It’s Rory’s first day at Chilton and it seems like the Gilmores can’t catch a break between an alarm clock that didn’t purr, cut-off shorts, fast-paced lessons and the mean girls at school.
Stand Out Scene:
You may have been the smartest girl at Stars Hollow, but this is a different place. The pressures are greater, the rules are stricter, and the expectations are high. If you make it through, you will have received one of the finest educations one can get. And there should be no reason why you should not achieve all your goals. However, since you are starting late, and are not used to this highly competitive atmosphere, there is a good chance that you will fail. That is fine. Failure is a part of life. But not a part of Chilton. Understand?
“Failure is a part of life. But not a part of Chilton.” A warm welcome to Rory’s new school from the headmaster. Considering Lorelais’s outfit as she drops Rory off for her first day of school it may be that Rory is feeling especially conscious of the daily failures that occur. I’d like to suggest that the motivating force in Headmaster Charleston’s words is not the inevitability that Rory would fail at Chilton but instead his invocation of the fear of failure. Let’s look at the locker scene with Rory and Paris.
Rory is at her locker struggling to open the door when Paris comes behind her carrying an elaborate model-complete with water moat. As Rory gives an assertive tug on her locker she loses her balance and runs into Paris smashing her project. As they survey the damage Paris is angry, yet calm. When questioned about her project in class she doesn’t make excuses but willingly accepts the teacher’s criticism. We’re introduced to Paris as the competitive, tightly-wound, prototype of Chilton and yet, it is in the moment of not turning in an assignment, of failure, that she appears the most calm. It’s unlikely that any of the affluent students attending the prestigious school would ever ‘fail’ by most American standards. They might embarrass their families, go to a less prestigious university, or God-forbid get pregnant—but it’s unthinkable that they would fail. Actual failure does not motivate the students, rather, it is the fear of failing that drives the pressure-cooker of high school life.
Rory and Lorelai have already failed. The alarm clock didn’t purr, Lorelai’s outfit was at the cleaner, and Rory starts school a month behind. Yet, there’s something triumphant about the way our protagonists handle their trying day. When sat down with the headmaster in his foreboding office and told that she might fail Rory’s response is “So, you like the Lobster Puffs, huh?” (Referencing his earlier mentioned preference towards the hor d’oeuvres at her grandparent’s party) When I’ve previously watched this episode I wondered if mentioning the Lobster Puffs was meant to hint at some sort of bribe or to invoke a sense of loyalty from the headmaster. On this more intentional viewing, the line felt subversive. Having been the top of her class at Stars Hallow High it’s unlikely that Rory had ever failed academically before—she wanted to come to Chilton because the “pressures are greater, the rules are stricter, and the expectations are higher”.
For Rory, the challenges at Chilton are opportunities she wouldn’t have had at Stars Hallow and should be seen not as potential failings but greater prospects for learning. Which I would consider a cultural difference from growing up with Lorelai. Lorelai had failed by the standards of Chilton, she didn’t graduate high school, she got pregnant as a teenager, and she managed an inn—and yet, she has a wonderful life. As Rory enters into Chilton it is not from a place of fear but from an emboldened identity of enough-ness. In this way, the headmaster is right: “Failure is a part of life, but not a part of Chilton”. It’s the fear of failure that keeps the culture at Chilton and it is Rory’s ability to live from a place of enough-ness that allows her to succeed at Chilton.
God of enough-ness, guard us from the fear of failure. Help us to act boldly in the challenges of our lives so that we may be reminded of our identities rooted in you and not in fear. Be with us in days when we feel defeated and allow us continue on. Let us live from a place of Lobster Puffs and contentment with ourselves so that we may better serve and love you and our neighbor. We thank you for the grace and goodness that you give to us and for all the challenges you turn into opportunities. Amen.