As my parents left on a Friday morning for a weekend trip to Bangkok, I heaved my backpack onto my shoulders and left for school. I had a couple tests and a school concert to sing at, and I was to join them the next day. Which also happened to be the morning I would find out whether Stanford University had a place for me or not.
Friday was a raging hell. I was overridden by anxiety and personal conflicts at school, and by midday, I was unable to do anything, intermittently breaking into tears, angry at myself for not having the strength to push through, wondering whether all my progress this year— all this backbone I’d mustered, the moments I’d remained grounded amidst the chaos, built up inner resistance— had been lost. Fortunately, I had the luck of being surrounded by the best people. Teachers gave understanding smiles. My best friends rushed to comfort me. I was excused from performing at the concert, and I went home in a taxi, after which I indulged myself in an impressive variety of junk food.
The night was a sleepless, suspended period of time. Time, the just and fickle goddess, had flowed impossibly slowly over the past few days, the end of the semester right in front of my eyes and yet an eternity away. That night, the hours did pass. I grabbed whatever distractions I could, ordering the sweetest fried chicken on the menu, soaking in a bath, playing guitar at 4AM.
By some clever maneuvering of fate, the results were supposed to be released at 9:00 AM KST, a whole fifteen minutes before my flight’s departure. I headed to the airport alone, sped through the supremely efficient Incheon security system, and settled down at a cafe with an iced latte, staring through the giant windows at a row of airplanes and the rising sun. I marveled at the perfection of my latte and felt an eerie calm settle in. The quiet before the storm, truly.
The poetry of the moment hit me, the way the world often takes the care to impart small ironies upon significant moments. I was all alone, embarking on a literal journey from home. I had just renewed my passport, and was carrying it for the first time, with a new picture and crisp, blank pages. The sun was rising, welcoming a cold new day. I was at an airport, where everything is in transit and nothing is permanent— the center of change. I would, I realized, step onto the airplane, a six-hour metal prison. And by the time I stepped off, everything would be different. This is flux, I told myself. This is a moment.
Am I dramatizing things? Yes. But for a high school senior, university results can feel like a summary of all their years as a student, something that would dictate so much of the future. I knew on a conscious level that my long-term happiness had nothing to do with the undergraduate school I attended. But my high school is a pressure cooker. As calm and collected as I had been over the past semester, the stress of the admissions process can get to anyone’s head.
25 minutes till results. It was time to head to my gate. My heart began beating faster. And yet I felt prepared— I steeled myself for the worst and hoped for the best. I read through messages that my closest friends had sent me in the past hour, kind and supportive, reminding me of my value to them as a friend, regardless of anything else. I talked to my brother online, the only person I trusted to keep me somewhat lighthearted and yet prepared.
I scanned my boarding pass and got onto the walkway stretching to the airplane, quietly singing Moon River to myself. Moon River, wider than a mile… This is the moment I vividly remember— stepping down that narrow carpeted passage. Boarding. Feeling not quite myself, but merely the first-person camera of a movie’s protagonist. I felt a kind of strength rising in me, because in that moment, I knew I was ready. I had never been readier. I got to my seat and buckled my belt. Just 10 minutes left now.
Time passes. It does. Minutes crawl by so fairly. When the clock hit 9:00, I logged into my student application portal. My application status has been updated, it said. And my eyes fell on this:
This is the moment that is lost in my memory. What led up to it, I so vividly remember. But the flurry of thoughts and emotions that accompanied the acceptance itself is merely a blur. My instant reaction was to call my brother. “Hello?” “I got in,” I said. Only then did I start crying. “I got in, I got in,” I repeated, “you got in?” he asked (shouted), “I got in,” I repeated. Had I misread the text? No. I had gotten in. I stayed on the phone, barely keeping myself in my seat, tears and laughter somehow coming simultaneously. Strangers turned heads, and I looked back at them. I must have looked crazy. “I didn’t want to say it and pressure you,” he said, “but I knew you were going to get in. Send me a screenshot. 자랑하게.” So I can brag about you.
I was glad to have six hours of solitude; it was a unique way of celebrating myself. And after all, the most valuable congratulations came from myself. I could reflect how I reflected best— writing in solitude. And what I came away with was this: more happiness came from the affirmations that there were such good people in my life than the acceptance itself. The excitement of Stanford dimmed and melted like a beautiful snowflake, but the love persisted, and the warmth of knowing that people were genuinely happy for me. I must have done something right, I thought, to have built these relationships. I’ve been doing something right.
I looked out the window as the plane took off and the ground fell away from view. Yes, time had passed. Like it always has. I was in the sky.
Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you with style someday
You dream-maker, you heartbreaker,
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way
Two drifters, off to see the world,
There’s such a lot of world to see…
We’re after the same rainbow’s end
Waiting ’round the bend
My huckleberry friend
Moon river and me