March 25, 2019

LEE | A Heartfelt Letter to High School Seniors

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I recently stumbled upon a journal entry from my freshman colloquium class, an introductory course required for all incoming ILR freshmen. As I read the following excerpt from the journal dated Sept. 12, 2016, I was shocked to realize that I continued to face the same concerns and thoughts I had nearly three years ago.

“At this point in time, I’m most concerned about what I would like to do with my life . . . I need to quickly select a path to focus my attention towards that goal, but I don’t exactly know what my goals are yet,” I wrote. “I still have many questions looming over my head, many of them unanswered, and many of them not exactly resolvable.”

Back then, I believed that such concerns would be resolved, or at least lessened, by the time I approached senior year. I had thought that most of these anxieties would be settled once I started college. Little did I know that such questions would only continue to pile up even further. The unfortunate reality is that we seem to be in an endless race as college students and beyond: searching for jobs, seeking superior career prospects, looking for a lifelong partner, raising children and so on. I was naïve enough to think that the most pivotal concerns would be resolved.

To the high school seniors who will be receiving decision letters within the next week or so, I want you to know that a university admission decision — whether acceptance, waitlist, or rejection — genuinely isn’t the end of your world. But who am I to say so, when I’m the one that was lucky enough to make it to Cornell and has studied here for the past three years, right?

Since being accepted to Cornell and pursuing my studies in Ithaca, I have realized more and more that an acceptance or rejection to a particular university is not as pivotal as many perceive it to be. Yes, the immediate impact may be substantial, and yes, Cornell’s name value plays a big part in my life right now. Potential employers and family friends indicate their approval after hearing the name of the school I attend. However, whether I enable the Cornell brand to continue to impact the rest of my life is my choice.

Cornell is really what you make out of it. From those who have meticulously planned out their four years and taken steps to fulfill their hopes and dreams to those who have no idea about their prelim the next day, there is a wide range of personalities here. There’s only so much Cornell can do for you, and not attending this school certainly does not limit your capabilities.

I had many expectations upon coming to an Ivy League school. I expected all of my peers to be stellar in every imaginable skill, from public speaking to mathematics. Some students at Cornell truly are stars that seemingly have little to no flaws. Yet, the majority of students here in my experience have been far from perfect. As shocking as it may sound, Ivy League students, whether they go to Cornell or Harvard, are human beings who have just barely surpassed their teen years. And so am I — I’ve only just begun to make sense of my evolving identity. We continue to develop intellectually and are rarely the geniuses you might presume to exist in these reputable institutions.

I thought that I wouldn’t have as many worries as I did back in high school as I strived to do my best to get into a renowned university. I naively believed that engaging in all of those academic and extracurricular activities in high school would be enough. Yet here I am as a university student attempting to balance not just academics and extracurriculars, but also internship searches and other personal issues that I had never expected to face. Life truly is an endless marathon, and the college you attend certainly does not determine your destiny.

So please don’t let the admission decision determine the rest of your life. I hope you will find my advice to be helpful, but also please don’t forget that my perspective is that of just one of thousands of other Cornellians. Whether it is an acceptance or rejection, there’s only so much influence a university can have on your life when many other crucial factors shape who you are. The opportunities are endless here at Cornell and beyond. Explore the world to gain experiences in many directions and discover yourself. What matters most is your willpower rather than the place at which you choose to exercise it.

DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at margaretlee@cornellsun.com. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.