To the Class of '08

May 5, 2008
By Yiren Lu, Rohnert Park, CA

I was talking to a friend who had just come out of the latest college admissions cycle when he said, “We’re going to tell our children that God was in the class of 2008. He applied to Harvard and didn’t get in.”

I thought it was a good line. It captured perfectly both how incredibly arbitrary and incredibly obsessive this admission process has become. By now, I could say 7.2%, 8.3%, and many of you would think not of sales tax but of admissions rates. But we digress.

This essay isn’t meant to rail against the Ivies and other selective universities or to chastise you for having listed prestige as one of your top factors or (worst of all), to preach. This is simply the perspective of a high school junior about to enter the great American rat race shared with those of you who are lucky enough to leave it all behind. So to the seniors of ’08 – this is for you.

In September, most of you will be matriculating at some sort of educational institution. It could be your first choice. It could be the “safety school” that you hated. Maybe you were highly successful in the admissions process. Maybe your experience was wrought with disappointment. By now, though, all of that is irrelevant. What is relevant is what you make of your next four years, and of the rest of your life.

I’m not going to pretend that we aren’t a society fixated on brand names and status. Would a Harvard (for the sake of argument, I will use Harvard, but substitute any pertinent university) diploma open doors for you? Probably. Would the general public be very impressed? Probably. Would its extensive alumni network and huge endowment and brilliant professors be conducive to a holistic college education? Yes. But by no means are all these things unattainable at any other college, assuming you are willing to work hard, study hard, and treat college as a privilege, not a right.

Conversely, if you spend the next four years drunk or high or playing Halo 3, it doesn’t matter if you’re at a community college or at Harvard; you will not unlock all the potential that you have. And you have so much.

Enough to combat hunger and poverty and disease and racism and sexism and global warming. Enough to see through the lies of politicians and to set guidelines for human cloning and to develop new treatments for melanoma. Enough to save the world. Enough to be a kind and humane person.

You don’t have to live in the library to do this. You don’t need a perfect SAT score either. You just need to practice the golden rule – treat others the way you want to be treated – and its corollary – treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated.

The corollary means that you should give yourself enough credit in areas you think you suck at. It means that you take a playwriting class even if you hate both plays and writing. It means that, if you really want to be a doctor and you’re failing orgo-chem, that you go to every office hour the professor has. It means that if a candidate who you think is a political nutcase speaks at your school, you attend and listen. Close no doors. Burn no bridges. Make the most out of the opportunities that are available to you. College should be the most glorious four years of your life; plenty of adults have told me that they would go back to university, it doesn’t matter which one, in a heartbeat.

So here’s my challenge to you: live, love, laugh, learn - and when I join you in a year, you’ll have something to teach me.

So Congratulations. And Good Luck.

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