A new take on a long-standing rite of passage

Lauren Sonnenberg

My Bat Mitzvah was a really big deal to me; I’d attended Hebrew school twice a week since first grade, I’d learned the bare minimum of a new language and had studied for months before the big day. The day of my Bat Mitzvah was much like I anticipated — I was excited and relieved. The day lived up to that which I had built up in the months beforehand.

But as quickly as it came, it ended.  I was left with a series of memories, some cool presents and a sense that something had ended and something else was about to begin.  I was staring into the abyss of adolescence, with anticipation and dread.

I expected the college application process to have a similar effect. I’d spent years hearing about college. It was the next step, the next reward for learning a new language (though this time it wasn’t Hebrew, it was calculus).

While my Bat Mitzvah preparation required me to compose five minutes of pithy observations about that week’s Torah reading, the college application process required far too many drafts of my Common Application essay, which I was told needed to “give the reader a sense of myself.” Much like that speech five years ago, which might as well be a lifetime ago, I tried to cram in as many ideas as possible, get it over with and submit it, never to speak of it again.

But submitting college apps turned out to be nothing like my Bat Mitzvah. After my Bat Mitzvah speech, I went to a party with loud music and celebration. After submitting my applications, it was quiet.  No celebration. No music. It was anti-climactic as the calming silence engulfed me.

I didn’t feel a rush of relief or a pit in my stomach when I pressed submit. Rather, I felt a lack of control. It was almost like Space Mountain. A slow climb to the top to be followed by a rapid ride that is out of my control, the direction of which cannot be anticipated in the darkness. So, I calmly submitted my apps, double — checked that they had gone through, put my laptop in its case and left my cousin’s house.

The six weeks since then have been fairly calm, as I await the inevitable thrill that will take me somewhere I cannot control. For all of us (at least us seniors), we’re in a limbo between high school and college, and all we can do is wait.

Some may react with a sense of resignation and calm. Some, no doubt, are anything but that. But we all are waiting. Some will find a quick end to the wait, as 93 percent of our class applied early. We would like to believe we have chosen, with wisdom exceeding our years and our experience, that one special college that will change our lives in ways unimagined.

The truth is that most of us will have to wait until spring to find out what lies ahead. What is certain is not that we have necessarily chosen the “best” place, or that the “best” place will choose us. What is true is that we have all shared this preparatory journey together and now will face an uncertain future in a new and strange place that will challenge and excite us—wherever it is.

The Bat Mitzvah speech is over. It is strangely silent now. Before, we faced adolescence, kicked off by a party that celebrated our passage to high school.

Now we wait and wonder, ready to move on to the unknown and a different sort of celebration. It is a celebration of accomplishment, a celebration of relief and a celebration of change.