Another April has come and the annual revelation of a new class year set to join the Stanford family has arrived. This year, the members of the Class of 2025 prepare to begin drafting the newest chapter in their journey and I find myself, a former member of the Class of 2021, sitting in the same place I was when I opened my Stanford admission decision letter.
For some, like almost all college students ever, those admission letters took different forms throughout the end of my senior year. At times, they felt like a fulfillment of promise — the manifestation of support from teachers, parental sacrifices and the solemn work of my past self. After all the admonitions from teachers and parents about the work necessary for me to save their efforts from being made in vain, I had delivered.
At other times, they became prophecy. With my admission letter, the Oracle of Montag Hall had bestowed upon me the destiny of great fortune and fame, though with less poetic flourish than its counterpart from Delphi. As mysterious and seemingly spurious as it was, I shared the news with chosen friends and family, who promptly proclaimed it through our social networks until it seemed like everyone around me knew. At school, in family gatherings, with my Boy Scout troop, in my quiz bowl team and throughout the ever-expansive social media crowd, my circles eagerly waited with bated breath to see if I would take the first step to fulfilling this prophecy.
Internally, however, the knowledge of my Stanford admission melted from relief into guilt. I grew up in a neighborhood in San Diego called Mira Mesa. Affectionately called Manila Mesa, I thrived in a community of individuals that came from a similar background. Many of our parents were immigrants and we proudly wore our respective second-generation statuses as a connection to something bigger than the little suburb we inhabited. Mira Mesa is classed by the city of San Diego as a “mixed-income” neighborhood, which meagerly points to the fact that it was once home to a core of low-income families, but is slowly being subjected to gentrification.
My family ended up moving into the adjacent neighborhood, Scripps Ranch, but I still attended school in Mira Mesa through the eighth grade. Scripps is a quaint, affluent suburb that is home to a predominantly white and East Asian majority, contrasted to the largely Southeast Asian Mira Mesa. Despite losing some of the community-driven benefits of living in Mira Mesa, our move to Scripps marked the beginning of a divergence in the manifestation of privilege and power between my friends and me. In my transition to high school, while many of them were encouraged to submit false addresses to avoid attending the local public school, my parents opted to grant me the choice to attend one of the local private, college prep, Catholic high schools.
As our high school careers progressed, I watched slowly as my peers who were and continued to be academically successful second-guessed their potential and surrendered to the idea that they would never even apply to schools like Stanford, let alone go out of state, due to being socialized to see elite colleges as unrealistic options. Meanwhile, Ivy League admissions officers gave presentations at my high school to an audience of preppy legacy students who never had to think twice about their ability to cover the costs of college application fees.
In the final tally, the majority of my friends had self-selected out of schools like Stanford, while I had gotten lucky enough to have the expectation that I would submit an application. In fact, I had been fortunate many times: I had engineers for parents with college degrees, I had access to a wide array of college counseling at school and I could afford to retake a standardized test or two. They have since thrived at their respective schools, opting to stay in San Diego, but before COVID, my semi-annual visits back home reminded of the stark realities they had to face that I had run away from.
All of my friends shouldered enormous responsibilities while also committing themselves to their studies. For example, my friend Tyler took upwards of twenty units a quarter (even during summer) so he could transfer to UC San Diego, while helping his single mom to raise his baby sister by working up to three jobs at a time. He regularly helps to support his cousins, while also working several lab positions in preparation to apply for doctorate programs.
When he revealed that he wanted to get a doctorate in chemistry, I beamed and immediately implored that he apply to Stanford. He sheepishly admitted that he would love to, but was not optimistic that he would have a chance at admission, explaining that Stanford students were simply a different caliber. I encouraged him that, having been a Stanford student for several years, he had what it takes to consider himself a student Stanford would be lucky to have. After the course of several months of convincing, he has finally agreed to put his name in the ring when he decides to apply for grad school.
Watching him deny his own accomplishments and work ethic despite the undeniable amount of effort he has put in was heartbreaking. Why did I feel so arrogant in assuming that I should apply to a school like Stanford, while he simply rejected the notion that Stanford should even consider him? Having known him since kindergarten, I knew what he was capable of and I also felt that he would not be out of place in an environment like Stanford, despite his protests otherwise.
Sure, there may be some bias involved, since I consider him a dear friend, but I’m equally sure that many of the Stanford students reading this know a similar story of someone they know declining to apply here because of perceived notions of prestige and caliber. This is no surprise, but I write this as a reflection for those lucky enough to have had people expect us to apply to schools like Stanford.
In fact, it’s because of this fact that what I once viewed as both promise, prophecy and burden has become somewhat of a responsibility. My admission letter was the combination of luck, circumstance and support, much of which I had little to no agency over. I had previously thought that I became worthy of a Stanford acceptance through my own arduous work in high school, but it’s far more complex than that.
If I am to become worthy of this responsibility, I cannot forget the people and places that I come from. The fortuitous predictions once projected onto my admission decision aren’t the high-paying job and prestige I thought they were. Rather, the true best outcome of my admission to Stanford is returning to my community and joining my friends and family, with the skills and resources I can now offer, in the work to care and support one another.
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