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MIT admissions officer Jessica Ch'ng

Feeling Many Feelings by Jessica Ch'ng

:) and :( and everything in between about decisions

I have a lot of feelings. It doesn’t take much to make me cry, whether I’m moved, frustrated, or sad. There’s one Google Search Story that gets me every single time, and I regularly tear up watching World of Dance. My voice unconsciously rises far too often, and sometimes I realize mid-conversation that I’ve been animatedly yelling01 If I had a dollar for every time my mother told me to lower my voice, I could probably retire early. the entire time. A colleague recently told me to chill and “be cool” in selection committee – I told her that was not possible. I blush embarrassingly easily. I should probably forego wearing turtlenecks ever again, because I’m constantly overheating due to excitement or awkwardness. When I’m really mad, however, I swear I feel my blood run cold. Of the many memorable and inspirational lines in Harry Potter, I relate to this moment in Order of the Phoenix the most:

Ron said, “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have,” said Hermione nastily, picking up her quill again.

So as you can probably imagine, when we release our admissions decisions on Pi Day, I have a lot of feelings. Too many feelings. My emotional teaspoon runneth WAY over with elation, disappointment, relief, exhilaration, heartache. I don’t exactly feel as though I’ll explode. Rather, I feel as though my heart is being pulled in too many directions at once.

My Pi Day 2018 Pie! Anybody else channel an excess of feelings into baking?

The seemingly simple outputs of our process – admitted, waitlisted, not admitted – belie the complex discussions and emotions behind our decisions. The vocabulary of our decision-making process greatly exceeds those three words. Here are some pared-down (and edited to make legible and remove identifying information) words and emoticons I wrote about applicants this year:

  • She has, frankly, one of the best letters of recommendation I’ve ever seen.
  • Seems like a really kind person from essays and letters of recommendation <3
  • She is very awesome! :)
  • He’s just an objectively wonderful young person.
  • I get the sense from the essays that he has had to fight to get to take classes at this level. He’s really impressive.
  • Great fit for MIT, and I think the program she started is cool. I like her personality too!
  • He’s a survivor and has a lot of intellectual firepower. I feel lucky that he chose to apply to us!

Maybe you’ll be surprised to hear that not all of these students were admitted. But I hope you’ll believe me when I say that our admissions decisions, whether you have been admitted or not, can never fully capture our deepest belief in your worthiness and your potential or our admiration for your goodness and your greatness.

To students who are admitted, we are able to express our feelings more easily: Congratulations! We are so excited to welcome you to the MIT community, and we hope you pick us! You are excellent – never doubt that.

To students who were waitlisted or not admitted, I know you may feel disappointed, and the truth is, as admissions officers, we too are disappointed that we can’t admit more of you right now. Many of you have a pizza our hearts, and we are envious of the institutions that get to be a part of your journey.

To all of you, thank you for trusting us with your triumphs and trials, your dreams and daily lives. Vulnerability is an act of courage. In sharing your stories, you’ve taken a risk; you’ve opened your self to be seen, knowing that someone on the other side might embrace you or turn you away.

A couple years ago, after experiencing a particularly painful rejection myself, Brené Brown’s words on the power of vulnerability helped me weather my own disappointment and understand my feelings of shame in having “failed”:

Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? The things I can tell you about it: It’s universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it, the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough,” — which, we all know that feeling: “I’m not blank enough. I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough.” The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability. This idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.

There is no shame in allowing yourself to be seen, in seeking connection and community, in pursuing the unknown without guarantee of success, in things not working out. Rather, I’d say, there is great beauty in all of those things, and in life, nothing truly good comes without some risk. There is no shame in feeling. While you may have many feelings about your admissions decision, keep your heart and your mind open, and know that you are worthy and you are enough.

  1. If I had a dollar for every time my mother told me to lower my voice, I could probably retire early. back to text