships and what amounted to a celebrity existence playing basketball, but with my parents’ encouragement he’d chosen Princeton, which cost more but, as they saw it, promised more as well. My father burst with pride when Craig became a starter as a sophomore on Princeton’s basketball team. Wobbly on his feet and using two canes to walk, he still relished a long drive. He’d traded in his old Buick for a new Buick, another 225, this one a shimmering deep maroon. When he could get the time off from his job at the filtration plant, he’d drive twelve hours across Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to catch one of Craig’s games.

By nature of my long commute to Whitney Young, I saw less of my parents, and looking back at it, I’d guess that it was a lonely time for them, or at least required some adjustment. I was now gone more than I was home. Tired of standing through the ninety-minute bus ride to school, Terri Johnson and I had figured out a kind of trick, which involved leaving our houses fifteen minutes earlier in the morning and catching a bus that was headed in the opposite direction from school. We rode a few stops south to a less busy neighborhood, then jumped out, crossed the street, and hailed our regular northbound bus, which was reliably emptier than it would be at Seventy-Fifth, where we normally boarded. Pleased by our own cleverness, we’d smugly claim a seat and then talk or study the whole way to school.

In the evenings, I dragged myself back through the door around six or seven o’clock, in time for a quick dinner and a chance to talk to my parents about whatever had gone on that day. But once the dishes had been washed, I disappeared into homework, often taking my books downstairs to the encyclopedia nook off the stairwell next to Robbie and Terry’s apartment for privacy and quiet.

My parents never once spoke of the stress of having to pay for college, but I knew enough to appreciate that it was there. When my French teacher announced that she’d be leading an optional class trip to Paris over one of our breaks for those who could come up with the money to do it, I didn’t even bother to raise the issue at home. This was the difference between me and the Jack and Jill kids, many of whom were now my close friends. I had a loving and orderly home, bus fare to get me across town to school, and a hot meal to come home to at night. Beyond that, I wasn’t going to ask my parents for a thing.

Yet one evening my parents sat me down, looking puzzled. My mom had learned about the France trip through Terri Johnson’s mom.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” she said.

“Because it’s too much money.”

“That’s actually not for you to decide, Miche,” my dad said gently, almost offended. “And how are we supposed to decide, if we don’t even know about it?”

I looked at them both, unsure of what to say. My mother glanced at me, her eyes soft. My father had changed out of his work uniform and into a clean white shirt. They were in their early forties then, married nearly twenty years. Neither one of them had ever vacationed in Europe. They never took beach trips or went out to dinner. They didn’t own a house. We were their investment, me and Craig. Everything went into us.

A few months later, I boarded a flight to Paris with my teacher and a dozen or so of my classmates from Whitney Young. We would stay in a hostel, tour the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. We’d buy crêpes au fromage from stands on the street and walk along the banks of the Seine. We’d speak French like a bunch of high school kids from Chicago, but we’d at least speak French. As the plane pulled away from its gate that day, I looked out my window and back at the airport, knowing that my mother stood somewhere behind its black-glass windows, dressed in her winter coat and waving me on. I remember the jet engines firing, shockingly loud. And then we were rattling down the runway and beginning to tilt upward as the acceleration seized my chest and pressed me backward into my seat for that strange, in-between half moment that comes before finally you feel lifted.

In the manner of all high schoolers everywhere, my friends and I liked to loiter. We loitered boisterously and we loitered in public. On days when school got out early or when homework was light, we flocked from Whitney Young to downtown Chicago, landing in the eight-story mall at Water Tower Place. Once there, we rode the escalators up and down, spent our money on gourmet popcorn from Garrett’s, and commandeered tables at McDonald’s for more hours than was reasonable, given how little food we ordered. We browsed the designer jeans and the purses at Marshall Field’s, often surreptitiously tailed by security guards who didn’t like the look of us. Sometimes we went to a movie.

We were happy—happy with our freedom, happy with one another, happy with the way the city seemed to glitter more on days when we weren’t thinking about school. We were city kids learning how to range.

I spent a lot of my time with a classmate named Santita Jackson, who in the mornings boarded the Jeffery bus a few stops after I did and who became one of my best friends in high school. Santita had beautiful dark eyes, full cheeks, and the bearing of a wise woman, even at sixteen. At school, she was one of those kids who signed up for every AP class available and seemed to ace them all. She wore skirts when everyone else wore jeans and had a singing voice so clear and powerful that she’d end up touring years later as a backup singer for Roberta Flack. She was also deep. It’s what I loved most about Santita. Like me, she could be frivolous and goofy when we were with a larger group, but on our own we’d get ponderous and intense, two girl-philosophers together trying to sort out life’s issues, big and small. We passed hours sprawled on the floor of Santita’s room on the second floor of her family’s white Tudor house in Jackson Park Highlands, a more affluent section of South Shore, talking about things that irked us and where our lives were headed and what we did and didn’t understand about the world. As a friend, she was a good listener and insightful, and I tried to be the same.

