Admission: Chapter One
The Good News of Princeton
When I think of Princeton I think of many images:
ivy-covered buildings, students arguing philosophy in the dining hall,
shadows in the Yard. It is truly a great privilege to attend
a school like Princeton.
The flight from Newark to Hartford took no more than fifty-eight minutes, but she still managed to get her heart broken three times. This was a feat at once pathetic and, bizarrely, something of an underachievement, Portia thought, making a painful note on the reader's card of an academically unadmittable Rhode Island girl and shoving the folder back into her bag. Any of her colleagues, she thought ruefully, might have had their hearts broken by twice as many applicants in the same amount of time.
In the real world, of course, Portia was no slower a reader than anyone else. She could fully scan The New York Times while waiting in line for her habitual (and necessary) Americano at Small World Coffee, half a block from the FitzRandolph Gate of Princeton University. She had even, once, completed Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy during a weeklong visit to her mother in Vermont (when, admittedly, the whole point had been to evade Susannah, especially when she wanted to talk). Fifteen hundred pages in seven days—not too shabby. But she was well aware of her reputation as the slowest reader in Princeton's Office of Admission (singular, nota bene—not plural), and she probably deserved it. With an application open before her, Portia could almost feel herself decelerate, parsing the sentences and correcting the grammar, fixing the spelling, rereading to make sure she at least knew what they'd managed to say, if not what they'd meant to say, even as she took the temperature of her anxiety at falling behind, because she couldn't stop herself from lingering, lingering, lingering...on the kids.
She wasn't supposed to think of them as kids, she knew that. Few of them sounded like kids, they were trying so hard not to be young. They were ventriloquizing the attorneys they thought they wanted to be, or the neuroscientists, or the statesmen. They were trying to sound as though they already worked at Morgan Stanley, or toiled at a feeding station in Darfur, or were due in surgery. But so often the newness of them, the flux of their emerging selves, would poke through the essays or the recommendations, stray references to how Jimmy had grown since his difficult freshman year or Jimmy's own regrettable use of the word awesome. Their confidence was sometimes so hollow, it practically echoed off the page. They were all so young, even the ones who had already seen so much.