It couldn’t happen to you

By the

April 5, 2001

Do you know the correct way to moan? If you don’t by now, I am sure it is not due to a lack of moaning on your part (you are, after all, a college student), but because you have never learned the proper technique. Good moaning entails saying the word “moan” in a very dreary voice, while elongating every letter. If you sound pathetic enough, people will ask if you feel sick.

When I moan, I tend to continue said moaning until the world feels right again or until I fall asleep … I generally fall asleep first. Well, today something dawned on me, and instead of moaning out loud, I shall save the sanity of those who exist in my near proximity and moan to all of you.

Have you ever wanted to have a real, valid reason why we should be able to complain? I imagine that those who do have at least some modicum of control over their lives. Although they may not be able to project too far into the future, they know what they will be doing in a few months and where they will be living. And they probably think that the places they end up with are based on their own merit or, at the very least, because of the people they know.

I think by now you may have caught my impetus for the random composition of this rant. But, before I get into that (the housing lotteries, for you slow ones), let’s examine our college-age existence. I’ll start with the beginning … Three people from my high school applied to Georgetown, and I was the only one to be accepted. My parents called that a feat, something to be proud of. My Spanish teacher was a bit miffed because her niece did not make it even, though her parents were diplomats and she spoke three languages fluently. While they were congratulatory, my other teachers and I knew the real reason I got in or, at least, the lack of one. I was just as qualified as my other classmates, but maybe because I played tennis or wrote a nice essay that piqued the interest of the admissions counselor, I made it and my classmates did not. It was complete randomness.

Some would argue that to even have a chance to get here, you have to be a superior student. This is true. In fact, one girl I knew who did not get accepted here ended up going to Washington University in St. Louis, a school which beat Georgetown in the U.S. News & World Report ratings. So, sure, sometimes things work out fine for all those involved. But, isn’t it a teensy bit frustrating to know that you can’t have something even though you are perfectly qualified and, in a strange way, even worse to know that you have something that equally qualified others cannot, simply because you got it?

Note how I did not write, “Simply because you got it first.” There is not even a primal first-come, first-serve basis for obtaining of these privileges. It is all done by a lottery system of sorts to ensure maximum fairness. I’ll hand it to them, in this world of limited resources, there really is no way that is fairer. But that in itself does not make the current system ideal. It makes it, well, bemoanable.

So, let’s tackle the housing lottery, and, while we’re at it, class selection. Some people get very lucky, while others do not. Does it not frighten you that some of your basic needs as a college student are being met randomly? We get the opportunity for an education based on hard work that comes second to luck, classes based on luck and some complex computerized system and housing selection numbers in much the same way. It turns the world upside down, doesn’t it?

Every kid remembers being told, “Even you can be the president of the United States, if you work hard enough.” Now that we are in this odd stage of half-independence, these lotteries teach us: OK, you have worked hard and may deserve what you want, but so does everyone around you, so we will draw lots, and in all probability, you will get screwed. That’s enough to make a person jaded.

Certain parts of me might advocate applying one of those first-come, first-serve systems to things. People who send in their applications early might get preference,the first people to apply for classes might have a better chance of getting into them. And people who really wanted Copley and did not want or try for an apartment at all might get preference over those apartment lottery rejects who got a second chance at a private bathroom and were blessed with a pick 87 slots above me. Yeah, so what if that last point was less than logical? Bitter? Me? Oh, no.

Of course, the rational being in me (and sometimes I think he’s a little guy who lives in my big toe and pops up to my brain to say hi at THE most annoying times) realizes that a first-come, first-serve system would not work because people would be scheduling their senior year courses freshman year. The same would be true for housing. Oh wait, except for the class of 2004; we are guaranteed only two years of housing. Anyhow, back to my point, the lottery makes things as uniform and fair as any system could.

And so some win and some lose. Both winners and losers are equally entitled to win. Which makes this pick-4 system that we live in so disconcerting. It sort of reminds me of AP English and Moby Dick and that futility of striking against the pasteboard mask of nature. Yet, unlike in AP English, the person angry at the world is not a nutty sea captain intent on harpooning a big white symbol, but it is me and probably you (unless you are that lucky individual with the slot 87 above mine). This will continue to happen to us for the remainder of our college years. So, we complain. And if that is not a good enough reason, I strongly suggest complaining about that, too. Complaint can make you feel better, or at the very least, it can put you to sleep.

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