Santita’s father was famous. This was the primary, impossible-to-get-around fact of her life. She was the eldest child of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the firebrand Baptist preacher and increasingly powerful political leader. Jackson had worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and risen to national prominence himself in the early 1970s as the founder of a political organization called Operation PUSH, which advocated for the rights of underserved African Americans. By the time we were in high school, he’d become an outright celebrity—charismatic, well connected, and constantly on the move. He toured the country, mesmerizing crowds with thundering calls for black people to shake off the undermining ghetto stereotypes and claim their long-denied political power. He preached a message of relentless, let’s-do-this self-empowerment. “Down with dope! Up with hope!” he’d call to his audiences. He had schoolkids sign pledges to turn off the TV and devote two hours to their homework each night. He made parents promise to stay involved. He pushed back against the feelings of failure that permeated so many African American communities, urging people to quit with the self-pity and take charge of their own destiny. “Nobody, but nobody,” he’d yell, “is too poor to turn off the TV two hours a night!” Hanging around Santita’s house could be exciting. The place was roomy and a little chaotic, home to the family’s five children and stuffed with heavy Victorian furniture and antique glassware that Santita’s mom, Jacqueline, liked to collect. Mrs. Jackson, as I called her, had an expansive spirit and a big laugh. She wore colorful, billowy clothes and served meals at a massive table in the dining room, hosting anyone who turned up, mostly people who belonged to what she called “the movement.” This included business leaders, politicians, and poets, plus a coterie of famous people, from singers to athletes.

When Reverend Jackson was at home, a different energy pulsed through the house. Routines were cast aside; dinner conversations lasted late into the night. Advisers came and went. Plans were always being made. Unlike at my apartment on Euclid, where life ran at an orderly and predictable pace, where my parents’ concerns rarely extended beyond keeping our family happy and on track for success, the Jacksons seemed caught up in something larger, messier, and seemingly more impactful. Their engagement was outward; their community was big, their mission important. Santita and her siblings were being raised to be politically active. They knew how and what to boycott. They marched for their father’s causes. They went on his work trips, visiting places like Israel and Cuba, New York and Atlanta. They’d stood on stages in front of big crowds and were learning to absorb the anxiety and controversy that came with having a father, maybe especially a black father, in public life. Reverend Jackson had bodyguards—large, silent men who traveled with him. At the time, it only half registered with me that there had been threats against his life.

Santita adored her father and was proud of his work, but she was also trying to live her own life. She and I were all for strengthening the character of black youth across America, but we also needed rather desperately to get to Water Tower Place before the K-Swiss sneaker sale ended. We often found ourselves looking for rides or to borrow a car. Because I lived in a one-car family with two working parents, the odds were usually better at the Jacksons’ house, where Mrs. Jackson had both a wood-paneled station wagon and a little sports car. Sometimes we’d hitch rides with the various staff members or visitors who buzzed in and out. What we sacrificed was control. This would become one of my early, unwitting lessons about life in politics: Schedules and plans never seemed to stick. Even standing on the far edge of the vortex, you still felt its spin. Santita and I were often stuck waiting out some delay that related to her father—a meeting that was running long or a plane that was still circling the airport—or detouring through a series of last-minute stops. We’d think we were getting a ride home from school or going to the mall, but instead we’d end up at a political rally on the West Side or stranded for hours at the Operation PUSH headquarters in Hyde Park.

One day we found ourselves marching with a crowd of Jesse Jackson supporters in the Bud Billiken Day Parade. The parade, named for a fictional character from a long-ago newspaper column, is one of the South Side’s grandest traditions, held every August—an extravaganza of marching bands and floats that runs for almost two miles along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, through the heart of the African American neighborhood that was once referred to as the Black Belt but was later rechristened Bronzeville. The Bud Billiken Day Parade had been going on since 1929, and it was all about African American pride. If you were any sort of community leader or politician, it was—and still is, to this day—more or less mandatory that you show up and walk the route.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the vortex around Santita’s father was starting to spin faster. Jesse Jackson was a few years from formally launching a run to be president of the United States, which means he was likely beginning to actively consider the idea during the time we were in high school. Money had to be raised. Connections needed to be made. Running for president, I understand now, is an all-consuming, full-body effort for every person involved, and good campaigns tend to involve a stage-setting, groundwork-laying preamble, which can add whole years to the effort. Setting his sights on the 1984 election, Jesse Jackson would become the second African American ever to run a serious national campaign for the presidency, after Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s unsuccessful run in 1972. My guess is that at least some of this was on his mind at the time of the parade.

What I knew was that I personally didn’t love the feeling of being out there, thrust under a baking sun amid balloons and bullhorns, amid trombones and throngs of cheering people. The fanfare was fun and even intoxicating, but there was something about it, and about politics in general, that made me queasy. For one thing, I was someone who liked things to be neat and planned in advance, and from what I could tell, there seemed to be nothing especially neat about a life in politics. The parade had not been part of my plan. As I remember it, Santita and I hadn’t intended on joining at all. We’d been conscripted at the last minute, maybe by her mother or father, or by someone else in the movement who’d caught us before we could follow through on whatever ideas we’d had for ourselves that day. But I loved Santita dearly, and I was also a polite kid who for the most part went along with what adults told me to do, and so I’d done it. I’d plunged myself deep into the hot, spinning noisiness of the Bud Billiken Day Parade.

