Wadham rejection letter goes viral

Exclusive: Tutor who interviewed applicant praises “spirited response to disappointment”

Claudia Vulliamy's piece. Source: Luisa Saunders on Twitter

A piece of abstract art made from an Oxford rejection letter has gone viral online.

After receiving the letter, informing her of her unsuccessful Classics application for Wadham College, Claudia Vulliamy instantly decided to turn it into a piece of artwork.

She told Cherwell: “When I got the letter it seemed so momentous that I had an urge to turn it into something.”

The piece, tweeted by her mother last Thursday, has received over 50,000 retweets and has been liked 158,000 times.

Her mother, Louisa Saunders, told the Huffington Post: “When I got home to see the painting, I laughed, because it was funny and also sassy. It was nice, because I could see that she wasn’t feeling too sad about the rejection. I know it breaks some people’s hearts,” she added. “I really admired her spirit, but I wasn’t very surprised because it’s fairly typical of her—she’s always been creative.”

The piece has since been praised by a number of people online. Replies to the tweet commended her positive response to a difficult rejection, such as: “She doesn’t need a place at Oxford, she needs her own gallery exhibition”, and “Oxford missed their chance with your daughter. Bigger and better things coming.”

On Instagram, Claudia’s photo of her artwork received over 6000 likes and comments saying: “Absolutely beautiful. It’s actually their loss, for losing such an amazing artist.”

In Oxford the reaction has also been positive. Taisie Tsikas, a third year student at Wadham, where Claudia applied, told Cherwell: “I think it conveys a lot about how Oxford’s admissions system is very emotionally draining for applicants, and also how difficult it is to lift yourself out of this way of thinking whereby only Oxford can mean success.

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“As people lucky enough to have been selected, we’re spared that really difficult process of being rejected by an institution that seems to be the arbiter of intelligence and potential.”

The piece received praise from Wadham Classics tutor and interviewer Dr Stephen Heyworth, who told Cherwell: “Personally, I was delighted to see this spirited response to disappointment from one of our candidates. Good for her; we wish her well.”

Claudia, who has an offer to study at Durham, was surprised at the response to her artwork, telling Cherwell: “When I got the letter it seemed so momentous that I had an urge to turn it into something. It was just to show my friends for a laugh, but I guess it was therapeutic to paint after the news. I had no clue it would have such a reaction online.”

Her intention was in part to remind people of the “emotional side” of the application process, and most of the phrases from the letter used in the piece express “a lot of pity and apology”.

She described her interview process as “quite tense”, although valuable to speak to people so interested in her subject.

She was not devastated by her rejection, as, she said: “It’s not a test of your worth or even your intelligence—it’s about whether you would personally thrive in a high-pressure environment with some of the world’s brainiest intellectuals.”

She says that although at the time that she was not overly concerned about the message behind the piece, she now feels differently, saying: “It seems to have come to represent how much more to your life there is than Oxbridge, and I like that.”