Admission: Chapter One
"Nope." She declined the bait. "Not yet. But we're not hurting for buildings."
She told them about the new student center, the new Neuroscience of Cognitive Control Laboratory, the new residential college to be named after the CEO of eBay, the $101 million arts initiative, Toni Morrison's Atelier, which brought performing artists to campus to create original artworks with undergraduates. Their eyes began to glaze. There was abundance fatigue, overstimulation. Even the eager ones were stupefied. The note takers had stopped taking notes. Some of them looked crestfallen, as if they could never hope to experience such a playground of riches. Some of them must have been thinking how nice it might be to go to a college where they could get loaded and play Frisbee, at least most of the time. Though selfishly, Portia wanted the Frisbee players to apply. The Frisbee players were the easiest to cut and set the intellectual kids in bolder relief. They made her job easier by providing contrast where the only typical contrast was far more subtle: wonderful student versus phenomenal student, terrific kid versus amazing kid, applicant upon applicant who could obviously come in, do the work, contribute to the community, and go on out into the world to project retroactive glory on Alma Mater. Her bag was full of them. Her desk back at the office was laden with them. And in six weeks' time, when the application deadline rolled around, the entire building would flood with them, and she, like all of her colleagues, would begin to swim with them, and struggle with them, and sink with them.
"So," she said brightly. "Any more questions?"
Miraculously, there were no more questions. They moved to a different room in the library: apple cider in waxy cups, cookies (chocolate chip, as it happened, not Oreos) on a paper doily. She spoke to a boy from Mumbai who wanted to be an electrical engineer, the girl with the long braid who wanted to take a class from Chang-Rae Lee, her favorite author, another girl who let Portia know that her father was a famous movie director.
"And what about you?" said Portia. "Are you interested in film? What are you thinking of doing?"
The girl looked up, notably shocked. Perhaps it had always been enough, having a famous director for a father. The thought of having to do something, having to be something, care about something, herself, seemed to have stunned her. Portia spotted Joanne, the girl who had asked about financial aid, near the cider and quickly went to pour her own refill. Joanne was a Brooklyn girl, and Prep for Prep. She was actually a year older than her classmates, she told Portia, having spent her ninth grade back home preparing for the SSAT and the academic challenges of a school like Deerfield.
"That isn't a problem," she asked. "Is it?"
"Not at all. Actually, it says a great deal about your determination that you were willing to step back and work that hard to get where you wanted to be."
Joanne nodded warily. More than likely, they had told her the same thing at Prep for Prep when they'd accepted her with this proviso.