SOKOL: Prepping for preps

Freshman Voices
Kate McMillan_Sokol_0830

I am the proud product of a very interesting high school. Pennsbury High students are known throughout southeastern Pennsylvania for punching cops at prom and smearing blood on bathroom walls. Many of my classes took place in a building zapped in from the ’60s that contained not a single window in any classroom. We looked forward to biannual bomb threats, the air conditioning breaking every spring and the subsequent school closures due to a lack of funds to fix the broken air conditioning. The struggle was most certainly real.

At Pennsbury, my graduating class of 825 spanned every socioeconomic background. Plenty of Pennsbury students don’t make it to college, and a large portion of each graduating class heads to community college. Another huge conglomerate, Natty cases in hand, flocks voraciously to Pennsylvania state schools.

As you might imagine then, Ivy League acceptances are very rare. At the time of my application, Pennsbury had not produced a Bulldog since 2006. When I was accepted to Yale, I was treated like a king. Some people would love that. I hated it.

I couldn’t go a single class period without somebody mentioning where I was going to college, because instead of calling me by my name, everybody just called me “Yale.” And if I asked an innocent and good-natured question in class, my teachers would admit they were wrong and praise me.

I didn’t mind the attention at first, but it got old fast. Whenever I tried to push open a door that said “pull,” the harassment would not end. And this door-thing happened more than you would think. If you thought you were the slowest member of the Class of 2017, guess again.

I should mention, too, that the academic environment at Pennsbury is, for lack of a better word, “laid back.” While many Yalies come from elite, rigorous high schools, Pennsbury classes are a breeze for bright students. Some teachers made it difficult not to get an A. At Yale, of course, the environment is different. I am genuinely looking forward to struggling with papers and failing the occasional midterm. My dream is that, one day, some Nobel Prize-winning Yale professor will tell me to sit down and shut up.

All jokes aside, I love Pennsbury dearly. That said, I blame it for my single greatest pre-Yale apprehension: the culture shock. The preppy life is alien to me. Will my single pair of salmon shorts and my three-year-old pair of Sperry topsiders suffice? I’ve never worn formal attire to school, nor have I held a 9-iron (and I literally just googled “types of golf clubs”). The transition — from white-tank central to a palace of Polos — will be rapid, but I am both nervous and excited to interact with prepsters.

Regardless of our individual backgrounds, we all have something to bring to the table. And I know that everyone will get along because there is already something we all have in common. Whether our high school was a miniature college campus dotted with blue blazers or an ugly cubic building designed by a prison architect (as the Pennsbury legend goes), we were all among the smartest ones there.

For all of us freshmen, I expect Yale to be a very humbling experience. The first day of Spanish class, I’ll probably be amazed by a classmate’s beautiful soliloquy on Don Quixote. Then, when called upon, I will sit utterly speechless, considering a transfer to Penn State.

While it may take me a while to adjust to being surrounded by brilliant prepsters, I know I won’t be the only one going through a culture shock. No matter where you live or where you went to high school, we’re all in for something drastically new. Perhaps, sartorially and academically, I’ll feel out of place at first. But it’s okay — I’m sure that, within a few weeks, we’ll all be wearing salmon shorts happily together.

Adam Sokol is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact him at adam.sokol@yale.edu.

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