There is a fantastic piece in “The Atlantic” written by Emma Green entitled “Stressed About College Admissions? At Least You’re Not Lincoln’s Kid” that we thought our readers would really enjoy. In the piece, Green shares a story of how Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, failed his entrance exam to Harvard University as did Robert Todd Lincoln’s hometown pal, George Latham. The two had to go to Phillips Exeter for a year to brush up on their studies (there were gap years even 155 years ago!) and the young Lincoln ended up earning admission to Harvard the following year. Can you say…pressure? If you thought that your parents put pressure on you, imagine being the son of the man who would become America’s sixteenth president and lead our nation through the Civil War!
What’s most interesting about this article is the note that Abraham Lincoln, prior to his presidency, wrote Latham when he flunked his Harvard entrance exam. From the pages of “The Atlantic,” here is what Lincoln wrote:
“My dear George
I have scarcely felt greater pain in my life than on learning yesterday from Bob’s letter, that you failed to enter Harvard University. And yet there is very little in it, if you will allow no feeling of discouragement to seize, and prey upon you. It is a certain truth, that you can enter, and graduate in, Harvard University; and having made the attempt, you must succeed in it.’Must’ is the word.
I know not how to aid you, save in the assurance of one of mature age, and much severe experience, that you can not fail, if you resolutely determine, that you will not.
The President of the institution, can scarcely be other than a kind man; and doubtless he would grant you an interview, and point out the readiest way to remove, or overcome, the obstacles which have thwarted you.
In your temporary failure there is no evidence that you may not yet be a better scholar, and a more successful man in the great struggle of life, than many others, who have entered college more easily.
Again I say let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.
With more than a common interest I subscribe myself Very truly your friend,
As it turns out, Latham didn’t earn admission to Harvard the subsequent year like Lincoln’s oldest son. Instead, Latham had to settle for Yale! It seems that President Lincoln alluded to the fact that he would make inroads with getting him an interview with the president of Harvard, but maybe even the man who united our nation and abolished slavery couldn’t get Latham into Harvard! Can you imagine?
While you’re here, check out our blog entitled Who You Know in College Admissions.