Project Open Voices: I went to a rural public high school

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The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of Project Open Voices, a coalition of students providing a platform for open dialogue on campus. Today’s essay is titled “I went to a rural public high school” and was authored anonymously. POV is always accepting new submissions, so if you want to share your story, email openvoicessubmissions@gmail.com. If you would like to remain anonymous, you can submit by signing into a second email account: projectopenvoices@gmail.com (password: kenyoncollege). POV meets Saturdays at 4pm in the Bemis music room in Peirce; new faces are always welcome. 

I went to a rural public high school. We went on field trips to farms, participated in marching band competitions, had classmates with tractors. I did not have a college counselor, 100% of my graduating class did not go on to a four-year institution, and those that did stayed in the state. I had not heard of Choate, Groton, or Friends until I came to Kenyon, nor do I have friends at Princeton, Tufts, or Vassar as many people at Kenyon do. We accuse Kenyon of being stuck in a bubble, but that bubble is bigger than we think; it contains all other elite colleges. We guess the seventeen other schools that people applied to, we try to connect all our mutual friends, we know the reputations of all the similarly-tiered schools. As a first-year, I was embarrassed because I couldn’t participate in these conversations, but now as a senior I am well versed in elite college culture. People are startled to discover that I went to public school and have had such different experiences. I don’t know the exact number of students from private versus public schools, but we need to be careful not to conform to the liberal elite bubble so quickly that our unique backgrounds are left neglected.

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9 responses

  1. yep– i didnt write this but i could’ve. and honestly it’s not really been a huge deal (for me– your experience could and probably will be be very different) but it just stuns me when some people take for granted that they grew up in these awesome liberal utopias where they were exposed to so much i wish i couldve grown up with. but then i totally grew up with tons of forms of my own privilege so im not so bothered at the moment.
    sometimes that shit gets to you though.

  2. This also definitely resonated with me. Although I had more knowledge of/connections to “elite college culture” (mostly due to opportunities/privilege in my family’s history) than the writer expresses that he/she did, I also went to a rural public high school, and as a first-year found it really mind-boggling when people talked about all of the (educational, cultural, linguistic, etc etc) opportunities they had in high school and growing up, compared to my (perfectly serviceable, if mediocre) rural public school. I suppose I also never really understand people from larger cities who find Kenyon/Gambier too small and slow because it’s so busy and culturally rich compared to where I spent the first 18 years of my life.

  3. I WAS SO EXCITED WHEN I READ THE TITLE I HAD TROUBLE CLICKING ON THE LINK. yes, this is 100% my experience here. and it is so hard to find students of similar backgrounds! and it is especially weird to feel like an outsider for this reason because we go to a RURAL college! ah jeez can we meet for coffee or something so I don’t constantly feel alone

  4. Thank you for this. As a first year my first couple weeks here were intimidating and I definitely felt out of place and almost ashamed of my background, not only for coming from a public school but for being from a poor single-parent household. I think this is a great reminder of the fact you can’t make assumptions about someone’s background because of the school they go to. It is also comforting to know that I’m not the only one who had a similar experience :)

  5. I really appreciate this piece. I went to a rural public high school as well and often have little to contribute when people are talking about their many friends at Ivies, the twenty applications they filled out, or the senior projects everyone did after everyone was accepted to the college of their choice. As the other comments say it is nice to know that I am not the only one feeling a little out of place or underprepared for the elite college life :)

  6. THANK YOU FOR BEING BRAVE ENOUGH TO SHARE THIS. As a Senior who also went to a rural public high school, I can relate. It is good to finally (after 3+ years) hear from someone who can reflect some of my feelings. While I couldn’t articulate this as a HS senior, I now realize the atmosphere Kenyon gave off due to its widely urban, privately educated and, for the most part, opportunity ridden group of students almost kept me from choosing to apply to Kenyon at all. I didn’t feel that I could ever relate to a student body with a background and upbringing so different from my own.

    In fact, I’m tempted to say that it was pure luck that I ever ended up at Kenyon. Nobody held my hand through application process or testing. Nobody recommended going on college visits across the country or getting an interview. Nobody from my Ohio HS has gone to an Ivy League or even graduated from Kenyon (I will hopefully be the first). My relatives balked at the idea of attending such an expensive school with a funny name when the local state schools offering me full tuition scholarships were “just as good”. To this day, they still mock me by asking about my “fancy school”. I laugh along with them but secretly dread these interactions.

    Even as a Senior, going home for breaks still feels like a culture shock. Most of my relatives are farmers with thick accents, high school diplomas, and conservative values. Sometimes I get upset with people back home for being narrow minded and oblivious to the world outside rural Ohio. Sometimes I get upset with people here for being narrow minded and oblivious to the world outside Kenyon and the urban/suburban areas they come from. Regardless, my rural background has shaped me, and I continue to struggle relating to people wherever I go. While on paper, I might not look that different from the majority of Kenyon students, my rural public HS background made my first year at Kenyon overwhelmingly difficult both socially and academically.

  7. Kenyon students: forsake Brooklyn and the big coastal cities. Go inward, youth. Or not, just like consume your shit out in expensive cities where there is no creation happening–everyone’s gotta have goals I guess.

  8. Thank you SO much for posting this. I can’t tell you how often this thought crosses my mind. Reading the comments and knowing there are more of us out there than I thought is a huge relief.

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