Admission: Chapter One
But today, this brilliant New England day, would be calm seas before the storm. Today, Portia would preach the good news of Princeton to the preemptively converted, and with a glad heart, because at long last she was here in New England and shot of the West Coast, in whose intense, teeming schools she had toiled for the past five years. She had been waiting for the New England district to open up, waiting for her colleague Rand (actually Randolph) Cumming to vacate the helm, something he had shown no inclination to do. Rand had never once set foot beyond the charmed circle of venerated and wealthy educational institutions, not since the day his parents dropped him off at a certain tradition-draped boarding school (as, Portia liked to imagine, a howling babe, "untimely ripped" from his mother's breast). In due course, he had swanned off to Princeton (BA) and Yale (JD) and then, as if the whole notion of practicing law had been merely a whim, straight back to the (literally) ivy-covered walls of his alma mater's Office of Admission, where he spent the next two decades tending the very prep school garden from which he had sprung and becoming, more or less, the very personification of what most people imagined an Ivy League admissions officer to be: bow-tied, well groomed, class ringed, and always ready to be of service to an old classmate or a classmate's chum, whose fine young son was a rising senior with a letter in squash and a winning way with a sailboat.
Rand was, in fact, one of those boulders around which the waters of Ivy League admissions had parted, leaving him in a wake of soaring academic standards and dizzying diversity. He had bristled through every clank of progress, every painful adjustment in policy that aimed to transform the university from its dunderheaded Jazz Age uniformity to its rightful place as the best of all possible universities for the best of all possible students. The new Princeton, so wondrous and varied, so ...multicolored, was not his Princeton, and his suffering was evident. He was an angry man, a furious man, beneath his veneer of irreproachable manners.
He had been waiting himself, Portia supposed, for the retirement of Martin Quilty, his chief antagonist in the struggle of tradition versus merit and the dean who had brought coeducation and surging minority enrollment, so that he could begin the slow but necessary work of turning back the clock; but when that blessed event finally arrived, Rand had found himself passed over in the most offensive way possible. He soldiered on for a year or two, making his opinion on just about everything known to the new dean whenever possible, and then, quite suddenly, the previous May, he had left—completing the circle of his unadventurous journey by taking the post of college counselor at his very own prep school.
And there, Portia knew, he was destined to prove as irritating a voice in her ear as when he'd occupied the office just down the hall from her.