The time was spring break 2007. The place was Disney World at a chorus competition. Obviously, I’m in the middle of a super cool senior year spring break. (I was.)

My mother has just informed me that I am not going to insert-Ivy-League-institution here. I am in tears. The world is over. All of my peers seem to be going to name-brand schools, and I was pretty sure I had better grades than they did. And even if I didn’t, I had certainly been more of a … character than all of them.

Four years later, as I prepare to head out to spring break, part one of two — thanks Binghamton University, by the way, for incidentally elongating the graduation process — of an entirely different kind of senior year, I can reflect on my high school, the-world-is-over melodrama with a little bit of sympathy to 18-year-old Mallory, but also with a little bit of knowledge.

I’ve been thinking about this because as I prepare to head out of this fine establishment, and this regaled experience known as college, and get catapulted head-first into The Big Bad Real World, my younger sister parallels me, except she is waiting on college acceptance letters. As I hear her stories, I am suddenly brought back to those same experiences — how I thought that the fat envelope served as a stamp on my value as a human being, or moreover, my value as an AP student in Westchester County.

I try to relay to my sister that where you go to school doesn’t exactly matter, but what you do with yourself while you’re at school. You can walk out of any college with a variety of different educations, based on how you spent your time and what choices you made — both academically and personally.

You can walk out of any institution with a variety of experiences, depending on what you open yourself up to. You can drink the blue stuff at some party. You can have a hot mess freshman year anywhere you go. (You can have a hot mess sophomore, junior and senior year anywhere you go, as well.) There is redemption in most cases.

I also try to relay to her that if you go to a SUNY school, upon graduation you can have a secret sly smile inside when you hear your friends who matriculated at name-brand schools start wailing about their debt, which they may very well codify as “money that I … somehow … owe.” Ellipses included.

Four spring breaks later, I know that going to Binghamton was the right choice for me, and that the heart-wrenching feeling that 18-year-old Mallory got as she checked the mail every day is far more melodramatic, but a lot less meaningful, than the feeling as 22-year-old Mallory submits her headshot and résumé and compiles an audition repertoire and walks down a street in Manhattan to an audition.

If I could go back in time to 2007 … I probably wouldn’t. But provided someone forced me into a time machine and catapulted me through the worm hole, I would do two things: tell myself to stop bawling over a college, because I’m in Disney World, and to not drink that much blue stuff come August. Or maybe I wouldn’t tell myself the latter. After all, it was part of the Binghamton experience.