The Legend of the Bitter Alum: Hope’s Story, Part One
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Hope” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author. All other names herein have been changed as well.
The story of my admission into PHC is an odd one, starting from the first moment I heard of the college and culminating in interviews between the admission counselor and both of my parents. I’m convinced the admissions counselor only let me in because it was easier to do that than it was to answer my dad’s questions.
It was my mom who wanted me to go to PHC. When she first made the suggestion, in my junior year of high school, I told her, as diplomatically as possible, that it was a perfectly horrid idea. A college full of would-be politicians out to change the world sounded like something straight out of Dante. Why would anyone ever volunteer as a tribute (I mean, student) for a school filled with ego-maniacs and egg-heads? I was pretty sure the students were all going to be arrogant jerks, not at all worth knowing.
Unfortunately, I soon learned that one didn’t have to be a would-be politician-in-training to be an arrogant jerk.
I don’t even know how to explain what happened that next year, because it was so unexpected and so devastating. Nobody ever saw it coming.
“Joseph” was such a close friend to me that I called him my brother and people believed me, even though we didn’t look anything alike. His mother, Jackie, was a second mother to me. She was a bit… intense and somewhat tempermental, but I never thought much of it. I mostly just laughed off her oddities and moved on with my life. She had this thing where she loved to mock people who had y-chromosomes. Joseph was her favorite target.
Anyway, Joseph started dating this girl, Emily Schmidt, and, when things started getting serious, Jackie started getting even more demeaning and bullying than was normal for her. She didn’t like the girl or the girl’s family because they weren’t about to let Jackie dominate them the way she dominated Joseph. Or at least, that’s what I heard after the fact. I hadn’t been paying attention.
Then came the point Joseph had enough. He decided he was moving out of the house that very day and he called his future in-laws over to help him. Jackie flipped out. She called the police and my parents and then, when neither group proved able to stop things, she called everybody else. Everyone in the county heard all about how Joseph had been duped and stolen away from her by a sinister cult family who were out to steal brides and grooms for all their freaky cult kids from the good homeschool families of our tight-knit community. The Schmidts had been well-respected and liked up until that point and I’d enjoyed their company as often as I had opportunity. But now, friendship and openness was replaced with suspicion and confusion.
After ten years of reflection, I can be flippant and matter-of-fact when telling the story, but, at the time, I fell into a depression so dark that I had no idea I was even sad. I thought I was merely bored as I flopped on my bed and imagined how it would be if I fell asleep and never woke up. I looked at the vitamins on my shelf and wondered if it was possible to overdose on them and whether it would be obvious and whether it would be like falling asleep. My SAT results came back and they were good (even though I’d refused to study for it). A torrent of college flyers followed in their wake, but I didn’t care. They bored me to pieces. I threw most of them away without looking at them.
The only thing I was good at, the only thing I enjoyed, was writing. But even at that, there was nothing to write about except for school. I had no life apart from my homeschool group and simply couldn’t think of the future enough to contrive a plan.
The summer after high school graduation, I reconnected with Dave, a childhood friend I hadn’t seen since his family moved away ten years earlier. I remembered him as the happy-go-lucky person with whom I’d reconnected, but his other friends and his senior picture testified to a very recent bout of deep depression. Like myself, he was a homeschooler, but, by this point, he’d spent a year at PHC. To hear him tell it, PHC was all that was good and worthwhile in the world – hard work, lots of study, prank wars, and good friends.
Between PHC and self-reflection, there was no better cure for depression. For me, it was worth a shot.
There was no way I could attempt to live away from home at that time, but, fortunately, PHC had a distance learning program and the enrollment process was less arduous than the one for on-campus enrollment. I spent two years in the program, recovering my good spirits as I built up my friendships. Finally beginning to feel optimistic again, I tackled the “real” application, which included numerous essays, including one on cultural engagement.
I still thought “lead the nation and shape the culture” was a silly, egotistical motto. There was no way I had any intention of running for office. And while I could probably have gotten in by writing about how being a wife and mother is “shaping the culture,” the thought never occurred to me. Instead, I wrote about the need for respect in public dialogue and how we needed to try to understand people even when we think they sound ridiculous. I used the examples of Christians who hate Harry Potter and atheists who search for extraterrestrials because I figured that way I couldn’t accidentally insult the unknown reader. I sent it in, feeling that this at least was an important issue and one that I did care about passionately, even if it wasn’t one of the big issues like pro-life.
I managed to score an interview, but the admissions counselor had a hard time believing I was ready for higher academics. She asked to talk to one of my parents, so I had my mom call. My mom felt that she did a horrible job of representing me, so she had my dad call. According to my dad, the conversation went something like this:
Counselor: do you feel that your daughter is ready for the challenge of higher academics?
Dad: what criteria are you using to judge that?
Counselor: what do you mean?
Dad: if you’re asking that question, you must have some criteria in mind, some standard that makes you think my daughter isn’t ready. If I’m going to answer your question, I have to know what you mean by asking it.
I think my dad was actually disappointed that her only answer to the question was to accept my application.
In hindsight, my timing was hilarious. I sent in an essay about the need for respectful dialogue during what would later be called “the Great Schism.” This was the horrific breakdown in communications and tempers that led to a high turn-over among the professors, the replacing of the school president and most of the deans, and a mass exodus of students. The aftershocks were felt for years – in fact, I am convinced that they are still being felt in ways that are not always obvious.
Although it is often called the Great Schism, I prefer the term “the Tragic Meltdown,” which I picked up from one of the professors who left the next year. As a nuclear physicist’s daughter, I find the comparison to Chernobyl and Three Mile Island to be satisfyingly exact.
Of course, I didn’t know about any of that at the time of my application. The campus-quake didn’t hit the online forums of the Distance Learning community until late in the semester. I read everything I could find about it. There were two items in particular; I think it was the Faith and Reason lecture by one of the professors, and an article for the Herald (the school newspaper) by someone from the Administration.
If I was hoping those would explain the commotion, I was disappointed. From a conflict standpoint, these made zero sense.
The lecture was completely orthodox Christianity. The article was completely orthodox Christianity. The school is supposed to be a completely orthodox Christian institution, so how in the world two orthodox Christians even managed to be in conflict on a point of complete orthodoxy was a mystery to me.
The only cause of conflict that I could scrape out between them was that the article interpreted the lecture in what I considered to be one of the most unlikely ways possible. The lecturer said that the Bible isn’t a how-to manual for building a house. The writer of the article said that the Bible isn’t a how-to manual, but it does require that a house-builder build his houses in an ethical and moral fashion. Perhaps if I’d been the lecturer, I’d have been insulted that something so basic wasn’t inferred from the text.
Maybe the whole problem was just a stupid insult war?
Dave told me to be very careful and to seek to be informed. He liked the professors and distrusted the official line. Said this was the worst time to start at PHC. I agreed, but I wasn’t going to delay any longer. Anyway, it couldn’t really affect me, could it?
It probably wouldn’t have either, but my first semester didn’t go as planned.
Part Two >