7 PM tonight was an important time for a friend of mine.
This was someone who was very college-oriented, but also straight up the smartest person who I’m close friends with, who I look up to or at least consider my equal in everything academic, STEM or humanities (her common app essay would have put winners of essay competitions to shame). Her college focus wasn’t the kind of narrow-sighted focus so many kids waste away their lives and vitalities on. Hers had her do everything right, keep touch with reailty, find lots of fulfillment, pursue lots of hobbies and projects, and stay on a graceful, unbroken arc of joyful excellence.
A grade below me, last year she pestered me constantly about my college apps and decisions, the former of which were poorly done and the latter of which were accordingly lackluster. This year, going through things herself, her attitude was 100% changed. The kind of self-doubt and anxiety that affects any humble person heavily invested in this institutional path came into play as if she hadn’t a thought that she was so good at everything she did.
And, in a wave of all of my other friends getting deferrals from EDs from less selective schools, at 7 PM tonight, she found out that she got into Harvard.
As a reject far from having accepted my rejection (“don’t mind me just trying to ignore my own pain of college rejections that happened just a year ago, ouch they still hurt,” a friend in my grade sent in a group chat recently), I’ll admit, there was some part of me that was rooting against her. Rooting against the belief that there was an optimized, systematic way to approach college apps, that more research or more effort would have netted me better results; rooting against the belief that my failure, and the failure of all my other friends, are ultimately our fault, regardless of whether or not it matters, regardless of whether or not we had the parental support, whether the time and effort made sense to put in – we tried to hit a goal, and we failed, and it was our fault, because someone else was able to succeed with the same resources.
“Do you have faith in me?” my now Harvard-bound friend asked at one point. “I’ll give you all the faith my cynical heart can summon,” I replied, supposed cynicism a mask for my own insecurities that lay underneath.
When she excitedly told me her decision, a part of my ego definitely shattered. It was a sequence of happenings I had seen enough times to not be surprised by for more than a few moments. A friend described a similar reaction to her deferral just days ago – at first, feeling fine about it, until a close friend of hers had a good result, at which point all came emotionally crashing down. The same happened to me last year when a best friend had good ED results, me crashing particularly strongly because I was at the peak of my passion projects at the time, and was suddenly made to question whether they – my passions, my very sense of self and being – were in fact sabotaging my life.
Same phenomena now. My friend’s positive decision seemed a confirmation that all of my identified reasons for failure were excuses, and I had simply been sub-par as a person.
And whatever, discussions about false meritocracy and the value of higher ed and tying it to your own self worth can go on for days. I didn’t write this blog post to talk about that.
I wrote this blog post, and I brought up all the conflict above because, a few hours later, something magical happened.
At 11 PM, I got around to watching a reaction video my Harvard-bound friend had recorded and sent me. I wasn’t sure what to expect; my own reactions last year had been carefully stifled the whole way through, more and more so as time went on. This friend wasn’t typically externally overreactive.
The reaction in her video, though, was anything but contained. The anticipation was expectedly high as she navigated to the portal, but the reaction caught me entirely off guard. It was explosive in its joy and excitement. In the cheers, the jumping, the unending laughter that rung through the air, there was an energy – a life force – that transcended all else. It filled my weighed-down mind and battered-up self-image and then wiped them away entirely, leaving nothing but a sheer happiness, a pure humanity, a mode of being one and the same with existence that was impossible to counter, impossible to think about, impossible to subconsciously drag down, only to live and to feel.
“A friend of mine had a good decision today,” I sent to a group chat full of deferred friends.
my first reaction was like ah shit my life is a wreck
then they sent their reaction video and there was just so much sheer joy and happiness and a blinding light overcame the darkness of being lost in life and i was just happi
Settled down a little from the high – its traces still lingering if I think to the memory – a thought comes to my mind.
just a random unexpected perspective
remember and appreciate humanity
in an application process that often so brutally destroys it
love yourself and love life and seek joy
We’re human. We’re alive. We love and are loved. We feel happiness.
We abstract upon these core ideas endlessly, losing sight of them in 90% of our lives, but at the end of the day, they are the things that matter — and sometimes, the reminder that they do can come from the most unlikely of places.