Authentic Eagles: Damian Mencini On Rejection

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Damian Mencini, A&S ’14

1490. That’s my SAT score. Out of 2400.

For a kid who was waitlisted, sitting in Devlin 008 during Orientation Week and watching every incoming Eagle’s hand shoot up around me to identity themselves as their high school’s valedictorian, salutatorian, team captain, or student body president was nothing but intimidating.

Next came the all the freshmen-year small talk. With orientation suitemates, new floormates, and new friends, I found myself listening to everyone’s acceptance stories. Where they applied. When they got into the Honors program. How pissed they were that they got rejected by the Ivies. And the worst conversation for me: what they got on their SATs.

I faced a choice in my early months at BC. Do I lie or tell the truth? If I made up that I got a score above 2000, no one would ever know. Hell, I could even say I got in at early admission. The truth was that BC was my reach school. I chose the truth.

I told my new friends that the day I got my waitlist letter, I sent a 2000 word email to my region’s admission officer telling her why BC was my dream school. I felt that every person I told, while often reassuring or partially impressed, earmarked me in those initial weeks, months, and maybe even years for my unconventional admissions story and wretched test scores.

As I settled in, I was sure I wanted to be a tour guide. I wanted to share my passion for the Heights. I applied twice. I got rejected twice. But being turned away by the Student Admissions Program only drove me closer to organizations that shared my passion. Finding organizations that aligned with my interests became a stepping stone for more opportunities.

It would be a lie to say I don’t work hard in school. I work extremely hard. I hated the core. But once I could start taking upper-division electives in Political Science and History, my GPA began to climb. I was selected for some great internships and made phenomenal relationships with many of my professors. These relationships and experiences became my platform for even more opportunities.

Fast forward to the fall of my senior year, I had the honor and privilege of being endorsed by Boston College to compete for one of the America’s most prestigious graduate scholarships. I spent tireless weeks crafting an application for the Marshall Scholarship, a competitor to the Rhodes.

I felt on top of Chestnut Hill coming back to BC this year. I was coming off a competitive and successful internship in Washington, D.C. and I thought the wind was at my back. And now I was competing with the best of the best. I even daydreamed about seeing my picture on the Agora Portal. Saying that out loud, I realize how unbelievably stupid and petty that sounds. This was my chance though. I would show my friends, my classmates, and my admissions officer that even though I came in at the bottom, I would end up on top.

Guess what happened?

I could not have been rejected worse. They didn’t call. They didn’t email. I simply checked my account and it said thanks but no thanks. Weeks later, a letter shoved into my mailbox was addressed only to “Applicant.” The Marshall Committee finally gave me notice. That letter hangs above my desk today. Not to make myself feel bad. And not to pump my ego. But to remind me about one thing: opportunity.

After I got flattened by the Marshall Committee, my thesis advisor and mentor told me, “Those things [rejection] can give you some added motivation whenever you start to feel tired or full of yourself. On to the next thing.” My mentor’s words were equally sobering and enlightening. I realized that one of the most valuable lessons I learned at BC was that the corny line about when one door closes another opens... was unequivocally true.

Looking backwards, I realize that when surrounded by a student body who defines themselves by their achievements, ambitions, and hyper-involvement, rejection is only inevitable. We’ve all been rejected by schools, clubs, and jobs, often for reasons unbeknownst to us.

In my final months at BC, I am now facing rejection with alarming regularity. I, unlike many of my superstar friends, did not have a high-flying job lined up in August. I write cover letter after cover letter and send resume after resume for potential employers, only to find a generic email waiting in my inbox in about a week. But it’s nice when they add a smiley face, pricks.

But after years of being turned away, I have found that there is a certain beauty in rejection. Rejection, as awful as it is, only happens once. Sure, I can get rejected from 15 different jobs, but they don’t send a second email just to rub it in. So while rejection only happens once, its flip side, achievement, snowballs. One success will always lead to another. This is what happened to me. Once I found a club I enjoyed, I was selected to be a part of a leadership council. Once I got one internship, I could get another. Once I started writing a thesis, I was fortunate enough to be inducted into the Scholar of the College program. Rejection stings, but success snowballs.

Rejection is also a motivator. Right after I get that “unfortunately” email all I want to do is yell/eat/drink/sleep, but pretty quickly I just end up thinking “F*** them” and move on.

Lastly, rejection clarifies. Because hindsight is always 20/20 after I get over that emotional phase, I start to rationalize and nitpick every single reason why whatever I was applying for wasn’t perfect for me. This is productive. While it might be awkward if they call back and say they reconsidered, usually, this revisionist phase only helps figure out exactly what I want to do.

Losing feels worse than winning feels good. No doubt about it. But with every rejection email, I realize there is always another opportunity. I realize that being partially rejected by BC only served to lead to one of the most humbling rejections to date. I was lucky with my BC application, because my rejection was not permanent. Nonetheless, the lessons I’ve learned and will continue to learn from rejection are still very much there. I am hopeful that a better opportunity lies down the road. But at this point, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is moving forward. On to the next one.