A Lesson for the Ivy League, From the Gilmore Girls

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR GILMORE GIRLS: A YEAR IN THE LIFE

It’s over. 360 minutes, four seasons, three heartthrobs (who, like wine, got better with age), one adorable piglet, and an exorbitant amount of pop culture references from Hamilton to Wild later, Gilmore Girls has ended in the way that its creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino had always intended...but not without controversy.

The Internet has had a field day analyzing the show’s famously hyped final four words. They’ve been ringing in my ears since the final cut-to-black. In case you need a refresher, here's the transcript:

Rory: Mom?

Lorelai: Yeah?

Rory: I’m pregnant.

Rory Gilmore? Pregnant?? The bomshell left me with my mouth gaping open as Carol King’s chirpy theme song kicked in with the credits. What kind of ending is that?!

In my mind, Rory wasn’t supposed to have an unplanned pregnancy--Rory was supposed to get back on her feet after months of aimless loafing for a powerhouse career, complete with a Pulitzer Prize somewhere down the line. Rory was supposed to triumph with a return to the work ethic that fueled her long nights studying in Season 1; Rory would prove herself to be our heroine again.     

Instead, Rory at 32, acted wholly self-absorbed, irresponsible, and downright rude to the people who care for her. She forfieted growth for regression, and disappointed the fans who still believed in her in the process. 

By characterizing her this way, A Year in the Life powerfully fictionalized an aspect of elite culture far too prevalent at and after education on an Ivy League campus. Entitlement, subtle and overt, convinces some that they are inherently deserving of success--without any real work on their part. Empowered with an elite degree and a few choice compliments, they slip into a pattern of toxic self-fulfillment blind to the harm it causes others. As painful as it was to watch (her disasterous interview with Sandee Says comes to mind), Rory's downward spiral demonstrated the repugnant possibilities for those who rely on connections to make their future for them.   

For a long while, there was hope her character would age in the opposite direction. The early Rory Gilmore seemed to embody a positive, though not unflawed, example of what girls can achieve. In her unabashed passion for her studies and dreams of world travel, I saw some of myself. I never went to a snooty private school, nor did I grow up in a postcard-picturesque New England town where everyone knew my business--but I shared her passion for academics and drive to become a journalist. Like Rory, I wrote for my high school paper and always, always carried an extra book in my bag. I didn’t start watching the series until my sophomore year of college; meeting Rory through the show felt like reconnecting with an old friend. When the young Rory succeeded, it felt like a victory for shy, bookish girls like myself everywhere. Watching her thrive in the scripted world of Stars Hollow gave me the confidence to be myself. 

But, as critic after critic has pointed out, Rory changed when she arrived at Yale--or, more aptly, the privilege and entitlement lurking in the background of the early seasons came barreling to the forefront of the show. (After all, the foundations for her success were bankrolled by her wealthy grandparents.) Rory’s rise in the series came with accolades that she was handed rather than earned. First she soared at Chilton (on a loan from said grandparents); then she got into Yale (aided by an interview she claimed not to want); then, after a few bumps in the road, she set off to report on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in a move that, finally, felt earned.

In A Year in the Life, the growth that could have been made in that first step reversed with her flippant assumption that opportunities would continue to fall into her hands. She expected to progress as a journalist without writing or pitching ideas; she didn't prepare for a job interview, yet cried foul when the company "went in another direction." Her obsession with the journalistic success she "deserves"--and her lack of personal resposibility for getting there--felt like a cautionary postcard from the future. I too want to write for a masthead publication eventually, but not in Rory's way. Seeing Rory's personal and professional failures unfold, I was reminded of the importance of honest work to make any kind of lasting achievement. Equally important is holding personal relationships in the same esteem, a fact underscored by Rory's complete lack of consideration for her friendships and family in the revival

Rory's bombshell announcement at the show's close places her in a position that cannot, and should not, allow her to continue her tyrade of selfish amibition. Pregnancy, however unexpected, is the conclusion that Rory needs to redeem her character. Motherhood, friendship, and love are privileged over another certificate or career milestone in this ending; with another life depending on her (provided that she keeps the baby), she can't continue on her passive yet self-aggradizing path. She was taken care of her whole life. Finally, she must assume full resposibility for someone other than herself. 

With the prospect of a fourth onscreen Gilmore generation, the door’s now wide open for a sequel--we’ll see if a new series slips through. Out in the real world, Rory’s arc is a warning for letting an Ivy League degree and a glossy byline get to your head. I took one major lesson away from A Year in the Life: don’t follow where Rory leads.