Dear Past Self — Chern Wei (Cornell ’16)

Chern Wei cheers on those daunted by the college application process, reminding them of their ultimate goal and the wonderful people supporting them.


Dear former self,

You will soon be swarmed with numerous tasks on your plate – studying for your SATs and finals, chasing after recommendation letters, translating one document after another from Malay into English, completing various forms, and devoting countless hours to attempted self-reflection. To accommodate for this pandemonium, there will be waking up at odd hours. There will be stress and sleepless nights. There will also be many startling split seconds, like when you are hit hard with the realization of potentially having missed an important deadline.

Let me get this straight: the path down college applications will not be an easy one to traverse. Expect your composure to be shaken regularly. Expect minor setbacks. You will feel like a recluse and will often believe that no one understands what you are going through. You will succumb to so much negativity, and you will want to give up on many, many occasions.


You will remember college applications being a painstakingly tiring process – but that will not be all you remember of the turbulent weeks to come. When you reflect upon this seemingly bitter point in life, you will also remember the overwhelming amount of unwavering support and love from your family members, who may not fully understand what you are stacked against, yet will continue to remain behind your back at any cost. You will remember the comfort you find in friends, in both those you’ve grown up with and those you’ve recently met, when you exchange stories of struggles with them on Facebook. You will remember the teachers who willingly devoted their time to your cause, even when they had no obligation whatsoever to meet you outside school hours in Starbucks, or to respond to an email at two in the morning. You will absolutely remember how surprised you were when your response to some of the simplest essay prompts did not surface easily. What makes you happy? What matters most to you in life? What one word defines you? You will find yourself investing days and nights into answering these questions insightfully.

To call each attempt in doing so a success would be a blatant lie. You will countlessly end up with hundreds of words barely resonating with your conscience. Still, in spite of any discouragement, remember: never settle for less than your best. Continue embarking on that relentless journey of self-discovery, and you will eventually find the right narratives to share in your application.

For the times when your patience runs dangerously thin, recall that nothing desirable comes easy – definitely not the acceptance letter into your dream school. The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all. Persevere! If all else seems to dwindle and fail, recollect your past successes, both big ones and small ones, and the price you paid in seizing them. The sweat. The tears. The time. Harness the motivation from your past when the one for the future seems too far away. If you feel distress or disappointment creeping over you, regain yourself quickly. Never let those feelings overstay their welcome during this crucial period of time; they will be highly counterproductive to your efforts. Remember to stay as calm as possible. Remember to smile. Above all, remind yourself ceaselessly on how blessed you are to have this opportunity to begin with, and to be able to share it with the ones you love – be very, very thankful.

Know that I will always be rooting for you. Best of luck!

With warmest regards,
Chern Wei