To those who didn’t get into Yale:
I remember my first day of my first year. As I walked through campus, I was struck by how focused everyone was on their education, the insightfulness of my conversations with my classmates and the diversity the student body.
Except I wasn’t at Yale. I was 2,857 miles away — starting my first day at Pasadena City College. Long before I was at Yale, I was a first-generation college student hoping to receive an affordable higher education at a community college.
Which brings me to last Thursday — “Ivy Day” — the day when Yale and the other Ivy Leagues release their admission decisions for the class of 2021. This year, Yale admitted its largest class ever, taking in 2,272 students out of 32,900 applicants. Ivy Day is a stressful occasion for many students who aim to get into an “elite” school, as was the case for many students in the community I came from in Southern California.
I grew up in an upper-middle-class community in Los Angeles County for the majority of my education. Arcadia, California, is an ethnic enclave with a large immigrant community — approximately 59 percent of the population is Asian. My parents were also immigrants: My dad immigrated from Argentina and my maternal family escaped as refugees from the Cambodian genocide.
But unlike many of my classmates, I came from a low-income background. I grew up helping my dad transport vending machines around Los Angeles. I learned how to drive with a pick-up truck to carry machinery and shared a bed with two family members until I was in college. We ended up in the district where my parents stayed at a relative’s home, and even after we left their home, my mother was adamant that we stay in the district so my younger brother and I could receive a quality education.
As a result, I spent the majority of my education in an upper-middle-class community. As the son of immigrants, I understand why many students are stressed about college admissions. You internalize the belief that with the opportunities you have, you should always be succeeding. This belief leads students to overload on AP classes, take SAT courses and participate in endless extracurriculars to get into the best school possible. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to immigrant communities, but it is especially pronounced in first-generation families.
When I was a high school senior, Yale wasn’t on my radar. I just wanted to be the first in my family to go to college. Community college looked like a possibility, but there was a stigma around community colleges in my city and my school. Yet when it came time to make a decision, I knew community college was the right choice for me, my family and my future.
Community college gave me the means to help at home where I was needed, while pursuing a college degree. Community college gave me the opportunity to work three jobs, while finishing my general education requirements. Community college gave me a shot at further education.
Above all, community college made me a better person. When I first arrived, my plan was just to put my head down and focus on transferring. I’m glad I didn’t just do that. If I had, I wouldn’t have turned to my left and met a veteran, who decided to return to school after a decade of service to this country. I wouldn’t have turned to my right and met a single mother, who still wakes up at 6 a.m. to take her child to school, goes to work and then attends classes herself.
Even after nearly two years at Yale, I often think about how my classmates at community college were just as bright and passionate as my classmates at Yale. I think about how my professors at community college were just as brilliant and caring as my Yale professors. I think about how going to community college was one of the best decisions in my life.
So, to the 2,272 students who got into Yale, I say: Congratulations, and I can’t wait to meet you. To the 30,628 students who didn’t get in — and to my community back home: I’m confident that many of you will get into a school as “elite” as Yale. But even if you don’t, know that you can get a quality education and meet people who will leave a positive impact on your life anywhere, even — and especially — at a community college. Your self-worth is more than the school next to your name. After all, Ivy Day is just another day.
Ryan Liu is a junior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .