Thieving Weasels - Billy Taylor



Yale, Dartmouth, and Stanford were my top choices, and the universities of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Texas were my backups. They were all great schools, and I would have been happy to attend any one of them. Or at least I would have until I met Claire. Then the only schools I cared about were Princeton, Princeton, and Princeton, though not necessarily in that order.

Pop Quiz: Did you know F. Scott Fitzgerald went to Princeton? And presidents Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland? Even John F. Kennedy went there, but he couldn’t hack it and transferred to some third-rate dump named Harvard. The list of influential Princeton grads is insanely impressive and includes everyone from astronauts and Supreme Court justices to CEOs and Nobel Prize winners. If college was a superhero, Princeton would be Batman. (Sorry, Superman.) If prestige were a sporting event, Princeton would be the Super Bowl. I’m not kidding.

And I’d taken no chances on getting in. I’d read every blog, manual, and how-to guide on the subject, crushed my SATs, and polished my personal essay until it sparkled like a priceless gem. Just as important, I’d made sure my clubs and extracurricular activities were commendable; my sport of choice not-too-obvious or not-too-obscure (lacrosse); and my financial aid form a work of art. In other words, I’d done everything humanly possible to get into Princeton. Then, when there was nothing else left to do, I checked the box for Early Decision, mailed out my application, and waited.

And waited.

A n d . . .

W . . . A . . . I . . . T . . . E . . . D . . .

But here’s the thing about applying to a major university. It doesn’t matter if you’re Prince Albert or Albert Einstein—who once taught at Princeton, by the way—nobody in the admissions office will tell you squat, no matter how much you beg, plead, or threaten. Which in the case of early decision applicants like me, meant one-and-a-half months of pure, undiluted torture. My only solace was that I was not alone. Twenty-one of my classmates at Wheaton Preparatory Academy had applied for early decision to their schools, and for the next six weeks we greeted one another with the same anxious words:

“You hear anything yet?”

The answer was always No, and by Thanksgiving we were twenty-two sleep-deprived zombies. The following week, out of a combination of camaraderie and desperation, we began meeting up in the school mail room to watch—in slow motion and extreme close up—as Mrs. Daulton, Wheaton’s million-year-old and molasses-legged mail lady, squinted at each and every piece of mail and slowly, Slowly, SLOWLY, placed it in our slots.

Finally, on December fourteenth, the letters began arriving. There were tears and cheers, hugs and high fives, wishes granted and dreams shattered. But the one thing that didn’t arrive was my acceptance letter. It was excruciating, and I spent countless hours searching for meaning in my predicament. Was my letter’s tardiness a good thing or bad? Did this improve my odds or decimate them? If a Princeton applicant ran into the woods and screamed his head off and nobody heard him, did that make him a complete idiot? I had no idea. All I knew was that by the end of the semester I was the only one left waiting, and I was losing my mind.


I looked up, and Mrs. Daulton was holding something in her hand. It was white and thin and looked like a letter from a major university. I shot across the room and snatched it from her fingers. The return address read Princeton University, and I swallowed hard.

“Are you going to open it?” she asked.

“I guess I better.”

I tore off the side of the envelope, and the first word I saw was “Congratulations.”

I was in.

“I knew you could do it,” Mrs. Daulton said with a smile.

“Thank you.”

I jammed the letter in my backpack and floated out of the mail room on a cloud of victory. All my time, hard work, and anxiety had paid off. Poor, cafeteria-working, trust fund–deprived Cam Smith was going to Princeton, and I didn’t even have to kill anyone to do it.



I COULDN’T WAIT TO CALL CLAIRE AND TELL HER THE NEWS. My shift at the cafeteria had ended early, and when I checked the time on my phone I saw there were five minutes left before her parents were due to pick her up. That was all the time I needed, and