Admission: Chapter One
But it was worth it to have New England. She had wanted New England for years, coveting the post as she'd watched Rand Cumming glad-hand his cronies at Groton and Concord and Taft. She had considered asking for it whenever there was a district reshuffle (Rand had seemed oddly immune to these.) And she had made sure she was the first one in Clarence Porter's office to ask for it—Clarence being the new dean in question—when the opportunity finally arose. Not only (she explained) because she herself was a product of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont—in roughly that order—and not only because her mother, now a Vermonter, was getting on in years (hint, hint) and she would be personally grateful for the opportunity to drop in on her more often, but also because the New En gland district featured the kind of boarding school interaction she hadn't much experienced in the California-Oregon-Hawaii-Washington-Alaska applicant pool. That in particular was a deficit in her experience, a deficit unbecoming an admissions officer, and that embarrassed her. Serving Princeton to her utmost ability called for fluency with its traditional feeder schools: the Grotons and Choates and Andovers, whose top students the university had been cherry-picking for centuries. She had reminded Clarence of the miles she had logged for Princeton, not only along the coasts and valleys of California, but, before that, along the empty highways of the Midwest, plucking genius 4-H'ers and ambitious dreamers from the Great Plains. She had personally recruited the Inuit girl from Sitka, Alaska, who'd won Princeton's sole Rhodes scholarship last year. She had found Brian Jack, homeschooled (self-schooled) in some barely existent Oregon town, and made sure he chose them over Yale. (His senior thesis, a novel, had just been published by Knopf, showering Princeton with the fairy dust of reflected literary glory.) She'd been about to start in on the fact that her West Coast region had boasted the highest percentage of female engineer admits for all five years she'd had it when he stopped her and offered her the job. And a good thing, too. She couldn't have supported any claim of credit for those last admits, not really. There were simply more female engineers in the heavily immigrant population she'd overseen.
"I was going to give it to you anyway," Clarence had said, barely looking up from the call log on his desk. "I thought you needed a little shaking up."
A little shaking up. She hadn't quite engaged with that at the time—it had seemed more advisable not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A hearty thank-you, a formally written letter of delighted acceptance later that day, and some unsolicited advice with regard to her replacement—she had done what was expected without ever returning to this nagging, vaguely shameful moment. The exchange had not been very satisfying, in any case. There was a kind of detachment to it, given that Clarence's mind had been more consumed by the call sheet on his desktop than by the very sincere and well-phrased request of his very present employee. His very competent employee, who had never asked for anything before or indicated in any way that she was in need of anything, required any concession or support, and was generally not in the habit of calling attention to herself. Portia had never, not ever, thought of herself as someone who needed shaking up, and it appalled her to realize that he, apparently, had.