Laughing Off “The Elite”

When I found myself stepping onto the Colgate campus in late August of 2002, I admit, I immediately wanted to get back in the car, and drive off into a less than romantic sunset. I could hear my bed at home calling me from two hundred and fifty miles away, tempting me to come back and surround myself in its safe, white, embrace. While most people would say it was just “first day of college jitters”, I look back with certainty that there was an element of truth to my fear. I didn’t belong here at Colgate, no, not four years ago. I was made of much softer stuff back then, the kind of stuff that easily tears and breaks, the kind that is so scared of failing it never tries to find reparation and growth. There were and are a million reasons why I felt I didn’t belong here, and there were and are a million more reasons why I wanted to change. Sure, part of it was fitting in, but most of it was fitting in to the person I always dreamed of becoming. The shy little high school girl had a chance to become something more, and the truly wonderful thing about Colgate was that it always allowed me that transformation. I can proudly say I am not the same person that entered onto this campus just four short years ago, and for that I am truly grateful. What I am even more grateful for however, was that as I grew and changed I never once felt like I had to apologize for the person I once was, or the woman I was becoming.That is, until one day my sophomore year when I found myself sitting in the art studio overhearing what should have been a private conversation (but of course, I, along with the entire room could over hear it). I tried to ignore most of the offensive comments coming out of the participants’ mouths, but then they said it: “I can’t imagine why anyone on financial aid would ever want to come here,” and my heart sank a little. For all my foibles, for everything I wanted to change about myself, I never dreamed the amount of money my parents make would be one of them. I wanted to shout, “I can’t imagine why anyone would ever say something so stupid,” but I didn’t. And maybe I didn’t say anything because somewhere inside of me I was scared they were right. Maybe I didn’t belong, and maybe everyone felt that way.But I never heard comments like those again, and came to realize that not everyone felt as those two people did. And I slowly pushed their ignorance out of my mind. But now just a few weeks before I am about to graduate, I stumbled upon something that just wouldn’t let me forget what happened in the art studio that day. As I was cruising Facebook, I stumbled upon what I can only assume is a fairly new group called “The Elite.” What was the opening line to their group description you ask? “Wearing Your Collar Down is for Poor People.”I was shocked, but I had to read further. Sure enough, more unfortunate phrases kept popping up. One read, “When my ancestors came over to this great country 400 years ago, they had a vision for a utopia, free from minorities, liberals, poor people, homosexuals, and immigrants.” Another unabashedly stated “Just know this: I interned at Smith Barney this summer. Where did you work? At Blockbuster? That’s right you insignificant sack of dogshit; I’m going to be your boss.” Dare I include another? Sure. The last line read: “Get some rich parents, an internship, and a pink polo with the collar up, and then maybe I’ll let you hang out with me.”I felt the anger boil up inside me. I started writing an angry email, but stopped. I made plans to find the groups creator and yell at him, perhaps taking the opportunity to slap or trip him if such a possibility presented itself. My heart was pounding, but I knew the core of the problem was that if I said anything at all I was just going to end up feeling foolish. If I spoke up, wouldn’t I just fuel their fire? Wouldn’t I be giving them the exact attention they wanted and craved? A part of me still wants to believe this is all a joke, and that it doesn’t warrant much attention, but then I stop and realize: I’m not laughing. I went to class that evening feeling conflicted as to what my course of action should be, and was under the impression that I would never be able to find a way to concentrate during class. Thank god for my professor, who has a strange obsession with breathing exercises. At the start of class she made our small group of seminar students crawl onto the floor, under the table, and just laugh for as long and as hard as we could. As I laughed under that table, feeling more than a little insane, I came to realize something rather important. Laughing was exactly what I could do to deal with this situation. And I will laugh. I will laugh at the six people that comprise that elitist group, and their ignorance, and I will laugh until I am almost at the point of tears for the terrible things each one of you either wrote or supported, knowing someone like me just might read it and feel hurt. And when I am laughing so hard that I almost remember how completely unfunny it all is, I will start to feel sorry for you. I will feel sorry that the only way you know how to define yourself is by the amount of money you have, because if you ever lose it you will feel more lost that I can ever imagine. I will feel sorry that you have so little value for yourself, that you think the best thing you have to offer is the amount of drinks you can buy your girlfriend on a Saturday night. And I will feel so very sorry that you will never appreciate what you have the way I appreciate what I have, because you will never want to hold it so close and dear as I do. Because I know (unlike you) that one day I might just lose it all.But mostly I’m sorry for all the people who have the same kind of money you do and are nothing like you at all. It is such a shame that a few people can give such a terrible name to so many. At the end of the day, I know that people like you are so few and far between, that I feel sad that I even had to hear about this at all. And I am thankful to everyone here at Colgate who never made me feel so out of place, the way you did last night. For all the people who, knowingly or not, helped me grow and change and become the person I never thought I could be. For all the people who made it possible for me to even sit here and write this article today, and for the people who were kind enough to donate their money to Colgate so that I could come here along with my fellow students. Thank you.