Magazine | November 12, 2018, Issue

2019 Yale Application Essay

(William Perry/Dreamstime)
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Thwack! The lacrosse ball sank into the rope-like netting of my lacrosse stick, and I ran down the field pursued by fleet-footed members of the opposing team.

It must have seemed odd to a casual onlooker. I am not what many people would call a “natural athlete.” During my middle-school years at St. Pale Country Day School, I often encountered obstacles that stood in the way of success on the field. I was shorter than most of the other boys in my class, and was regularly chosen last for recess games.

It was not until I discovered, during a semester break midway through my Lower Fourth Form year, that I am 1/128th Native American (please see enclosed blood smear and analysis) that I gained the confidence to try out for the JV lacrosse team at Diggleby Academy during my Lower Middler year. Playing the sport of my ancestors allowed me to connect more deeply to my heritage and feel the strength of my forebears surging through me as we vanquished the team from Dainty Hall

  1. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Imagine my surprise when I, a person with at least 1/512th East Asian DNA (please see enclosed cheek swabs), received a lower-than-average grade on a math quiz!

I have always prided myself on my commitment to academic excellence. Striving to “do more” is something that my grandfather instilled in me. “Do you see that building?” he would ask as we strolled the Yale campus together. “Your great-grandfather gave the money for that building, and do you know how he did that?” I would shake my head. “He did it by carefully investing the money he inherited from his father.”

My grandfather instilled in me that our family, through its extensive East Asian DNA that is probably the result of the Alaskan Land Bridge migration 20,000 years ago, was destined for success in all quantitative arenas. And yet I still fall short of that in my math and science scores, despite extra tutoring.

Perhaps it is time for us to do away with the inaccurate and toxic racial stereotypes that have been so harmful to people of color and ethnic minorities such as I. Despite my love and respect for my grandfather, I am troubled by the expectations people have of me simply due to my 1/512th East Asian heritage. I will continue to be proud of my diverse racial background as an East Asian Native American European, but I will not let it define me or my life.

  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

For as long as I can recall, people have looked at me and assumed they knew all about me. Perhaps it was my blue eyes, or my blond hair, or the wristwatch that Averell Harriman gave to my great-grandfather — whatever it was, people would look and assume that the person in front of them in the Diggleby Academy henley was all there was to me. As a person of color, I was invisible. (Please see enclosed tissue sample from a removed wisdom tooth.)

They didn’t see the centuries of pain my people inflicted on my other people, or the complex feelings I experience while watching certain kinds of anime. “What do you know about it, Middleton?” a school chum once asked me, after I spent a few moments explaining the origin of the Dia de los Muertos. And it was then that I decided to scan my DNA test results and reproduce them on a business-card-sized laminated sheet.

  1. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could take to identify a solution.

While I have never identified as an African American per se, reading Zora Neale Hurston’s epic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God awakened in me an interest in digging deeper into my 95 percent European-Nordic-Celtic genetic identity.

Could it be that the feelings I felt while reading this towering creative masterpiece were the traces of my African heritage longing to be recognized?

Together with my father, who is a prominent and accomplished venture capitalist, I have begun hearing “pitches” for products and services that will “dig deeper” into a customer’s DNA profile to uncover the African and sub-Saharan roots many of us (me included!) almost certainly have.

When we can all finally identify as African-American, perhaps then can we all appreciate and celebrate the masterwork of our “sister,” Zora Neale Hurston.

In This Issue

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Robert Dean Lurie reviews Anything for a Hit: An A&R Woman’s Story of Surviving the Music Industry, by Dorothy Carvello.

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