Genre: Personal Essay
The camera pans around her bedroom, presenting the multiple awards and valedictorian sash hung on her mirror while a woman delivers a hyperbolic motivational speech. It’s no secret that Molly is an intense and intelligent character with her nerdy exterior and type-A bookworm behavior. She spent her entire high school life away from wild parties thrown by her popular classmates, and much like you, used that time to slave away studying to get the highest grades. In her case, it meant being valedictorian, and in yours, being accepted into a prestigious university.
You thought you were similar in that way: preferring a night in rather than out with a friend, but you also saw yourself in the feminist posters she slathered across her walls and in the way she bonds with her English teacher. You saw how she over-analyzes mundane topics, somehow seamlessly intersecting them into feminist arguments. You thought you were alike, but you especially found yourself in her egocentricity. Similar to Molly, you were much too focused on proving your competency to everyone else. You valued your worth in the affirmations you received, relentlessly searching for validation from teachers and the grade on your papers. The expectation that you were great enough bore your naked cold heart out into the open, torn apart by the unexpected rejection letter you received. It made you feel ashamed, knowing your friends were going to the same university you failed to get into.
When Molly discovered the truth about her classmates’ fate, the tall towering pedestal she placed for herself came to level with everyone else. Her glorified mediocracy slapped and exploded right in her face, disheveling her ego built around being the best there is. Molly was so positive that the world is only fit for the intelligent, hard-working woman that she is. When she realizes that other people can fit in that bubble, her security of that success is lost. As you watched the film, you knew the reaction plastered on her face all too well. At the time, it felt humiliating to return the news to your friends, feeling foolish for thinking you had been as good as them. You saw that panic in Molly because we were told to be great while others were greater.
In high school, it was always the people who worked more– who cared more– who deserved the A grade. For this reason, Molly felt cheated by her rather promiscuous classmates’ admission to Yale. More than entitlement, her feelings were deeply self-righteous because why can’t a girl who sleeps around ace the SATs as well? You thought it was easy for Molly to discredit another girl’s success for flaunting her sexuality because she was insecure, and sadly, you felt that too. Molly easily calls Annabelle by a creative alias (Triple-A) rather than her actual name, unwittingly reducing her value as a human– much less a woman. That sense of competitiveness around other girls made you feel disloyal towards the so-called solidarity you claimed to have with women. Truthfully, you despised seeing a reflection of your insecurity in Molly. Less than hatred, you felt threatened by girls who could do what you loved so naturally. It sounds ridiculous, being that there are a billion brilliant women around the world, but your perspective was so narrowed down to your small high school that you could not see the insignificance of your distress.
It felt like a matter of who deserved more. Who deserved to attend an Ivy League school: the partygoer or the valedictorian? It seems obvious when you lay it out on paper because girls like you and Molly were taught that studying hard would fulfill you in time. That having “fun” will come eventually. But when Annabelle said, “We just don’t only care about school,” it made you rethink your concept of the word deserve. Colleges only see our value on paper so you thought about the hours you spent studying to perfect a science exam, the back pain it took to make your art project, and the nights you slaved away writing and rewriting your thesis paper. You just thought you worked hard enough already and that mortified you. Thinking, what more could you have done to deserve that slot?
Perhaps you are reading this, still fresh from the shock and self-loathing. At the time, it felt like the end of the world. Twelve years have led you up to this moment– it’s glorious, terrifying, and absolutely… anticlimactic. You won’t be fortunate enough to experience a graduation ceremony, shoes clacking on the way to receive your diploma. You graduated at home, sat around your dinner table with your parents trying their best to applaud the size of a theater. You won’t feel as fulfilled as you should be, graduating high school. It was meant to be a celebration of our next step forward, but what comes next after so much disappointment? After everything, you will accept that sometimes the reward ultimately isn’t meant for you.
I want to tell you that it is perfectly okay to falter in your path; to trip, stumble, and scab your knees on the cold hard ground. A college rejection letter, a betrayal, or a heartbreak will not be the end of it. There will be more things; a sea of triumphs and disasters await. The world will do its bidding, and now, I have come to reconcile with it. You aren’t Molly from Booksmart. And as much as you wanted to be, the resemblance won’t be from your uncanny appetite for validation, but more of her acceptance and letting go of it all.