It was here, lying in bed, watching Rory Gilmore and the cast of “Gilmore Girls” waltz across my TV, that I was transported to the world of Yale. Rory, the main character of the show, finds her way to Yale after a childhood that would never point to such a trajectory. Hailing from a struggling one-parent household and initially attending a school barely anyone dreamed of attending a prestigious college, Rory spends her adolescence trying to unlock the door to a world she wasn’t invited to due to her upbringing. As a first-generation, low-income student at Yale, I’ve embraced this struggle firsthand with courage, determination and power.
I never heard stories about the Ivy League from my parents. I didn’t hear about Yale through The Princeton Review or my school, which was only fluent in the application process for a local community college and the state universities of Mississippi.
I first became aware of the world I would attempt to break into while in various tennis centers across the South. The tennis tournament scene was dominated by upper-class families. So I listened, and heard the unabashed aspirations of teenagers who were aiming for colleges of the highest tier. I left those tennis tournaments in the same decade-old Ford Taurus, following a line of fancy cars out of the parking lot, but everything was different. I quickly internalized that education could be my way up the ladder, above the rung I currently grasp.
The first essential word I learned was “resume.” I apparently needed a strong one to have a chance at Yale, but mine was merely a blank piece of paper at the time. I soon applied and was accepted to a summer program at MIT, honing my public speaking skills in an arena full of students I felt were out of my league.
The confidence I built in that program eventually led me to a boarding school an hour away from my hometown. At the time, it seemed like the only vehicle that could get me to Yale. But I soon learned that the school wasn’t for me. I felt trapped and out of place, eventually choosing to leave the prestigious school that promised strong results to return to my school back home, where most students were planning on going to a local community college or state university, if they planned on attending college at all. Many who were aware of my situation and goals told me that I had made the wrong decision, ruining my chances at Yale.
I wasn’t even close to being an expert in the college admissions process, so I couldn’t dispute the fact that I had sunk the ship that carried my Ivy League aspirations. But I wasn’t one to give up. I fought for my chances by doubling down on my passions: photography and writing.
On the afternoon of Dec. 14, 2018, also known as decision day for early action applicants, I watched a “Gilmore Girls” episode titled “You Jump, I Jump, Jack,” in which Rory and her friend Logan climb to the top of some makeshift scaffolding, preparing to jump to the uncertain bottom with only an umbrella as a parachute. As she looks down, terrified, she says to him, “you jump, I jump, Jack.”
As the end credits rolled and Netflix began the countdown until the next episode, I received a notification informing me that Yale had reached an admission decision. Uncertain if my journey to Yale was only beginning or approaching an abrupt end, I clicked to find a jubilant video and letter announcing my acceptance to Yale. After years of toil, I was finally handed the keys to a door that I had spent years trying to find.
On that day, I wasn’t the only one who gained entry to this new world. An entire group of FGLI students like myself found themselves at the cusp of new possibilities.
As we enter into this corner of society, however, we have no experience to lean on. For the most part, we are blinded by the light now shining in our faces, light we have never been prepared to see. Many of us are the first students from our town to attend an Ivy League institution. We don’t fully understand the ins and outs of what we are embarking on, and for the most part, we don’t fully understand who we are.
The Yale journey has already taught us many lessons about ourselves. We know how to fight for our goals, even when others count us out of the race. We know how to approach the inconceivable with tireless bravery, to motivate ourselves when no one else will. We know how to prove the naysayers wrong, simply because we have no other option.
We may never be tapped for Skull and Bones, and many of our names may never grace the pages of the Yale Daily News or the famous alumni list on Wikipedia. However, one thing is certain. We will make waves and history in whatever we do, not only for our future, but because of our past.
So, as we approach the edge, I look to my left and right. To my fellow FGLI students, as we prepare to jump into the unknown, I say one thing — you jump, I jump, Jack.
Lukas Flippo is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.