Interview

by

07/04/2021

Neighborhood: Morningside Heights

I want to be in New York because Sophia is in New York. This leads me from my home in the Jersey suburbs to the waiting room of a doctor’s office, an alumni who will interview me for a prestigious New York college. I sit and wait, squirming, and think about that tired joke about patients and patience. I read his diplomas on the wall. Columbia, obviously, and some others. One is in Latin. I begin to translate it in my head, skipping every word that’s unfamiliar to me until I land on one I feel confident about. It is my first interview. I am wearing a tie — but that’s nothing unusual. I have been in a school uniform for almost eighteen years now — wearing a suit jacket over my button down. 

Finally, a large man comes through the front door of the office. He is balding, with an overly concerned face that reminds me of my school’s guidance counselor. He too is in a jacket, but his is over a sweater. He glances at me and unlocks one of the office doors. “Come on in,” he says. His voice is unexpectedly soft. 

He sits in an elegant brown leather chair. It rolls in and out from the front of his desk with ease. The doctor places me in a small, wooden chair on the other side of the desk. I cannot get the comparison between him and my school’s college counselor out of my head. It makes me almost laugh; my guidance counselor has a very high, whiney voice, which is often compressed into loud shouts. Every time I look into the large man’s face, I see my counselor shouting, “You’ll never get into college like that!”     

The interviewer begins by him asking me to tell him about myself. I have three adjectives, picked out the night before over dinner with my family. Passionate, Clever, and Hard Working. I am one of the hundreds of thousands of high school seniors who consider themselves passionate, clever, and hard working. Or at least I present as such. The interview is a standard affair. He nods at my words, I nod at his nod, neither of us getting any closer to any understanding of who I am than before the question was asked. 

He asks why I want to go to Columbia. I stutter and pause. The usual reasons, I almost say. The real reason I want to go to Columbia is that a girl that I love is in the city on weekends, and I want to be there too so I can see her. This is not the answer he wants to hear, so it is not the answer that I give. Instead, I say something about the academic standing of Columbia and how the campus might allow me to enter New York City at my own pace: It would give me the opportunity to explore the city, while not sacrificing the campus experience

He nods like he has heard that before. I’m sure he must have, because I stole the words from a friend who’d just had his Columbia interview a week or so before mine. The rest of my answers may as well have come out of a textbook. I do not tell him that I could not care less about the academics, or the heavy workload, or the school’s long tradition of excellence.I want to be in New York City because Sophia will be in New York City. And I believe this is what will make me a New Yorker: wanting something so badly that I am willing to live in New York City to get it.

We talk about Latin. He comments that my interest in classics makes me one of the Old Guard; someone reverent and respectful of history in the way a Columbia student should be. I am uncomfortable; words like reverence and respect have only ever been used against me in Catholic school. I indulge him anyway, tell him I translated the diploma hanging outside his office, and ask him if he can translate it. He says something along the lines of, Of course not.

When he asks what I want to be, I say that I want to be a writer, even though I haven’t written anything yet. I leave out that latter half when I answer, but it is still the closest thing to the truth that I’ve said during the interview. Still, it feels indecent, like I have accidentally just divulged the nature of my first love, or of some terrible secret. I have had a childhood of telling people what they want to hear, and  I am a child who tells this interviewer that I am desperate for a life of academic adventure in the city. 

As the interview comes to a close, he asks if I have any questions for him. I remember my googled list of Questions to Ask After Your College Interview and ask him what he liked best about going to school at Columbia. I do not care about what his answer will be, but I make an effort to look as engaged as possible. I am certain the answer will be perfunctory – the connections he made, the friends, the professors, the courses. Instead, he tells me that what he liked best was being surprised by a sudden snowfall:

The doctor was a senior studying for finals in the basement of one of the buildings on campus. He had just finished a seven-hour study session and opened the door of the building to find that the campus had been covered in snow while he worked. Maybe three or four inches. And he just stood there, he claims, staring at the lights reflecting off the snow. The campus square of Morningside Heights was completely empty, save for him and his schoolbooks; his fatigue from study was suddenly gone, and everything was less important than sitting back and watching the snow. I believe he is telling me the truth. It is the first glimpse of New York City that I receive from a New Yorker: his wanting something so badly that he needed to be reminded the world is sometimes beautiful regardless of what you do. 

I want to tell him about Sophia – to meet the truth he gave me with my own, to prove, in some way, that I am worthy of the city – but I stumble over the words. I’ve never spoken about it before, I don’t know how. And, besides, the interview is over. 

As I head out the door, he stops me, and says that I am exactly the right type of person for the school and that they would be idiots not to take me. 

Three months later I get a rejection letter from Columbia. 

***

After growing up in the Jersey suburbs, Travis Schuhardt recently graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study (Class of 2021). In the fall he will be attending Oxford University’s MSt program for Creative Writing. 

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§ 10 Responses to “Interview”

  • Susan T. Landry says:

    great story! so evocative of an incredibly awkward and essentially uselesss process. i wonder if anything has changed — if kids still have to jump through the same hoops. (i tried to give you 5 stars but for some reason on y 3 lit up and i don’t know how to fix it!) i loved the story…

  • Beth Ross says:

    I thought this was a wonderful piece of writing. I think that Travis is an amazing writer. I wonder what happened to Sophia….. Very impressed.

  • Sarah R says:

    Great writing! Such a relatable concept. Loved the story! Highly recommend it!

  • Jake S says:

    Well written; clearly they were idiots not to take you!

  • Alexis says:

    Very good. 👍

  • Raina Siahatgar says:

    Captivating story that really sucks you in. Great writing, great read.

  • Emily G says:

    Great story! Travis is such a good writer. Can’t wait to see what else he writes!

  • Max C says:

    I guess the interviews were idiots they gave up some good talent

  • Nick Ebert says:

    Excellent story, loved it

  • Michael Guarino says:

    This is the best story I’ve ever read. Travis is a really smart writer!

§ Leave a Reply

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