From the time I was eight years old and my older brother got accepted to Stanford University, I knew I was going to go to Stanford too. Then, when I was in 6th-grade, my older sister was also accepted to Stanford. By then, I knew I was definitely going to get in. So, you can imagine my disappointment when I received that tiny envelope in the Spring of my Senior year… The dreaded rejection letter. The envelope was already opened as Mom couldn’t wait for me to get home that day, and the lack of enthusiasm in her voice when she gave me the letter told the whole story. The previous ten years of planning, talking about, and dreaming about going to Stanford were all mis-guided. It was the biggest goal that I had set to date and I had failed.
Up until I had received that rejection letter from Stanford, I had planned out my life according to what I thought other people wanted or expected of me. I planned out my life according to what I thought made sense, according to the standards of society, and going to Stanford was at the foundation of it all. So, when that piece of the plan crumbled, I was left to dance with the unknown.
From a very young age, my Mom would actually scold me when I would take about any sort future plans, whether it was about next year’s vacation or plans for Christmas which was only a few months away.
“Si Dios nos da lisencia!” she would say. (Loosly translated, it means “If it be God’s will”.)
I never really understood what was so bad about making plans, but every time I did, my Mom would remind me: “If you want to make God laugh, just make plans.” So, when I actually received that rejection letter from Stanford, I couldn’t help but think of all those times over the previous ten years that I must have had God rolling on the floor.
Candidly, I wasn’t really shocked when I read that letter. I guess deep down, I knew all along I wasn’t going to get in to Stanford. It wasn’t that I was oblivious, I still believe that I had a legitimate shot. I had an extremely heavy courseload, my extra-curricular activies were fantastic (thanks to Grandma Bea and her help) and I was a legacy thanks to my older siblings. But the reality was that I needed to carve out my own path. Following in my brother and sister’s footsteps would have been to easy and I knew it then.
Instead, I felt that God had something else in store for me. Something different than what I had all planned out in my head. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was confident that everything was going to be just fine. It was a weird feeling, sitting there in my room with the rejection letter in my hand. I remember feeling as though I should cry, but I wasn’t all that sad. I remember thinking I should be completely defeated, but instead I felt slightly relieved. I had set expectations about how my life was supposed to play out and that simple little letter threw all of those expectations out the window.
Due to taking some extra classes and some clever class scheduling, I was able to graduate high school about three months early, just after I had received the rejection letter. As such, I quickly picked up a full time job at a retail shop in the mall in addition to my summer job with Grandma Bea at the Migrant School, just to keep from having to work in the onion fields with my Dad. The pay was good, the work was easy and steady, and the homework was non-existant.
My Mom wasn’t a big supporter of my early graduation as she was afraid that once I started working and earning money that I would no longer want to go to college, which never really made sense to me. First off, I had been working in the fields since I was 5 years old. Second, I was really good at school!
Despite having received recruitment letters from over fifty colleges and universities from across the country, I only submitted applications to two schools: Stanford and Santa Clara (because my sister said it was a great school). So, when Stanford fell through, I started telling everyone it was either Santa Clara or I was going to join the Marines.
When I received my acceptance letter from Santa Clara University in the Spring of 1998, I candidly didn’t think much of it. After having spent so much time thinking I had a legitimate shot at getting into Stanford, I figured every other school was a sure thing. So, I took a quick look at the picture of the palm tree filled campus on the cover glossy brochure that Santa Clara had sent and then I set the packet down. I love palm trees and since Stanford wasn’t happening, Santa Clara was going to have to do.
It wasn’t until August that I picked up that brochure again as my mind was preoccupied with two full-time jobs and trying to spend as much time as possible with my friends, whom I would likely never live close to again since I was moving to California and never planned on moving back. As such, the entire summer passed and I knew nothing about Santa Clara (other than there were palm trees there). So, other than sending them a couple registration forms, I shipped some boxes, packed a couple of suitcases, and was ready to move to Silicon Valley.
On our way to the airport, my Dad and I stopped by my Mom’s work so I could say one last goodbye. As I got out of the car and entered the building, I was preparing myself for an emotional farewell. After all, I was her youngest child (Lucky #9) and I imagined that she had been imagining this day for years, if not decades. Before I could make it all the way into her lab, she cut me off at the door and gave me a quick hug. As we embraced, I began to cry. But, before the tears actually started to fall, she had managed to push me out the front door towards the car where my Dad sat waiting.
“That’s enough.” she said. “It’s time to go.”
Years later, I heard my Mom talking to my oldest sister about sender her son off to college. The advice my Mom gave my sister was simple: “Don’t let him see you cry. Once he leaves, you can cry all you want.” I’m not positive the reasoning behind this, but knowing my Mom, my guess is she figured that it’s hard enough as it is for a child to leave home; There is no sense in having that child carrying the burden of an abandoned mother… Self-sacrificing to end.