I arrived home at Euclid Avenue that evening to find my mother laughing.

“I just saw you on TV,” she said.

She’d been watching the news and spotted me marching alongside Santita, waving and smiling and going along. What made her laugh, I’d guess, is that she also picked up on the queasiness—the fact that maybe I’d been caught up in something I’d rather not do.

When it came time to look at colleges, Santita and I both were interested in schools on the East Coast. She went to check out Harvard but was disheartened when an admissions officer pointedly harassed her about her father’s politics, when all she wanted was to be taken on her own terms. I spent a weekend visiting Craig at Princeton, where he seemed to have slipped into a productive rhythm of playing basketball, taking classes, and hanging out at a campus center designed for minority students. The campus was large and pretty—an Ivy League school covered with ivy—and Craig’s friends seemed nice enough. I didn’t overthink it from there. No one in my immediate family had much in the way of direct experience with college, so there was little, anyway, to debate or explore. As had always been the case, I figured that whatever Craig liked, I would like, too, and that whatever he could accomplish, I could as well. And with that, Princeton became my top choice for school.

Early in my senior year at Whitney Young, I went for an obligatory first appointment with the school college counselor to whom I’d been assigned.

I can’t tell you much about the counselor, because I deliberately and almost instantly blotted this experience out. I don’t remember her age or race or how she happened to look at me that day when I turned up in her office doorway, full of pride at the fact that I was on track to graduate in the top 10 percent of my class at Whitney Young, that I’d been elected treasurer of the senior class, made the National Honor Society, and managed to vanquish pretty much every doubt I’d arrived with as a nervous ninth grader. I don’t remember whether she inspected my transcript before or after I announced my interest in joining my brother at Princeton the following fall.

It’s possible, in fact, that during our short meeting the college counselor said things to me that might have been positive and helpful, but I recall none of it. Because rightly or wrongly, I got stuck on one single sentence the woman uttered.

“I’m not sure,” she said, giving me a perfunctory, patronizing smile, “that you’re Princeton material.”

Her judgment was as swift as it was dismissive, probably based on a quick-glance calculus involving my grades and test scores. It was some version, I imagine, of what this woman did all day long and with practiced efficiency, telling seniors where they did and didn’t belong. I’m sure she figured she was only being realistic. I doubt that she gave our conversation another thought.

But as I’ve said, failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result. And for me, it felt like that’s exactly what she was planting—a suggestion of failure long before I’d even tried to succeed. She was telling me to lower my sights, which was the absolute reverse of every last thing my parents had ever told me.

Had I decided to believe her, her pronouncement would have toppled my confidence all over again, reviving the old thrum of not enough, not enough.

But three years of keeping up with the ambitious kids at Whitney Young had taught me that I was something more. I wasn’t going to let one person’s opinion dislodge everything I thought I knew about myself. Instead, I switched my method without changing my goal. I would apply to Princeton and a scattershot selection of other schools, but without any more input from the college counselor. Instead, I sought help from someone who actually knew me. Mr. Smith, my assistant principal and neighbor, had seen my strengths as a student and furthermore trusted me with his own kids. He agreed to write me a recommendation letter.

I’ve been lucky enough now in my life to meet all sorts of extraordinary and accomplished people—world leaders, inventors, musicians, astronauts, athletes, professors, entrepreneurs, artists and writers, pioneering doctors and researchers. Some (though not enough) of them are women. Some (though not enough) are black or of color. Some were born poor or have lived lives that to many of us would appear to have been unfairly heaped with adversity, and yet still they seem to operate as if they’ve had every advantage in the world. What I’ve learned is this: All of them have had doubters. Some continue to have roaring, stadium-sized collections of critics and naysayers who will shout I told you so at every little misstep or mistake. The noise doesn’t go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals.

That day I left the college counselor’s office at Whitney Young, I was fuming, my ego bruised more than anything. My only thought, in the moment, was I’ll show you.

But then I settled down and got back to work. I never thought getting into college would be easy, but I was learning to focus and have faith in my own story. I tried to tell the whole thing in my college essay. Rather than pretending that I was madly intellectual and thought I’d fit right in inside the ivy-strewn walls of Princeton, I wrote about my father’s MS and my family’s lack of experience with higher education. I owned the fact that I was reaching. Given my background, reaching was really all I could do.

And ultimately, I suppose that I did show that college counselor, because six or seven months later, a letter arrived in our mailbox on Euclid Avenue, offering me admission to Princeton. My parents and I celebrated that night by having pizza delivered from Italian Fiesta. I called Craig and shouted the good news. The next day I knocked on Mr. Smith’s door to tell him about my acceptance, thanking him for his help. I never did stop in on the college counselor to tell her she’d been wrong—that I was Princeton material after all. It would have done nothing for either of us. And in the end, I hadn’t needed to show her anything. I was only showing myself.

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