Harvard Material

In China, it’s widely believed that if you go to one of those schools, your future is all set. But I never believe a word of it.

I was raised to believe that there was such a thing called “Harvard Material.” (Aka. Tsinghua/Beida Material for its Chinese counterpart.)

Kids who are labeled as such breeze through their school years who are more often than not early readers.

From my own and my beloved parents’ recollection, I was none of those above.

I sucked at math – as a Chinese. I watched TV throughout the summer/winter vacations and dashed for the last few days to finish my vacation homework. 

I hated myself. I vowed that this was the last time, that I would never repeat the same mistake ever again. And if I did, I was no better than a dog. 

Spoiler alert: I did for many, many years. 

Then things changed. I changed. I suddenly felt the stake was much higher than I had imagined. My working class folks would never give me the kind of leg up or back door or financial cushion that some parents were able to provide their kids. 

I began grinding. But I didn’t end up in any of these schools that need you to be their material first. I went to an average school. But my hope didn’t end. 

In China, it’s widely believed that if you go to one of those schools, your future is all set. But I never believe a word of it.

By now, I’m confident that most of those former material students are now stuck in lame jobs, their dreams buried in moss.

But then, there are folks who are real Harvard Material. Like Barack Obama, as I’ve just learned through Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. 

Before he was in the Senate, Barack read some six or seven books at the same time, reads two to three newspapers from cover to cover, while keeps a senior teaching position at University of Chicago plus getting an advance to finish a book about his unique background, while raising a family with Michelle. 

I was dumbfounded by the extend of things he was able to get done. I was no less impressed with Michelle. A mother of two young daughters, she held a full time job while rallying for her husband when he decided to run for president… Of course it was a joint effort. But just how they were able to function at their best under pressure is truly something worthy of study. 

I, on the other hand, start to feel the weight of the pressure when I have a number to things to tackle while my mum takes care of my laundry and my dad is the best chef anyone can ask for. 

This evening on time, I sent another student director the first draft of the short script she briefed me two days ago.  The reason I took the gig was because I really liked the simplicity of the story and I didn’t want her to entrust anybody else to write it. But it meant that when I took on the assignment, I would very likely have to delay the shipping date of my podcast. 

By early this morning, I stopped kidding myself that I could actually do both at the same time without composing both. But tomorrow, I will ship the podcast. I envy people like Obama who are not only gifted, but grind day in and day out. When they do succeed, people and the mass media conclude that they are in fact Harvard Material as if that was the basis of every success under the sun.

I beg to differ. To show the world, again, that there’re other decent materials like yours truly, who can and will get there, even though she didn’t go down the obvious path, even though she can’t process information like an Intel chip. 

If I can be anything, I want to be another example of the people who are too late to be Harvard Material, who don’t fit into the pattern of the Success Matrix, who is both woman and Asian… who has a hope, and an undying dream to be something more than her reality through storytelling.

 

Yours truly,
YZ