It was July 2011.
I stood at the gate, boarding pass and identification in hand, both excited and decidedly nauseous. I was headed for North Carolina, destined to attend the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Education and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I had applied to the summer journalism program that March, not expecting to be accepted. Waiting to board, ready to begin the one week program of writing, researching and interviewing, I couldn't have been more elated ... or anxious.
However, upon arrival, I found that I had little cause to be nervous. Everyone I met was approachable, interesting and intelligent, eager to help make my experience that much more enjoyable and memorable. Throughout the week, I listened to professionals speak about their passions, attended lectures held by university professors and interviewed the program's namesake — Charles "Chuck" Stone.
By the end of the week, I had fallen in love with everything about the program and the university; as far as I was concerned, there was no other school for me.
January 2012: I came home on Jan. 20 not anticipating a decision in the mail, as early action applicants did not expect to hear until at least Jan. 30. However, I opened my mailbox that afternoon to find a small, white letter, distinguished by Chapel Hill's seal. My heart began pounding as I ran upstairs to show my mom.
Initially, the minute size of the letter didn't bother me. I had worked extremely hard throughout high school, I attended the university's favorite summer program and I received a letter or recommendation from a professor in the school of journalism.
At that moment, holding the letter in my hand, there was no way I couldn't get in — I had worked too hard; it just wouldn't be fair.
However, as I looked over the closed envelope, the lightweight of the letter grew heavy in my hand.
I only needed to read the first line to realize that my foreboding feelings had been accurate — "Dear Sydney: We regret to inform you ..."
In that instance, all the fear and anxiety that had been building with this pending decision came to a head. My college nightmare had officially come true.
Despite my commitment to UNC and my four years of hard work, all of the hope and energy I had put into the school just didn't work out for me. I didn't get into a university that, at the time, meant everything for my future and happiness. I felt like I had been cheated out of the American dream, an ideal that is always supposed to reward those that try their best. I knew I had done the best I could possibly do and I was heartbroken — heartbroken and bitter.
I immediately started questioning the validity of my high school career. I recalled stress-filled nights studying for tests and hours spent on papers and projects, all for that satisfying "A" stamped on my report card.
UNC wasn't so much a top choice as it was a dream school. I spent an unhealthy amount of time perusing the school's website, deciding on what major would be best for me and what housing options were available to incoming freshman.
I made the significant mistake of putting too much stake into a school that I knew was competitive and possibly out of reach. However, I rarely considered the possibility that I might not be accepted. In fact, I probably would have applied to far fewer schools had it not been for encouragement from my parents. To put my passion for UNC into a perspective of merchandise, let's just say, the college sweatshirt had already been purchased.
Obvious as it sounds, this difficult experience taught me a lot about life's realities and what you can and can't expect.
Unfortunately, this letter was my first encounter with the reality that your hard work can't always pay off the way you want or expect it to. Going into the college application process, I was under the foolish impression that I was in for an easy ride. It only took me a couple months to find out that this was far from true.
Unfortunately, this early confidence set me up for a pretty big, unanticipated fall. Though it was disheartening and unexpected, my rejection from UNC eventually instilled in me a desire to work even harder, perhaps so I could prove to Chapel Hill's admissions office that it had made a wrong decision.
I have made a transition from devastation, to acceptance, to excitement about my approaching collegiate future — a transformation I'm not looking to change, regardless of the rejection letters I may or may not receive in the next few weeks.
Sydney Colussi is a Rockport High School senior and president of its chapter of the National Honor Society.