I met Peter Liu in one of my SAT Critical Reading classes during the summer of 2013. Initially, I thought I had failed him. The pace and learning curve seemed to be more than Peter could handle. He had only learned English three years prior and was now tackling the rigors of the SAT. The vocabulary was completely foreign; the passages were too convoluted. His reading speed was below average and often, he could not understand the particulars of the critical reading questions. During test review, Peter always wanted to dig deeper into why the right answers were correct and why his answers were wrong. Many times, he remained unsatisfied with the correct answer. I could tell Peter possessed a strong work ethic, but I also knew that he needed to invest much more time and effort than most. Little did I know, he coveted every bit of knowledge and would stop at nothing to reach his goals. Not until I started working with Peter on his college application essays, however, did I begin to understand the fullness of his story.
Peter had only learned English three years prior and was now tackling the rigors of the SAT. The vocabulary was completely foreign; the passages were too convoluted. His reading speed was below average, and often, he could not understand the particulars of the critical reading questions.
Peter immigrated to the United States from China at the start of 8th grade. Unfamiliar with English, he struggled just introducing himself in front of his new classmates, prompting an intense desire to learn the language as quickly as possible. By 9th grade, Peter had successfully lobbied for placement in Honors English, but his ambitions were much higher than merely gaining a command of English. When Peter realized that his high school did not offer Advanced Placement classes, he signed up for local community college courses to satiate his continued quest for knowledge. Attending Elite's summer boot camp was yet another stepping stone. Yes, the work posed new, unique challenges, but through dedication and persistence, Peter rose to the occasion.
Little did I know, Peter coveted every bit of knowledge and would stop at nothing to reach his goals . . . Beyond seizing every academic opportunity available to him, Peter fully immersed himself in both his school and local communities.
A more complete picture of Peter was unveiled as I began advising him on his college personal statements. The strength of his character is apparent in his actions. Beyond seizing every academic opportunity available to him, Peter fully immersed himself in both his school and local communities. He holds multiple leadership positions in a number of activities, including serving as President of Student Council and Captain of the Varsity Swim Team. Outside of school, he has taken part in job shadowing programs, yet he is most proud of his work with a local immigrant rights community organization, through which he has met with members of Congress and organized booths at resource fairs. I understood Peter presented an impressive profile and was entirely on board with his aspirations.
Surprised and yet not at the same time, I knew that Peter's admittance to Harvard was a testament to his passionate purpose and unwavering dedication.
A graduate of Harvard University, I am ecstatic when any of my students decides to apply for admission. Imagine how I felt when Peter elected to apply to Harvard early. Applauding such self-confidence, I supported him through each step of the process: essays, supplements, even interview tips. Imagine the sheer elation upon his receiving news of acceptance to Harvard last week! Surprised and yet not at the same time, I knew that Peter's admittance was a testament to his passionate purpose and unwavering dedication. He is proof that one's obstacles stand no chance in the face of applied ambitions, and within everyone lies the potential and power to achieve the greatest of dreams.
Jon Gentry is a Harvard grad and an instructor at Elite of Los Angeles, where he teaches SAT Critical Reading & Writing, AP English Language, and College Application Workshops. He's originally from Houston, loves basketball and green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."