Palo Alto High's 'rejection' wall returns

In rite of spring, Gunn, Paly students post college 'nos' for all to see

As college acceptances and rejections roll in, some students at Gunn High School are sharing their rejections for all to see on a makeshift "Wall of Rejection."

By the weekend, the wall facing a well-trod Gunn hallway held a growing number of "no" letters from UCLA, Cal Poly, New York University and other institutions.

With high tension over college applications, the rejection wall has become a cathartic -- though sometimes controversial -- rite of spring on many high school campuses across the country.

Described as feeling like a consoling "group hug" by one recent Gunn graduate, the rejection wall was absent from its traditional quad-facing location at Palo Alto High School last year.

It will return this year, but in a more regulated format, student leaders said.

The term "rejection wall" had some "negative connotations that weren't really appropriate," Senior Class Vice-President John Brunett said.

"This year it's not called a 'rejection wall' but a 'colleges-missing-out wall,'" Brunett said.

"We want to focus on the positive aspects -- that people in a very stressful environment in a very stressful school can see that it's OK to fail and sort of take some pride in that, have a community-life feeling."

Rather than taping up their own rejections, as in the past, Paly students are asked to drop off their rejections, with names blacked out, at the Student Activities Office, and others will handle the posting.

Brunett said the new plan -- as well as the absence of a rejection wall last spring -- represents a "group decision" on the part of student leaders and administrators.

"A common description by students for colleges rejecting them is because they're not good enough, and that's not the case. It's because it didn't work out; they don't have room for that many qualified people.

"So I and the rest of (student government) and the administration wanted this phrasing because it's really supposed to be a positive experience, and we want kids realizing that rejection isn't the end of the world."

Brunett said he hoped students would begin submitting rejections by the end of last week, and that the wall would be launched this week, after fliers from the school's career fair are taken down.

Once students have decided on their destinations for next year, student officers will have a "short ceremony" tearing down the "Colleges Missing Out" wall and posting a "Vikings Getting In" wall.

"This wall shows Vikings standing up and showing pride in the college they will be attending," the students and administration said in a group statement.

"Outraged" by the mysterious absence of Paly's rejection wall last spring, editors of the student newspaper The Campanile mounted their own smaller version, taping rejections facing out on the windows of the journalism classroom, Brunett said.

"But the windows are tinted and Campanile was on the outskirts of the campus, so not a lot of people saw it and not a lot of letters were posted," he said.

In a Feb. 25 editorial, The Campanile called for reinstatement of the traditional rejection wall this spring.

"With all the stress and pressure to succeed embedded in life at Paly, the rejection wall is a simple yet effective way to show students that it is okay to fail," The Campanile said.

"It is easy to attend Paly and assume that every other student is going to an Ivy League school, but the rejection wall proves that this is not the case.

"Many seniors feel alienated and alone when rejected from their first-choice schools, but the presence of a rejection wall unifies the senior class and shows each student that they are not alone in their frustration."

Since 1990, The Campanile has published a list of seniors and their college, or other, destinations in its final issue each June. It plans to continue this year.

Campanile advisor Esther Wojcicki said the information is not provided by the Paly administration but collected student by student.

"Sometimes social-studies teachers will let the kids fill out a form that we make up," Wojcicki said.

"Some kids don't want to participate, and we honor that."

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4 people like this
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:52 am

I'd call it the "Everything Happens for a Reason" wall.

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:00 am

This is so sad. Why would it matter where a student is rejected?
At the end of the process, students should post their final choice and celebrate that.
Why wallow in public misery?

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Posted by Head Skaker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:09 am

Nice to see that our kids are learning to be as inane as their parents. I don't think anyone's self-esteem was crushed by a REJECTION wall. Kids, listen up: you don't hit a home run every time to bat, people don't care to read about your every mood swing on Facebook, schools will reject you and you can't always get what you want. Live with it. Sheesh...

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Posted by Ann
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:11 am

We lived in a community in suburban Boston that was very similar to Palo Alto. In the main hall of the high school the students had what was called "The Wall of Shame". It had huge numbers of college rejection letters posted by the students on it each spring. I think it gave the kids a sense of it being a shared experience, that they were the only ones receiving rejection notices. Definitely took a little of the sting out of the experience.

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Posted by Ann
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:13 am

CORRECTION: "that they were NOT the only ones receiving rejection notices.

