When I got into Harvard, everyone started taking me more seriously. But I'm so much more than an Ivy League student.

When I got into Harvard, everyone started taking me more seriously. But I'm so much more than an Ivy League student.
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  • When I got into Harvard last year, everyone started treating me differently.
  • When my mother was mistaken for a server, I realized the problem with assigning labels to people.
When the clock hit 7 p.m. on December 15, I transformed from a high schooler who doodled in class, didn't usually get the joke, and was growing out a questionable haircut to someone completely different — newer, smarter, better.

Just kidding.

Getting into Harvard University in December changed nothing about me. But it changed everything about the way people treated me. My classmates suddenly agreed with me when I made points in group discussions — even if I was wrong. Middle schoolers began messaging me on social media, begging for application tips. Parents of kids I had never met approached me trying to find the best way to organize their kids' schedules or extracurricular activities.

I am the same person, but I have noticed my voice now carries more weight because of this "seal of approval" from Harvard.

Getting into Harvard has been one of the greatest privileges I've ever been given

I frequently wonder what exactly I did to get accepted into one of the top schools in the world. Of course, I can look back on years of hard work. I got through it all by looking for something beautiful and interesting in all of my classes to keep me engaged. I failed many times at things I loved but picked myself back up again. I learned to study smart and hard when I needed to.


But all my hard work, self-reflection, and achievements came to define me with one title: Harvard student. This is the light under which I am viewed, and now I wonder whether people are truly seeing me or are just seeing the label.

The night before I moved into my Harvard dorm, I realized the power that we give these arbitrary labels

My mother and I went out to dinner at an upscale restaurant in Cambridge just before move-in day. At dinner, my mother wore a shirt emblazoned with a bright "Harvard 2027" across the chest that the Harvard Coop had sent in my acceptance package.

We spent the dinner talking about the possibilities of college — the classes I could take, the people I could meet, and the various pathways of life that now lay at my feet.

Though we were excited about the future, we couldn't ignore the past.

"My grandmother came to the Caribbean as an indentured servant. Although she loved to learn, she wasn't allowed to go to school and never learned to read or write," my mother said. "But it only took three generations since then to bring our family to Harvard."

After dinner, a man stopped my mother on the way out of the restaurant. I turned, noticing she was not behind me. Moments later, I realized what had happened. He had mistaken her for the server.

Despite the hard work and skill it took to come to America and make a living for herself, putting herself through college and medical school as a Caribbean immigrant, my mother is often presumed to be the janitor, server, or housekeeper. Too often, people refuse to look beyond her dark skin and curly hair and assume that she can never be more than a stereotype.

I owe everything to my family's generational hard work and sacrifice, yet all of that became insignificant in a moment. The rest of the night I pondered how the labels we place on people often determine one's value.

Before I got into Harvard, I wore my own labels — each accompanied by their own assumptions

Because I have Asian features, people often assume I don't speak English; because I'm a girl, people assume I don't understand math and science; because I am shy, people assume I am stupid. Perhaps I won't ever escape these labels. Perhaps none of us can.

But I wasn't any smarter at 7 p.m. last December when I opened my acceptance letter than I was at 6:59 p.m. My mother, and her mother, and her mother before her, didn't work any less hard or accomplish any less because of a stranger's invalidation.

Though I know it's a privilege for my voice to be heard through the Harvard name, everyone deserves that same respect since you can never truly judge someone's intellectual worth without getting to know them in the absence of labels.

Going to Harvard has reaffirmed to me how little other people's judgments have to do with our worth. In the end, I'm in control of who I am. I drive forward the legacy of my family, and I have the power to look beyond the labels that others assign me.