The Old College Try

College sweatshirt day may not be the pure celebration we want it to be


Kyle Berlage ('22)

Lining the hallways of upper Bentham are rows of college pennants—reminders of the ever-present, looming future.

Sariah Hossain, Editor-in-Chief

I don’t remember many things from my middle school days—I tend to block out the most painful and embarrassing memories in an act of self-preservation—but I do remember this: as every May approached and the school year drew to a close, my grade and I would be buzzing with anticipation for College Apparel Day. Where would this year’s seniors be going to college? How many were bound for the Ivy League? How many were going to a top-10 university? I wondered these things, and I marveled at the class pictures posted to the Bishop’s Instagram, and I began calculating how I’d follow in their footsteps. The main character of lunchtime and hallway conversations that week was college-related gossip, and only that.  

College Apparel Day (known colloquially around campus as College Sweatshirt Day, but nevertheless) is a senior-year staple. High schools across the country host similarly named spirit days throughout the month of May, after their seniors have committed to a college, and far be it from Bishop’s to deprive its students of this tradition. Before all else, Bishop’s is a college preparatory school. All roads lead to Rome, and to us here at 7607 La Jolla Blvd, Rome is elite institutions of higher education. That is what we do all of this for—and as hard as it is to avoid those pressures, the reality where we can move beyond them is a better one. 

Take this as a testimony from one exhausted, over-it senior: College Apparel Day, as Knights News officially calls it, feels like a microcosm of everything painful about how we talk about college admissions here. College Apparel Day operates under the assumption that, first, every Bishop’s graduate will be attending college, and second, that they will be attending a prestigious one. And the very nature of the spirit day is to broadcast where we’re going to college, in bright applique letters sewn across our chests. Is it really anyone’s business but our own?

“I do want an opportunity to show off the college I’m going to, but it also can make some people feel bad that they didn’t get the results they wanted,” senior Miller Watson said. “To be in a college sweatshirt that you’re happy about but that maybe isn’t your first choice, and then see other people walking around with schools you dreamed about going to, that can be hard.”

And this needs to be said for the sake of candor, at least: it can be difficult to be happy about the college you end up enrolling in. “There are so many qualified people and not enough spots available, so people are definitely going to get screwed over,” senior Sancia Milton said. We hear from our college counselors and teachers and test-prep tutors and peers and parents that the college admissions process can be unruly, fickle; so many factors play into the decision you open on your computer screen that fateful day, and so few of those factors are transparent to you. You don’t ever really know why the admissions committee makes the decisions they make. Sometimes the dream school doesn’t become a reality. It’s hard to make peace with that.

As much as I would like to pretend that this isn’t the case, it is so difficult to keep perspective about the college admissions process while at Bishop’s. “I know that there are things that I could have done better to get into the schools I wanted to, but to be confronted with that all at once doesn’t feel too great, especially when I put the work in as well,” Miller said. And I agree—as much as I would like to treat College Apparel Day as a celebration of our accomplishments, and a moment for excitement and pride only, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. All the tensions and pressures and gossip that discussions of college admissions drags with it on our campus come too, and suddenly College Apparel Day is another opportunity, even like The Tower’s own college map or putting your college on your Instagram, for the senior class’ successes and shortcomings to be stacked up and compared.

It’s such a hotly anticipated moment, finally putting the name of the college you’re attending in the fall in your Instagram bio. I know in my experience, I’d paid the deposit with my family and told my friends where I’d be attending a week or two before I went Instagram-official with it. I put it off because, in my head, the most nerve-wracking part of Decision Day was the process of all my peers finding out. It’s almost like going “Instagram official” with a relationship—like committing yourself to a person or institution is more than identification. It’s a revelation. College Apparel Day feels like a summation of all of that tension.

Perhaps an alternative could be to allow seniors to wear their college’s sweatshirts over their uniform polos from May 1 onward—this way, those who feel like they’re in a place to share and celebrate this news have a space to do so, but the students who are still working through the college process, anticipating waitlists, taking a gap year, or any other path that is ‘nontraditional’ by Bishop’s standards, aren’t pressured to publicize anything they’re not comfortable doing yet.

As an underclassman, I partook in more than my fair share of college-related gossip. We all earned more than a moment of celebration, and we all deserve to be unendingly proud of ourselves for getting ourselves to this point of graduation, regardless of the next step. We also deserve a little grace here, too. Every one of us—including the ones still figuring the future out.