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Posted by JM
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:20 am

I think rejection wall is a practical way to release stress. Just like the student said, a "group hug". Imagine the opposite situation: no such a wall and kids think they are the only not-good-enough ones. What level of stress would that bring.

As for renaming the wall, I don't feel such a sugar-coating is needed for 18-yrs-old kids. They should know, by this time, that life is not perfect. You take the punch and carry on. If they don't know about this by high school graduation, then that's something the school should spend resources to teach.

2 people like this
Posted by Joyce
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:32 am

I like the way they changed the terminology from "REJECTION" to "COLLEGES-MISSING-OUT-WALL".

The term "rejection wall" had some "negative connotations that weren't really appropriate," Senior Class Vice-President John Brunett said.

"This year it's not called a 'rejection wall' but a 'colleges-missing-out wall,'" Brunett said.

I always tell my 10 year old son "if a person or an institution or an organization don't want you then you don't want them. You are a very respectful, intelligent. By not wanting you in their organization they are losers! Lets concentrate on what we have on our hand, be happy and take it from there. :-) ". I do insist on hard work, luck also plays role in what we do and where we end-up.

It's a feel better talk, not every company we go to for an interview, will make an offer. In this era of exploding population, high stress and most people being in that top 20% of education & earning brackets enough is enough when it comes to stress from "be the perfect individual and be a high achiever!".

So what? Even the planet is not a perfect round shaped. Lets all focus on positive side of life and be happy!

Like this comment
Posted by mh
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm

It's effectively a lottery for many, as Amherst officials admitted here: Web Link
No shame in that.

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Posted by Glenn
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I continue to be fascinated by Palo Alto OnLine coverage of Gunn and Paly School issues. As a Gunn grad from the 70's, and a career mentor for high school students here in Oregon where I live, I have found over the years that there are great colleges and universities out there, not just the Name Schools. There are extremely successful folks (with good self images), from state schools, junior colleges, small midwest liberal arts colleges, military schools, religious colleges,technical schools, etc. Not everyone I knew who went to Ivy League schools or Stanford (there were a lot from my era) could you say the same thing. Sadly, the several suicides I have known were kids that went off to the Name Schools. Parents and mentors need to unconditionally support their kids -- there will be a great School for each of them.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Most of you are reading way, way, way too much into this. It is a way to let off a little steam --- obviously they're not ashamed as they are posting the letters with their own names on it!!!

Let them have their fun.

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Posted by MVresident
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm


"I'd call it the "Everything Happens for a Reason" wall."

But it doesn't.

Coincidentally, there was a program this morning on KQED radio about the admissions panel at Amherst College. About 90% of the applicants are eliminated before the panel does their triage, a 1-2 minute group evaluation (one person orally presents the candidate to the rest of the group). They have accept, reject, and "set aside" (for later review).

Some years they have a little room to revisit the "set aside" people.

Other years, they have too many qualified candidates. So the panel starts randomly removing students they said they would accept.

Interesting interview. One panel member claimed that he personally rejected an eventual Rhodes scholar.

In the end, what difference does it really make? Steve Jobs gave the commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 and quipped that was the closest he got to a college graduation.

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Posted by MVresident
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Oh yes, it was the Morning Edition on NPR. You can visit and listen to the segment, "Behind The Scenes: How Do You Get Into Amherst?"

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Posted by Nadav G
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2011 at 3:43 pm

The editorial in the Campanile can be found here:
Web Link

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Posted by Accepted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm

An Ivy League School crushed me.

There are plenty of great places to go to college. I did better at a liberal arts school.

What other people may expect of you is pointless.

I applaud a Rejection Wall and think it should be called just that. Get a sense of humor, people.

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Posted by Accepted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Follow-up to prior post:

By saying that the Ivy League School crushed me, I meant that they accepted me, I went there, and it was a horrendous experience.

I transferred to a small liberal arts college which was a better fit.

Sorry I did not make that clear in my earlier post.

Like this comment
Posted by pA mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2011 at 9:41 pm

On this side of the experience, it's hard for the kids to see that a lot of the decisions are about whether they will FIT at a given school, not whether they are qualified.

Sharing the rejections takes away the sting. The kids know they aren't the only ones. Some of the schools have to reject the majority of the applicants. That's a lot of qualified kids who don't get in.

It also helps the kids to see what form letters these rejections can be. Nothing personal. En masse, it's kind of hilarious.

I think it's great that our kids have the confidence to share their rejections, to help themselves, to help others. I see it as a positive thing. This is only the first of many inevitable rejections in life. If they are going to put themselves out there to be successful, they will be rejected along the way. I'm heartened that they are dealing with it in such a creative and proactive way.

Every publisher who rejected JK Rowling probably remembers their rejection of her with a greater sting than she remembers theirs. Everyone has deserved and undeserved rejections in life. It's not whether we will fall, but how we pick ourselves up again that matters. These kids are picking themselves up with humor and dignity.

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Posted by Walleyed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2011 at 2:03 am

Why not make lemonade out of lemons? They are all going through the same thing right now and this seems like a fun way to share the disappointment, and put it all in perspective. I wish they had done this back in my day.

FYI - the article said the school blacks out the names and all personal info before posting.

By the way if I had to do it again, I would do my undergrad at a great liberal arts college or state school, then try hard for an ivy for graduate school. The few wise people I knew that took that route are doing very well these days (sigh) Wish there was some sort of wall that could console me there. The great wall of life's regrets.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Dad
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2011 at 8:14 am

Great way to let off some steam, with friends, after a long and stressful process.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2011 at 8:27 am

This is a great stress reliever for the seniors.

More importantly, it is a wake up call to the juniors and others. They will see that getting into college is not a done deal. They will see that life is full of disappointments but that the thing to do with the disappointments is to make the best of them and see what else is there.

Having had to go through the rejections in our family, it is good for the seniors receiving them to be able to say "now I can paste this on the wall" as a positive way of getting over the rejection. I also know that they expect rejections because for the past 3 years they have seen them at school and know that it isn't the end of the world to receive a rejection letter as the recipients still go on to
do well after high school.

A great tradition.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2011 at 9:09 am

for the parents in another big debate thread,go look at this rejection wall.can we parenrs ever learn from this?

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Posted by Class of '82
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2011 at 9:44 am

Where is the Wall of Rejection and when did it start?

"The Wall" in my day was that 3 ft. wall outside of the "cafeteria" (now with portables 10 ft. away). That's where the "popular" students would hang out.

In my day, it was also a crap shoot of who got accepted to which schools, although Stanford-affiliated students had higher chances to be accepted into Stanford.

I think it is the same these days for the top private schools? 25-30% are legacies?

Like this comment
Posted by local gurl
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 29, 2011 at 10:27 am

My son was SO aware of the pressure to attend a four year school right out of Gunn that he made a decision that wasn't the best for him. The bias against "JC Kids" is ridiculous. He transferred back to a J.C. after his freshman year at a four year school, and then successfully transferred back his junior year and had a great experience.

Kids should be encouraged to make the right decisions regardless of the "stigma" . . . sigh.

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Posted by Mr. Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2011 at 10:37 am

I think its a good idea. Back when I graduated my buddies would share our rejection letters it is kind of like a group hug. I got Rejected by USC (my dream school) and Cal Poly San Luis but got accepted to Hampton. Stop treating the kids like babies and let them let off steam however they want to. The rejection wall is voluntary not mandatory whats the big deal?

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Posted by Paly Fan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2011 at 11:22 am

Kudos to Principal Winston for allowing the Wall to be reinstated. I never understood why it was a problem and always felt that it was an incredibly savvy approach to dealing with disappointment. For adults to have been so nervous about letting students share their rejections added angst to the process rather than helping them. The kids know how to put this in perspective. Good for them!

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Posted by Joyce
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2011 at 12:52 pm

@Glenn, a resident of another community, 23 hours ago

There you go, nailed it perfectly! I think to minimize stress level on High school students parents and counselors equally remind the kids in a polite way

"You have high potential and if you put mind on certain project you will succeed. At the same time luck also plays role in admission process. There are 1000s of students equally talented like you, so leave some room that your application might get rejected. Like every lock comes with a key every problem comes with a solution you just have to look carefully."

Parenting for my parents must have been much easier....

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Wait Lists--it's not over until incoming students commit to a college of their choice, and then a certain number of openings present themselves again. Early May for this stage of the process.

