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Rejection, reflection, and the IB Learner Profile

We invited IB Diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life and offer perspectives on topics of their choosing. Alumna Kimberly Righter is one of this year’s cohort of alumni contributing authors.

By Kimberly Rightor


Kimberly Rightor is a senior at Rice University and a graduate of H. H. Dow High School.

Rejection. It’s a harrowing word, to be sure, evoking a myriad of emotions – from exhaustion to sadness to stress. This past semester, I was rejected from a fellowship that I had poured countless hours into. The nine pages of the application seemed like a reflection of my heart and soul, so I was vulnerable and when I was ultimately rejected – I was devastated. By equating rejection with failure, I had set myself up for a rough couple of weeks. As a senior at a prestigious university and a graduate of the IB Diploma Programme (DP), I was used to “having it all figured out.”

After grappling with my definition of “success” this semester, I have accepted that “grit” is a key component in the path to self-actualization. As graduates of the DP, we are used to striving—and thriving—with a heavy academic load. But the DP was designed to be so much more than rigorous academics and career “success”. Amidst the stream of testing and IQ tests, the DP was created to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect… [it] encourages students around the world to become active, compassionate, and lifelong learners.”

The prestige of the program and the ambition of its students means that IB learners will apply for prestigious opportunities. IB learners are encouraged to be risk-takers and reflectors. Risk-taking encourages us to accept that applications will always come with a risk of rejection, but it is worth applying anyways. It’s a simple example, but who learns how to ride a bicycle without trying? By constantly asking for feedback (whether or not we got the offer), we learn how to improve. Reflection offers an avenue for self-growth, and rejection can usher in that reflection. Although a student who receives an “F” is more likely to ask for feedback than a student who receives an “A”, both students can grow through feedback from other students and professors. Ultimately, the DP strives to build character, and a rejection can actually be more valuable than an acceptance when it comes to developing character traits like grit.

Ideally, rejection should inspire us to persevere and to better ourselves in the process. Rejection affords an avenue for self-growth, but the benefits of rejection extend beyond an individual. Caring is another IB learner trait that is wrapped up in the concept of rejection, since rejection can generate empathy. Like it or not, we will all experience rejection at one point in our life, in one way or another. The DP excels when it comes to developing empathetic learners and mentors, and this, too, is a key component of learning how to deal with rejection. When I talked to my IB coordinator this past winter break, she related the story of her own post-grad journey – the ups and downs, the confusion and the constant wonder: “is this what I’m supposed to be doing?”

I have come to realize that “she who wanders is not lost,” and rejection does not equate to failure. Instead of defining success in the outcome of a yes/no answer from a committee, I now try to define success by a series of core questions: Did I work on developing a new character trait? What can I learn from this outcome? What did I learn about myself in the process? By reacting to rejection in this way, I hope to embody better the traits in the IB Learner Profile and to actively welcome the chance for growth that rejection affords.

Kimberly Rightor is fascinated by the ways in which stories can influence global health and public policy. She has diverse experiences in the field of global health diplomacy, which include studying global health in Geneva, Switzerland and researching how to prevent chronic diseases in Jordan. She also taught a course on the Politics of Children’s Literature to peers at Rice University. She is a graduate of H. H. Dow High School.