Dear Past Self – May May (University of Pennsylvania ’17)

If our facilitators could give any advice to their former applicant selves, what would they say? In the first of our “Dear Past Self” series, May May Pau (University of Pennsylvania, ’17) reflects on all nighters, cherry blossom adventures and her journey so far in the U.S.. 


As I look at my half-packed suitcase at the end of my sophomore year at Penn, there are still things that completely baffle me – how I applied and got in, how I have this beautiful apartment, how I survived two full years in this insane institution. There are still mornings where I wake up thinking that I deserve none of this – the now dead and dried up flowers from my show in March, the wall full of handwritten notes from people who love me more than I know how to describe, the super high quality printer paper they have in Wharton printers, admission to the school that one of my closest friends called his dream. Then, there are other days where I wonder how it is that there was ever a point in my life I considered giving up on all of it and giving college a pass.

People say, “You will not remember the all-nighters you pulled studying for that midterm”. That is untrue. You will have distinct memories of sitting in a GSR with Petra and Peter till 8AM one Sunday morning and the exceedingly long walk back from DRL with Miao after astronomy lab, as you will remember skipping Friday class to see cherry blossoms in DC, screaming your lungs out at Half Moon Bay, and nearly getting run over by cars driving in the bike lane in West Philly. You’ll have more “first”s than you could ever have imagined – first frat party, first hamantaschen, first Amazon shopping spree, first major academic disappointment since Moral Studies in Form 4; MLB game, hush puppies with melted butter, snowball fight, contra dance, Yogorino… In your first two years at college, you’ll get to do more than some people will in a lifetime. Things won’t always go as planned, but there will be people who let you have one candle on your birthday cake and people who wake you up in time for your 9AMs. You will live, and life will be so full – of surprises, of challenges, of insurmountable grace.

When things seem the bleakest and hopelessness clings onto your heart like paint on glass, remember these three things: First, you are more than what you are (or are not) on any piece of paper – a resume, a transcript, or even a rejection letter. You have much to say, much to give. Have faith that you are worth it, and don’t take chances away from yourself. Second, you couldn’t have made it anywhere near where you are if not for the people who have supported you all this way. It is a blessing to even be able to start on this journey, to know that college exists, to be in a position where applying is a possibility. Be grateful. Say thank you. Finally, a lot of things in life – the weather, success, failure, admission, rejection – are completely beyond your control. Just give it your all, and roll with it – things will be okay. You’ll be told that teardrops taste a little salty, but also a little sweet – there will be pain, no doubt, but there will also be immense joy. Don’t give up. It will be beautiful.

It will be so, so beautiful.

All my love,
May May