Imagine you are a rising senior in high school in the town of Pflugerville, Texas. It’s a small town: The population floats somewhere barely over 16,000 people. It’s a suburb of Austin, but in the dead heart of the Lone Star State, sometimes when you’re buried amid the endless subdivisions, it feels a thousand miles away from civilization. You’ve spent the past ten years in the same house, looking out the same bedroom window at the sweaty pavement and sparkles of occasional aboveground pools. If there is one thing you know, it’s that you need to escape. You need to escape the very first minute that escape is made possible. So on July 31, 2010, not long after your seventeenth birthday, you stay up looking at your computer screen until exactly midnight. That’s the hour when the Common Application for more than 400 American colleges becomes available for download. You can’t wait a second longer to pull up the paperwork and begin. By 3:30 a.m., you’ve filled out all the answers precisely as you knew you would, and you’ve attached the essay that you knew would best explain who you are. Before the sun rises, you press “Submit.”
Congratulations: You’ve just applied to New York University.
Cree Bautista was the very first person in America to submit a Common Application this year. The New York Times tracked him down, and he told them readily: NYU was his “dream school.” But the paper didn’t do much follow-up. How could this suburban cross-country runner and show-choir performer be so set on going to a school whose campus he’s never seen, in the middle of a city he’d never even visited?
The portion of an essay by Cree that the Times supplied, one that he adapted for his college application, gives a hint. It’s called, “It’s Not a Phase.” Here is an excerpt:
I grew up in the same neighborhood, in the same house, in the same bedroom, for 10 years. Throughout that decade, I grew into the person I am today, changing who I thought I was just about every five seconds. As I came to terms with what was on the inside, my parents came to realize that no matter what, I was still their son.
Got it? Okay, so 17-year-old Cree Bautista is not the only show-choir member languishing out in the vast suburban sprawls of America who has ever had to tell his parents, “It’s not just a phase.” And he is not the only one who yearns to move to New York and have everything change for him, as it did for NYU students like — to take some random examples — Matthew Morrison, Debra Messing, and Idina Menzel. But he is the only one who wanted it so bad he couldn’t wait one day longer to apply. And isn’t that what it is to be a New Yorker? To want it so bad nothing will make you wait? Not long ago, noted NYU alumna Lady Gaga told New York Magazine: “I don’t like Los Angeles. The people are awful and terribly shallow, and everybody wants to be famous but nobody wants to play the game. I’m from New York. I will kill to get what I need.”
An NYU admissions director has already told the Times they won’t even be downloading applications for months now. But we wanna know now, NYU: This kid clearly belongs here. What’s it gonna be? You going to let him in, or what?