by Ying Ying Shang
Dear Suzy Lee Weiss,
My name is YingYing Shang, and I am also a current high school senior. To be specific, an Asian-American female from a relatively wealthy suburb of Philadelphia.
Going into the college admissions process, I was just as nervous as we all were. Just like you, I weighed my stats. I realized that if we were strictly talking profiles, I was perhaps even more disadvantaged than you were. Asian-Americans are an “overrepresented minority” at top colleges and need an SAT score of 140 points higher than average to be accepted to the same places. My parents are not “tiger parents,” despite being immigrants, and like you, I’ve also never picked up a violin in my life. For three years, I was the slowest person on my school track team.
Coming from an Asian-American family that emphasizes education and a cultural context that placed far too much emphasis on Ivy names, I know the pressure that high school seniors can face. But I also know that none of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, is entitled to “the college of our dreams.”
You say that, if you had known two years ago, you “would have gladly worn a headdress to school,” come out of “any closet,” and offered any “diversity — Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything.”
Here’s a hint, Weiss: being a minority or LGBT is difficult for a reason. Minorities still earn less money, live more in poverty, and face pervasive discrimination. To all those accusing affirmative action of “stealing their place”: your privilege and sense of entitlement is what causes you to call that place “yours” to begin with. As part of a majority culture, for the rest of your life, you will never face the overt and covert racism that a member of the minority faces. Your insensitive remark dismisses the very real lifelong struggles faced by minority and LGBT youth.
You go on to say that you would have gladly started a fake charity, gone to Africa, and pretended to save a starving child. I do go to a competitive high school and I do see students join community service for the sake of community service hours. However, many students also genuinely care about the world and the more than 1 billion people who struggle to survive on less than $1 per day. Global poverty is a real issue that many high school students care about and want to tackle. I do every day as part of the leadership team of the UN Foundation campaign Girl Up, raising money and funds for some of the world’s most underprivileged girls. We have more than 300,000 girl supporters who are helping real girls in developing countries. Why can’t you?
College admissions is a game of luck, that’s true. Each Ivy League gets far more qualified applicants than it can possibly accept. But to everyone reading Suzy Lee Weiss’s letter and feeling sympathy: it’s not impossible. In the long run, colleges are looking for people who have real passion, real interests, and real humility. In other words, what we all look for in people.
I’m a little worried about you, Suzy. I’m a little worried about your lack of real passion or interest for any real problems in the world. I’m also worried about your sense of entitlement and lack of sympathy for those of different racial groups and in different circumstances. Lastly, I’m worried about all of the high school students who are reading your letter and throwing their hands up along with you, cursing the college admissions process instead of their own narrow-mindedness and apathy.
Luckily for you, college isn’t the end of the world. You’ll be fine. Maybe you’ll even go on to be one of those world-changing kids whom you envy so much. And believe me, I want you to, because there is so much inequality, injustice, inefficiency in the world that needs fixing. But you can’t possibly reach your full potential until you let go of the delusion that you deserve better and instead, see the larger evils that we all need to confront together.
By the way, future college applicants: don’t give up hope. Despite my statistical disadvantages, failure at playing the piano, and less than perfect score on the SAT, I was accepted to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, and I’m still trying to find a way to say that without sounding pretentious. Find something you love and do well, and do it. Also: be yourself. Be the best version of yourself you can be. You can still watch Real Housewives besides.