I held the envelope in my hands and held my breath with anticipation.

I had spent months waiting eagerly to receive a certain letter. My whole high school career seemed to teeter on this very moment – the moment when I would rip open a letter and find out if I had been accepted to the school of my dreams.

I swallowed, gingerly tore open the corner, opened the paper, and . . .


My heart dropped painfully. Rejected?

I – like most people – don't take rejection well. Failure is a numbing word, one that recalls moments of stunned silence, the times when it feels like you cannot breathe.

Many people avoid failure at all costs. We often edit our appearance, words and past in order to highlight the positive experiences rather than times of despair.

Rejection from my dream college certainly looked like a great personal failure.

Failure, by definition, is "the lack of success."

But is it, really? Here are the facts:

Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling received 12 rejections from publishers before publishing the book that would generate over $24 billion in franchise revenue.

A news editor fired Walt Disney because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas."

Steven Spielberg received rejections from the University of Southern California three times before pursuing a job as a director.

Apple fired Steve Jobs before he returned with ideas that produced the iPod and other wildly popular products.

Henry Ford's businesses failed five times before his automotive inspiration made him an American business icon.

Dr. Seuss received 27 rejections from publishers before becoming one of America's most popular children's authors.

College is an incredible experience full of potential for growth and maturity. Chances are you will be exposed to a dazzling array of people, ideas and experiences in a few short years.

But – like many things in life – our paths can take unexpected turns and alter drastically due to failure, disillusionment and disappointment.

Changes are inevitable, and in the midst of our vigorous attempts to "fulfill our destiny" and "follow our hearts," I think it's important to embrace every moment of the experiences ahead – especially those that don't end up working out as we had hoped.

Two years ago, I had sworn to never attend UT.

Tennessee came dead last on my extensive list of potential colleges; I wanted a school up north, with snow and history and (though I'm ashamed to admit) Yankee accents.

In other words, a college that had absolutely nothing to do with anything remotely orange, white or a certain dog.

Well, joke's on me.

Tennessee has become the only college in which I could ever imagine myself attending. I've been given incredible academic opportunities, such as spending the summer at Cambridge University. I have joined a fabulous sorority and made incredible friendships. I've cheered at football games, ventured up the Hill and dined at the ever-interesting PCB.

In short, I have moved from a place of incredible disappointment, only to find another path, a path of newness and triumph.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." In the midst of my college-choosing panic, I would not have understood that.

Whether you were born with orange blood flowing in your veins, or held on to a Yankee dream (like myself), college truly is the place to start afresh; take a course, fail, change, try again.

So go ahead. Take the risks and feel free to fail triumphantly.

Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached at shagama1@utk.edu.