Two Writers’ Guide to Rejection (and Its Unexpected Perks)
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been kicked out of something in Dartmouth. If you haven’t done so yet, we sincerely hope you will soon. It’s not because we’re sadists and want to see you fail. Instead, we hope to see you succeed. We just know, having experienced painful rejection ourselves, that trying – and failing – is integral to a person’s eventual success.
Most of the students who came to Dartmouth were at the top of their high school class: the star of the debate club, the starter of the football team, the brightest and most involved, the busiest and most complete. These successes are probably what brought them to a school like this in the first place. However, when there are 70 incoming high school debate stars vying for 10 spots on the debate team, it doesn’t take an advanced mathematician to see that someone is going to get cut.
We spoke to David Millman ’23, the current president of Dartmouth’s student government, for some insight into college rejection. It turns out that in his first term at Dartmouth, Millman was voted out by – you guessed it – student government. When he ran for student senator, he lost.
“You have two choices when you get rejected from something,” Millman said. He explained that you can either wallow in your disappointment or practice overcoming that failure and trying again. Millman chose the latter. The following spring, he ran again for the same position, against the same opponent, and won.
Millman also pointed out that the initial rejection allowed him to participate in extracurricular activities he otherwise wouldn’t have had time for.
“Instead of getting involved in student government, I got involved in preventing sexual violence on campus,” he said. “Sometimes the opportunities and experiences you’re exposed to because of rejection and failure end up being even more rewarding than what you were originally trying to do.”
Like Millman, Chandini Peddanna ’25 had freshman rejection. She came to Dartmouth thinking she wanted to take part in the Mock Trial – just like her older sister, a ’20 Dartmouth. But when she tried out for the team, she was rejected.
“I kind of put all my eggs in one basket with this club, in that they had a very late trial, and most of the other clubs that had trials were already over,” Peddanna said. She said she felt like she had missed the opportunity to get involved in extracurricular activities, until one day, on a whim, she went to a Ledyard Canoe Club meeting. Peddanna admitted she wouldn’t have thought of herself as much of the outdoors when she arrived in Dartmouth, but she found an unexpected community in Ledyard.
“I found my place on campus and it wasn’t how I thought it would be,” she said. “I’m glad I kind of found my own path and pushed myself.” Although Peddanna didn’t follow in her sister’s footsteps, she did become a member of a club she truly loved. You could even say that the rejection served Peddanna well.
Ulla Libre ’25 was also able to find value amid the disappointment of the recent rejection of a cappella auditions. After leaving the varsity rowing team, Libre found herself with extra time, so she decided to try a cappella. Libre said she never took singing lessons but always loved singing, and even though she didn’t end up in a band, the audition was worth it.
“I’m obviously sad that I didn’t get into a band, but I feel like that won’t stop me from pursuing music in the future, or singing or something like that,” he said. she declared. At the end of the day, she said she had met some great people in the process and was proud to have tried something outside of her comfort zone.
Many of us avoid doing this because we are afraid of the worst possible outcome. When we derive our self-esteem from success in activities at which we excel, failure seems unbearable. We deprive ourselves of potential successes – or potential lessons learned – by choosing the only surefire way not to fail: not to try.
When you look at rejection from the perspective of personal growth, it becomes almost liberating. Rejection is like a clean slate: you have to start from scratch and you are forced to be introspective and reassess the source of your identity. Do you enjoy debating because you’ve always been praised for your abilities, or is it something you really enjoy doing? Is your skill as a debater really negated by your rejection of a team that only has room for a few? It is difficult to think about these questions, but they are important.
Of course, adopting this mindset is easier said than done. I (Mariel) got kicked off the club tennis team last week, and it sure wasn’t a fun experience. However, I’m glad I tried and I don’t see tennis differently. I still love playing, and I will for a long time. My failure came with some unexpected precious gifts: first, time to pursue other interests; and two, the revelation that being rejected isn’t so bad after all, which made me more willing to try new things and potentially get rejected again.
That being said, we encourage you to see the value of rejection. It’s not something to avoid. It’s uncomfortable and difficult, but it’s a challenge – and perhaps one you’ve never faced before. Rejection asks who you are. Do you have an answer?