Finding my voice
Vivian Jair, Wharton School
The white envelope trembles in my hand. The moment feels strangely surreal, and I oddly numb, having attempted to suppress overwhelming nervousness. As I rip it open and see the soon-to-be familiar red-and-blue, the strangest thought comes to me in the hysteria of the moment. Is this the end of everything I’ve worked for, the one confirmation I need?
“Dear Vivian,” reads the letter. “Hurrah, hurrah Pennsylvania! Congratulations! This spirited refrain captures the excitement we feel in welcoming you to the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School Class of 2018.”
Over half a year ago, I was among the hardworking yet lucky minority whose dreams of being accepted into one of her dream colleges became reality. I was fortunate, but not every deserving student was, and in that heated Spring decisions period, an underlying, troublesome idea seemed to overtake the thoughts of many college-bound seniors.
College decisions became, in the eyes of many, an all-or-nothing game. Got into a prestigious college? It looked like every all-nighter, extracurricular endeavor, and hour spent cramming over exams was worth it. But for every talented student admitted, at least five more students, just as deserving, ended up being rejected. During this time, I watched several friends struggle internally, asking themselves a question that frightened me—had everything they done in high school been of waste? I found this unbearably sad at the time, but at Penn, I began to realize exactly how wrong this type of thinking was.
In many ways, I consider myself extremely fortunate. As the firstborn child of very understanding parents, I had no major expectations, other than working to the best of my ability every single day. It also helped that as a child, I wasn’t particularly successful—in second grade, in fact, I was pulled aside by my teacher, who bluntly told me that my handwriting was unseemly, abnormally large, and needed improvement.
But the biggest part of my luck came from simplicity and desire. In retrospect, I found that throughout my life, I did what I genuinely wanted to, and consequently gleaned rewards from it. From childhood, being an avid reader, I was in love with stories and imaginative worlds. I dedicated countless hours to sitting at the kitchen table, scribbling away my ideas and telling the tales of heroes. It was from this love of writing, which I clung to fiercely simply because I enjoyed it, that I soon developed avenues for my passion. From elementary through high school, and continuing even today in college, I wrote notebooks of stories, which now totals to twenty-three.
Unfortunately, even for me, matters weren’t always that simple. In my freshman year of high school, I experienced for the first time a major internal conflict regarding extracurriculars. I had joined the debate team, as I was interested in possibly pursuing law. However, being a far more reserved and compromising student, I struggled severely. It was the first time that I truly felt suffocated in my attempts; it was not just that I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I actually disliked it. I mulled over it for weeks on end after my first competition, and then I made the decision. I quit the team, and I did it early on. Quitting is generally discouraged, but I found that in my case, realizing that it was a dead-end of misery instead opened new doors of opportunity, freeing time to dedicate to matters I felt passionate about.
After I had quit debate, I was intent on pursuing my passions, which to me meant writing. I joined the Phoenix Art and Literary Magazine, through which I first learned how to properly critique artworks and literary pieces. Additionally, I became an editor for Writer’s Block, our school’s writing and editing club, in which I provided assistance to many high-school students struggling with essays and foreign students needing English tutoring in general. Simultaneously, I worked in our high school’s student-run newspaper, the Smoke Signal, which forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. It wasn’t the same as debate, but it gave me the public speaking and interviewing skills I had been looking for by forcing me to interview both random strangers and important people, only much more enjoyably.
From my time in those three organizations, I found countless experiences and skills that I still treasure and use to this day. Living at Penn now, I found that my high-school experiences and endeavors were never truly forgotten or wasted. I recount to my college friends the life-altering interview I held with my idol author Michael Grant of the Gone series in my sophomore year. I show them my thirty-minute film that satirized the NSA from my AP English class. I continue to use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign, two skills I learned as an editor, for my new clubs at Penn.
This is why I am overcome by sadness whenever I hear students expressing regret over their hard work, just because they did not achieve their dream college. For many college students, the glamor and prestige of being accepted eventually fades a bit—but the past endeavors and gained skills never do.
Hence, I found that although attending a fitting college does matter, it is ultimately what you gained from the four years of high school, in the endeavor to reach that college, that matters. In the terms of AP Chemistry, the road towards college is a path function, not a state function—or, in simpler terms, the means are much more important than the ends. My advice for those who are still in high school is simple: Do something that is both enjoyable and rewarding, not something for the namesake and definitely not merely for college. I won’t say that you can simply just drop all extracurriculars entirely, but I persistently believe that there has got to be some activity, in all the choices out there, that each person can truly enjoy. Ultimately, if you can say yes to the question, “If today I was rejected from my dream school, despite having this activity, would I still choose to do it?” then cling to that activity until the end. This is the philosophy that has brought me throughout high school without regrets, and one that will dictate my life at my new beloved home in the University of Pennsylvania and beyond.