By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Goal setting at an early age helps young adults take advantage of their time, not waste it.
Lawson Wong, 18, is a high school senior who has dreamed of going to only one college. He’s been wearing crimson red T-shirts, sweatshirts, and a hoodie with his college’s name in large, capital letters since the sixth grade, making his plan for higher education crystal clear.
Caleb Ren, 18, a Bellevue High School senior, will join Wong as part of a select group of students accepted to attend prestigious Harvard University.
Wong said, “I’m definitely very grateful, and I feel very blessed I have the opportunity to study with such great people and attend such a great institution.”
As a sixth-grader, he toured the East Coast with his family, visiting Boston, New York, and Pennsylvania in 2011. He said, “When we were in Boston, of course, we’ll stop by Harvard (three miles northwest of Boston). That’s a must.”
“I just thought, ‘Why not?’ Everyone’s heard about the college, and it’s arguably one of the top universities.” Harvard was ranked second in the Best National Universities category in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Colleges last September and first in the world last year by the Center for World University Rankings.
“So it’s like, why not aim for that goal?” he said.
Wong has played soccer and the piano since the first grade and said, “I just try to do my best in the two activities. I wouldn’t say I’m exceptional, but because of the amount of time that I’ve put in, they’re both my passion.”
With only a few friends during his first year in the Bellevue School District, he says seventh grade at Tyee Middle School was the worst year of his school career. He said, “I was sad. I wasn’t depressed, but I’d say every day at lunch, I’d sit by myself.”
In his junior year at Newport High School, he realized he wasn’t the only student who felt that way and chose to do something about it.
“The best way to involve myself in the school was to become the president of the school,” he said.
Wong serves as ASB president at Newport High School. Combined with good grades, a focus on the SAT and ACT tests, and a commitment to varsity soccer and the piano, he has kept Harvard admissions officers from finding reasons not to select him.
He said, “It was never I’m going to do this so I can get into Harvard until the beginning of college application season.”
Competition for a Harvard education is fierce. As one of the top American universities, it received 39,494 applications for its Class of 2021, establishing a new record for the third year in a row. Broken down into ethnic groups, 21.8 percent of applicants identified as Asian American.
Harvard has the lowest acceptance rate among the eight Ivy League colleges and the second lowest acceptance rate of 100 colleges in a recent U.S. News and World Report study. Based on the fall 2015 entering class, Harvard’s acceptance rate is 6 percent — tied with the Juilliard School and Columbia University.
Ren also visited the East Coast as a seventh-grader. He said, “I think the college that stood out to me then was Columbia because it was glamorous, and it was in New York City, and I liked the environment.”
He’s involved with Model UN (a student-led simulation of the United Nations General Assembly) as the director of KINGMUN’s inaugural U.S. Senate committee. On March 12 at Benaroya Hall, he will perform Piano Concerto in F by George Gershwin.
“I said I’ll apply to Harvard (Early Action) just to see what happens, and I saw what happened, and I kinda like the result,” he said.
By applying to Harvard’s Early Action program — the application deadline is Nov. 1, two months before most admission deadlines — both Ren and Wong are not obligated to enroll and are given their senior year to decide which college to attend from all of their admission offers.
On Dec. 13, 2016, they received messages of acceptance while at school.
“They came out at 2 p.m,” Ren said. “I found out that I got into Harvard. I freaked out. I did a lap around the school.”
As Wong picked up his parents at Sea-Tac International Airport from their trip to Singapore the next day, he realized they received the e-mail from Harvard. He said, “I see my mom crying, and I see my dad with her. She comes over to the driver’s side. She gives me a hug, and my dad is smiling.”
Malia Obama, the eldest daughter of former President Barack Obama, will join both men for fall 2017 semester in Cambridge, Mass.
“That’s why we go to Harvard for the networking opportunities and the friends that we’ll be making, that we share similar characteristics with and also extremely different ones that we can build off each other and change the world hopefully,” Wong said.
For more information on Caleb Ren’s performance with the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, go to syso.org/events/concerts.
James can be reached at email@example.com.