Our family experienced this first hand with one of our children, whose top choice school wait listed her, and lo and behold, in early in May, she was offered admission. This child of mine was a bit torn, because she had accepted to another school, but ultimately chose the college that had taken off the wait list.

Even though my ex-wife and I have graduate degrees from two well known "brand" universities, I honestly question how appropriate for an undergraduate education these places offer. Senior faculty is focused in research and publishing, not teaching at the undergrad level. After checking my kids checked out these "legacy" universities, they chose not to apply to either. Not a good fit.

Both of mine opted for schools with an emphasis on undergraduate enducation. I am glad they did.

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Posted by Teacher Mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I love the idea of the rejection wall. Our kids need to feel disappointed and know they're not alone. If parents protect/shield them from bad feelings, they'll lack the resiliency to survive happily as an adult. We all get rejected at some point in our lives and it's important to know that we're not alone AND it's not the end of the world. My son was actually disappointed that we recycled his rejection letters and couldn't put his up. He's now happily at the perfect school for him.

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Posted by Marie
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 29, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Grucho Marx once that he wouldn't want to belong to any group which had him as a member. Unless you are legacy kid (aka affirmative action for the rich), there is no sure thing. That inflated GPA of 4.8, zillions of AP classes, and extra-curricular "stuff" won't dazzle every admissions officer. There are thousands of whiz kids just like you out there.
So strike a balance in your life, tell your neurotic parents to bug off, and enjoy YOUR life.
It all passes rather quietly.

Like this comment
Posted by Not so hidden bias
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2011 at 8:48 pm

"Unless you are legacy kid (aka affirmative action for the rich), there is no sure thing."

And even that is not a sure thing. There are plenty of Stanford legacies (and kids of Stanford professors) who do not get in. A former Stanford Dean of Admissions once told me that the effect of being a legacy is only a tie-breaker. That is, the applicant needs to be fully qualified for entry first and the legacy factor only comes in where two applicants are otherwise deemed "equal".

Like this comment
Posted by Michele and Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2011 at 10:22 pm

This discussion is very interesting. For anyone (parents, students, teachers) interested in the issue of academic stress reduction, there is a new organization of Palo Alto citizens working on this issue. It is called We Can Do Better Palo Alto. Here is the description:

We Can Do Better Palo Alto is a group of parents, students, former students, and concerned citizens of Palo Alto California. We are concerned about rising rates of depression and anxiety among our high school student population. Many of us have had that concern for many years as the result of our experiences, or those of our friends, with PAUSD. Others of us came to that concern as a result of the highly publicized suicide cluster afflicting our community in 2009-11.

We are concerned about the role of academic stress as a root cause of depression, anxiety, ulcers, panic attacks, heart palpitations, sleeplessness eating disorders, general unhappiness, and other physical, mental, and emotional illnesses and problems in our community. We are currently working collectively to pressure the Palo Alto Board of Education and the administration of PAUSD to implement Section P-8 of the Project Safety Net suicide prevention plan, which requires the district to "study, discuss, and implement" across the board strategies to reduce academic stress.

We would like the Board of Education to convene a committee to examine the issue of academic stress in a focused, systematic way as required by P-8. This committee should have as its charge to study the issue, and make a set of evidence-based recommendations for concrete actions to lower academic stress in PAUSD high schools. These recommendations can then be discussed in the community, and those that are most appropriate can be implemented.

We reject the false choice between lowering stress and high achievement. We believe that lower stress and achievement go hand in hand. Think about it. Do you do your best work in a stressed-out pressure cooker? Of course not. Neither do our kids. Join us. Together we can make Palo Alto a national model for stress reduction and a return to sanity in secondary education.

Here is the link to the group. Due to the nature of FB groups it can be hard to find all the relevant documents but there are Weekly articles, videos of statement to the Board of Ed, and other materials. Click "ask to join." Anyone can join.

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Posted by Michele and Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2011 at 10:23 pm

FB group link:

Web Link

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Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2011 at 12:16 am

We had a rejection wall at Harvard Business School in the 1980s where we could post "bullets" which were letters refusing us job interviews or terminating job discussions after one or more interview. I remember one party where the price of admission was a rejection letter. Rejection is part of life. Sometimes it truly sucks but we all have to learn to get over it.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2011 at 6:50 am

Barack Obama was turned down by Swarthmore. That was Swarthmore's goof (although Obama acknowledges in his first book that he didn't become a really serious student until later).

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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