Misadventures in Modesty
Applying for grad schools and writing cover letters
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 16:10
I am on the cusp of graduation. I am so close to the finish line. I can almost taste the success this pricy piece of paper will bring me in such a fruitful economy! Excuse my thick-as-molasses sarcasm, but levity is how I deal with the unknown. I am sure swimming in a sea of uncertainty.
After much contemplation, nail biting and a fair share of wearing my sunglasses at night, I recently decided to apply to graduate schools. This means more waiting, more uncertainty. I look forward to the possible opportunities and possibilities that await me (cross your fingers and all your toes please).
Yet I am dreading the application process
with every thread of my being. The part of this whole process that will probably cause me to prematurely go gray is writing a cover letter. I can think of eight million things I would rather do than write a cover letter, ranging from listening to Rebecca Black’s nails-on-chalkboard pop ditty “Friday” on repeat, to contracting rabies from a rabid red squirrel.
Writing a cover letter and “self-promotion” seem like such normal parts of life, but they are extremely uncomfortable and awkward for me. I know I am not alone. When we were discussing the graduate school/future employment application processes in my senior capstone course, the air was heavy with unease. I delved into the crevices of my mind and observation to explore why this process is so dreaded.
From a Freudian perspective, I could say my dread about cover letters and confidence dates back from the time a parrot pecked at my hair when I was four. Ok, enough with the levity. No, I must reluctantly admit my real reluctance and dread with cover letters lies in a lack of confidence, my hesitation with how meaningful the process is, and a distinctly Midwest brand of modesty.
In the Midwest, we appreciate modesty and self-depreciation, while confidence is often confused with narcissism. There is little wonder why many of my peers and I struggle to write cover letters, resumes and the like – all documents that ask us to “brag” about ourselves.
Another reason Midwestern values go against the grain of being able to “brag” about ourselves is that many of us value genuineness and authenticity. It feels really discordant that the application process for graduate schools, employers, or for scholarships is basically equivalent to marketing yourself as a product in the best, shiny, gleaming packaging possible.
This process is about hiding the bruises, nicks, scratches and dents we all have. It means trading in genuineness for artificiality. It means skimming the surface and not seeing the substance beneath. The idealist, the dreamer in me is just extremely bothered by this that it claws away at me.
But in order to peacefully coexist in the world that judges us based on shiny packaging, I need to come down to earth, be realistic, or decide to pull a Walden and move into a cabin in the woods completely removed from society. That is not going to happen any time soon.
It is what it is. I will still make fun of how artificial and ridiculous I think the whole graduate application process is. I will conclude with a paragraph from a cringe-worthy mock cover letter. I am trying to have a sense of humor about this whole thing.
Without further ado, meet Sally McStudious, subject of my mock cover letter. McStudious is a quadruple major at NDSU graduating Summa Cum Laude in quantum physics, chemistry, biology and rocket science. Sally received an honorary PhD after stopping the flood of 2009 by single-handedly constructing a dam for the Red River out of dining center leftovers with her baby toe. In her free time, McStudious teaches homeless baby seals to learn how to read. McStudious’ aspirations stretch beyond the hallowed walls of the food dam she constructed! McStudious plans world domination with her partner in crime Vanilla Ice.
Tessa is a senior majoring in English.