By Sarah Fader
Published February 21, 2012


Last night it occurred to me that my interview with the Department of Education was the next day, and I had nothing to wear. I searched my drawers frantically and perused my mental rolodex of outfits until I came up with a solution. My green dress! I had to find it. I wore it to my brother’s wedding in 2007, and since then I’ve squeezed in and out of it on various occasions, but it has served me well. I asked my husband, Wil:

“Babe, do you know where my green dress is?”
 
“Nope. Haven’t seen it.”
 
I grumbled to myself. It had to be in the house somewhere. So I frantically threw clothes out of drawers until…eureka! I found it. This dress has one major problem; it is a little too revealing. I’m nursing now, and when I wear this particular dress, the bust portion cannot handle my top half. So I needed another solution. I scoured through my closet and then…I found it…a tan blazer! I hadn’t worn that since a date night with Wil in 2009. But, it will do, I thought. Here was the final product.
grad-school-scholarship-interview
 
My dad offered to watch the kids while I went to my interview. As I was leaving the house to go, I asked my dad “how do I look?”
 
“You look good…but you might want to put something over that.” He gestured to my dress.
 
I knew it! The dress was rebeling against me again.
 
“You can see my bra, can’t you?”
 
“Yeah, you need to fix that.” He said with a frown.
 
“What about a safety pin!” I said truimphantly.
 
“Great idea!”
 
So I drove to the bank, went to the tell, took out the 14 dollars remaining in my bank account, got a tea and a muffin and a package of safety pins. They were assorted sizes, and I had no idea what to do with them. I sat in the bathroom of Blue Sky Bakery fiddling with the safety pin and my dress, trying to get them both to behave. Neither of them listened. I left the bakery with my dress obviously bearing a safety pin to hold it together, and feeling rather dismayed.
 
I drove to the interview, and while I was looking for parking, I got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to hang out with him and his son. I text him back that I have an interview. I can’t find parking and I am beginning to get nervous. Miraculously I found a parking meter near the Department of Education that is good for two hours. I load quarters into it with the help of a stranger who gives me two dollars worth of quarters.
 
I get to the interview just in time. I am told to sit at a computer and wait for a question to pop up on the screen. The question appears:
 
“Why should you be awarded this scholarship?”
 
I freeze. I don’t know how to answer this question. I look down at the safety pin that’s holding my dress together, and I feel like it’s not doing it’s job. It’s supposed to hold more than my dress together, I’m supposed to appear like a person who is together and it’s all not working. I impulsively rip it off my dress.
 
I begin to write a essay that resembles verbal scrambled eggs, maybe with a little cheese on top. I’m all over the place. I talk about how I worked as a rehab counselor and that made me more compassionate. I talk about how speech is an integral part of being human and how children who are struggling with speech feel the barrier in communication. I express how I want to help these children, and all the words I’m using are making me feel like melted cheddar cheese. I feel so disingenious. I’m saying things like “I want to help children” and all I can think about is that Whitney Houston song where she says “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”
 
Finally I complete the required verbiage and I am told to sit at long square table. A decent looking man walks by. He couldn’t be more than 30, I think to myself. He wears big round glasses and has his hair slicked back.
 
“Hi, I’ll be with you in a second.” I breathe a sign of relief that this will be my interviewer.
 
He comes to the table with a yellow notepad and sits down.
 
“Wait a moment,” he says “She will be joining us.” He says gesturing to a stern looking woman with barely any hair a square jaw who also wears thick black round rimmed glasses.
 
Whatever sigh of relief I just breathed has been negated by this woman’s facial expression.
 
“Hello,” She says in an extremely thick Eastern European accent. I can’t determine where she’s from. I do know this though, she means business.
 
“So…why speech pathology?” She asks
 
I go on to tell her about working in the school system, seeing children who are struggling with speech, watching the speech pathologists in action, being inspired by their interventions. It’s all sounding good to me. I’m liking myself. She’s smiling. The guy is smiling next to her, they are furiously writing on their yellow note pads.
 
“As a speech pathologist in the department of education, it’s very likely that you won’t have your own office,” she says getting that stern look back on her face. “How do you feel about working with children in hallways or other untraditional locations? Are you easily distracted?”
 
“I’m not easily distracted. I have two young children, and I am able to hyper-focus while many different actitivites are going on around me.” I say. I can’t believe I just used the words “hyper-focus.”
 
It all seems to be going well. They continue to smile and embrace their notepads with their felt tip pens…until…she asks me this question:
 
“So…where did you do your pre-requisites?”
 
I stare at her with the blankest expression I can muster up. I’m sure my bra is showing at this point.
 
“Um, I haven’t completed any prerequisites. I wasn’t aware there were any.”
 
She goes on to say that without the 26 credits of prequisite coursework, I won’t be admitted into any graduate school for speech pathology. The only chance I have is if I apply to Columbia University, which includes the prerequisites as a part of their graduate program.
 
“When is the deadline for Columbia?” I ask her anxiously.
 
“Well, I can’t answer that,” she says sternly. “Go to their website and check. I do not want to give you wrong information.”
 
“I didn’t see anything listed about pre-requisites when I applied.” I say.
 
“I don’t know what to tell you, do you want to end the interview now?” She asks
 
“No.” I says definitively. “I’m already here. I want to get this done.”
 
“Okay then.” She responds with a smirk. The nice looking man has been quiet through all of this banter. I think he feels sorry for me.
 
“So…” she begins the smirk is still there. “Why should you be awarded a scholarship, what makes you unique?”
 
“I’m 32 years old, and I have life experience,” I begin. “I have my own children, and I can relate and empathize with parents of children who need speech services. I know what it’s like to see your child struggling and not know what to do or how to help. I would be able to relate to the parents of these children, and I would be able to help the children themselves. I am very determined. I will stop at nothing until I achieve my goal. If there’s something that I want, I go for it, and I want this. I want to be a speech pathologist.”
 
The nice looking quiet man, and the stern woman look at me speechless.
 
“I don’t have anymore questions. Do you?” Stern lady says.
 
“No.” Confirms quiet nice man.
 
I shake their hands, thank them, and leave the Department of Education with a heavy heart. I don’t know what to do next.
 
Actually, I do know what to do. My dad and I got out for tea and pie. He looks up the deadline for Columbia University’s graduate program in speech. It passed. It was on January 15th.
 
I call the speech department. I speak to the secretary. I tell her about my scholarship application, and how the interviewer suggested that I should apply to Columbia. I ask her if they’ll make an exception for me. I offer to FedEX the materials. She tells me I better talk to Admissions directly. Maybe there’s something they can do, it’s their call. I call the liasion to the speech department in admissions.
 
I get her voicemail. I leave her a message asking if there’s any exception that can be made. Can I still apply? She doesn’t say anything because I’m talking to a robotic carbon copy of her. I email her letter with my plea to let me apply to Columbia. I sit, and I wait to hear back about my fate.
 
My academic career is being held together by an imaginary safety pin. The pin is stretching and threatening to break at any moment, and I don’t know how to stop the tear.  
 
 
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