A 17-year-old girl by the name of Cassandra Hsiao, achieved the incredible feat of being accepted into all eight Ivy League schools.
Hsiao, who resides in Walnut, South California, has offers from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Penn, leaving her with arguably the most pleasant headache of her life, as she decides which world-class institution she wants to join as part of the class of 2021.
Hsiao immigrated from Malaysia at the tender age of just 5 years old. She’s a first-generation immigrant, and while her resume was impressive beyond all measure, it was her essay about learning English that rubber stamped the deal.
Speaking of her impressive resume, her GPA stands tall at 4.67, while she scored 1540 on her SATs. Her awe-inspiring resume somehow gets even better the longer you go on. She’s one of two student body presidents, an editor-in-chief of the school’s magazine and active in her community.
Not satisfied being just good with the books, Hsiao covered all quarters and has conducted on-camera interviews on red carpets at film festivals, media screenings and press conferences. She’s even interviewed Captain America himself, Chris Evans!
In addition to being accepted to all Ivy League schools, she was also accepted to Stanford University, John Hopkins University, University of Southern California, Northwestern University, New York University, Amherst College and many others in the UC system.
As promised, here is the much vaunted essay that helped Cassandra Hsiao pull of this truly incredible feat.
In our house, English is not English. Not in the phonetic sense, like short a is for apple, but rather in the pronunciation – in our house, snake is snack. Words do not roll off our tongues correctly – yet I, who was pulled out of class to meet with language specialists, and my mother from Malaysia, who pronounces film as flim, understand each other perfectly.
In our house, there is no difference between cast and cash, which was why at a church retreat, people made fun of me for “cashing out demons.” I did not realize the glaring difference between the two Englishes until my teacher corrected my pronunciations of hammock, ladle, and siphon. Classmates laughed because I pronounce accept as except, success as sussess. I was in the Creative Writing conservatory, and yet words failed me when I needed them most.
Suddenly, understanding flower is flour wasn’t enough. I rejected the English that had never seemed broken before, a language that had raised me and taught me everything I knew. Everybody else’s parents spoke with accents smarting of Ph.D.s and university teaching positions. So why couldn’t mine?
My mother spread her sunbaked hands and said, “This is where I came from,” spinning a tale with the English she had taught herself.
When my mother moved from her village to a town in Malaysia, she had to learn a brand new language in middle school: English. In a time when humiliation was encouraged, my mother was defenseless against the cruel words spewing from the teacher, who criticized her paper in front of the class. When she began to cry, the class president stood up and said, “That’s enough.”
“Be like that class president,” my mother said with tears in her eyes. The class president took her under her wing and patiently mended my mother’s strands of language. “She stood up for the weak and used her words to fight back.”
We were both crying now. My mother asked me to teach her proper English so old white ladies at Target wouldn’t laugh at her pronunciation. It has not been easy. There is a measure of guilt when I sew her letters together. Long vowels, double consonants — I am still learning myself. Sometimes I let the brokenness slide to spare her pride but perhaps I have hurt her more to spare mine.
As my mother’s vocabulary began to grow, I mended my own English. Through performing poetry in front of 3000 at my school’s Season Finale event, interviewing people from all walks of life, and writing stories for the stage, I stand against ignorance and become a voice for the homeless, the refugees, the ignored. With my words I fight against jeers pelted at an old Asian street performer on a New York subway. My mother’s eyes are reflected in underprivileged ESL children who have so many stories to tell but do not know how. I fill them with words as they take needle and thread to make a tapestry.
In our house, there is beauty in the way we speak to each other. In our house, language is not broken but rather bursting with emotion. We have built a house out of words. There are friendly snakes in the cupboard and snacks in the tank. It is a crooked house. It is a little messy. But this is where we have made our home.