The expression was taught to me by an outgoing fourth-year student over a year ago. They were giving the main reason why so many Case Western Reserve University students overfill their time with multiple majors, CV-padding clubs and endless anxiety about grades and rankings. Since then, some student leaders have confirmed it, nodding knowingly about the expression, and I hear that some administrators have heard it too: “Ivy League Reject.” Let me tell you: It’s good to be one.
I attended Yale University and (“Ivy Plus”) University of Chicago. I made life-long friends and established life-long mentorships, but those places were bad. They were really messed up.
The three things I think matter in college are the quality of education, the things you do that are intrinsically good and the true friendships you make. Over work and time, your capability shapes the responsibilities you can handle. A quality education improves your capability, while rankings simply suggest you might have capabilities. If you accept and are given responsibilities without actually having capabilities, you will have done something immoral, and if you are at a place that actually looks at capabilities—a responsible place—the only thing that will matter is whether you have them. So forget the rankings; focus on the growing.
The intrinsically good things make life worth it then and there. Becoming a good person with a good life here and now is good in and of itself and lasts forever, if only as a memory that cannot be tarnished. Knowing how life is good here and now is thus the greatest capability that guides all others.
True friendships, whether with peers or with teachers (a different kind of friendship with some distance in it), once again are timeless. You aren’t just “buds.” You truly get to know each other in your roles over time and develop real trust. Born of respect, true friendships teach the meaning of it.
No one exclusively owns the intrinsically good things in life or controls our making true friends, certainly not the Ivies. Perhaps, then, the Ivies have a better education? They do not if they corrupt or abuse you.
My experience of Yale was that it is corrupt. Highly privileged, elitist and with little sense of social justice, Yale wasn’t a place that taught that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Rather, it suggested the opposite: With great power comes great irresponsibility. Yale’s bubble of privilege stuck, like soot from a fire ending up in your hair and clothes later, out of nowhere. I still know Yalies who do not know what it is like to be an everyday person.
Chicago, by contrast, was an abusive place. Intellectually snobbish and elitist, it thought that it was all right to erase people in the name of intellect. Chicago students seldom learned that their imperfect minds mattered and that conversations could be open-ended, creative and mutually supportive events. Instead they learned to be afraid of being stupid and to crush people in the name of “truth.” It takes decades to cycle out such a miseducation.
CWRU is a place with a good work ethic, mostly humble people and a strong sense of trying to do something useful for society. It has excellent possibilities for real education. If you take it seriously, do what it good in itself, and make true friends, you can thank your lucky stars that you were rejected from the Ivies.