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BBQ in the Ivy League? Well…Sort of.

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June 8, 2017

Most academically inclined students in high school dream of greener pastures, which typically leads to college and the Holy Grail of all acceptances: admissions to an Ivy League school.  Harvard, Yale and Princeton are three of a few very elite institutions that educate new generations of world leaders, business mavericks and more often than not, future Presidents of our great nation. It’s a very small “fraternity” of the world’s brightest young minds, and gaining acceptance to one of these institutions is literally on par with winning the Lottery. Think Powerball.  And it’s every ambitious student’s dream for that coveted “golden ticket”, and my daughter was no exception.

Her name is Kaitlyn “Sommer” DeRudder, and she has excelled in school since she could recite the alphabet.  But excelling in your classes is just not enough in these tough admission times where straight A’s only opens the door; a far cry from you actually crossing the proverbial threshold.  And with an almost countless number of college applicants filling their applications with great test scores, letters of recommendations, extracurriculars and millions of volunteer hours, the key to setting yourself apart from “the herd” is boiling down to one common denominator—a strong college essay.

Now many of the Top 10 universities in the world lean to the left on the political spectrum where equality, sustainability and climate change are but a few topics that applicants write about in their essays—all very good and relative issues.  Sommer and I bounced these topics around, but we agreed that the obvious would be mundane and not really strike a uniqueness or joy to set her apart. And then it hit her: Why not write about her day of becoming a certified BBQ judge at such a young age?  “Very risky,” I said. “I can’t imagine an admission’s officer having any interest in smoked meat but hey, it’s your baby.”

650 words.  That’s all they give you in the College Common Application to tell a story, define a passion and subtly imply that you are an amazing person and perfect for your school of choice.  Sommer handed me her rough draft, and I began to read. She first talked about the process of judging, from grading and box design to taste and appearance. She then discussed the four meats and how a numerical value is given and more importantly, how a judge should properly grade each category. It was well written, articulate, funny and captured a day that reflects a judge’s duty and the resolve required.  She even made a reference to having the “meat sweats” after just a few samplings. I still wasn’t sold on this being her topic, but maybe she was right: Why not try and mix things up? 

Tick, tock goes the clock, and it sure goes DAMN slow sometimes!  I’m sure many of you parents can recall the anxious days of endless waiting for college acceptances and our experience was no different.  And finally, after months of anticipation, the day had finally arrived when the Ivy League schools bestow their judgements and the gatekeepers summon the lucky few.  Sommer’s email box was locked and loaded. 

Sommer first opened Brown University: rejected.  She then opened Dartmouth’s response: rejected. And finally, Cornell—the one school we figured she had a solid chance. Rejected! Talk about a letdown. How could Admissions not see the beauty in BBQ? Not find the uniqueness in a young girl bridging the generational gap within the BBQ community? My hunch, unfortunately, was apparently correct; the Ivy League just wasn’t ready for our BBQ world.   

Since it was a late Friday afternoon, I kissed my baby-girl on the forehead, told her she was amazing in my eyes and headed to my friend’s house for some liquid painkiller. I crack-opened an ice-cold PBR, drained it quickly, and told my friend how much I loathed the college process and dealing with the shovelfuls of disappointment. And then my phone rang. My daughter was screaming and crying, and I soon realized that I probably shouldn’t have left her alone. Damn you, Ivy League!  

“Dad…I got in!  I got in!” she screamed. 

Figuring the rejections from the other elite schools, we never thought about opening the decision from Stanford University, as it’s arguably the hardest school on the planet to gain admittance. What’s the point of another kick in the gut, right?

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Are you absolutely sure…I mean really, really, really sure?”

In the end, her acceptance was a reality. She had done what seemed an impossibility. And part of the miracle happened because of BBQ with its uniqueness, strong community and the process of patience, dedication and a deep understanding to produce and judge a quality product—just like “the Farm”, a name Stanford calls its campus. And the best part? Sommer’s Admissions Officer wrote her a heartfelt note about her acceptance that ended in, “Please bring your BBQ expertise to the Farm. We need it!” What a befitting way to end the application journey with an acknowledgment to BBQ and the joy it brings. I guess my hunch was wrong; there is a place for BBQ among the elite after all.      


Boomer DeRudder is a Certified BBQ judge, team member of Smokesouth in GA and an all-around nice guy.  Sommer will be attending Stanford in the Fall, studying economics and spreading the gospel of Q.  

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