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it’s only a matter of time by Alan Z. '23

a post for the deferred

This post has been rattling around my brain for a few weeks now, like a rock inside an empty tin can.01 And, now that the semester is over, that tin can truly is empty. For the accepted, I offer my congratulations, and a warm welcome to the MIT community. For the rejected, I offer my condolences, and the best of luck as you apply to other schools.

For the deferred, I offer the rest of this post.

Posts like this have been written before by bloggers of yore, and I encourage you to read them as well. Each of their stories is unique, and each provides its own comfort and advice. Here is another such story—hopefully, it, too, provides some solace.

I still remember December 15th, 2018 quite vividly. I was attending a debate tournament02 the fact that I was a debater will surprise exactly zero people about an hour away from home that day, and I was competing in two events: student congress and extemp.

Extemp is a speech event where competitors are given a choice of three current events topics03 these topics are split into domestic and international, but this is not important for the conversation at hand and thirty minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech on one of them, memorized, citing sources.

Decisions were to be posted at 12:15 PM Eastern. I drew my topics at 9:51 AM Mountain (11:51 Eastern), meaning that decisions would come out while I was preparing my speech. I told myself, over and over again, that I would not check decisions before I gave my speech. I would go in and talk about Imelda Marcos’ conviction in the Philippines and then I would walk out and accept my fate.

Needless to say, I caved. With six minutes of prep time left, I read my decision: “We have completed our Early Action review of your application and have chosen to defer it…” The reading voice in my head faded out, disappointment rapidly setting in. I refreshed the website a couple times to make sure it was real, and then left the room to run as much of my speech as I could before I gave it. I pushed through the speech, half-distracted, and then took a few beats to collect myself before going to my next debate round.

I gave only one speech in my last congress session. Afterwards, I found out that I hadn’t made it to finals in extemp, which felt like yet another blow to my confidence. I went and hid in a corner of the university building after this, and listened to “Connection” by OneRepublic on repeat, over and over again. I called a friend briefly, but I didn’t really have much to say, so I just sat there as waves of emotions swept around me.

I’ve been writing in a private blog daily since August 2018; my post from December 15th contains a lot of self-directed vitriol and a lot of post hoc reasoning about why I didn’t make it, neither of which were particularly healthy. But it also includes this passage:

“[Petey] has written in many different places that ‘this too shall pass.’ But it hasn’t yet, and that feeling traps me here, in this moment, in this blog. Right now, I’m surviving. I haven’t cried yet, but I kind of just need to pour myself out to someone or something.”

The point of this is to say that it is hard. Your feelings at the moment are probably multitudinous and contradictory—but they are valid. It is okay if you don’t feel okay at the present moment. But it gets better, and allowing yourself to accept that is important as well.

A deferral is not a rejection. I, through some miracle or another, ended up here at MIT. Waly’s here. CJ’s here. Instead, a deferral is a comma in the middle of longer phrase, a phrase that will see its end in March; as the cast of Hamilton sings in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”, “it’s only a matter of time,” a matter of waiting for that next decision.

As I ran away from December 15th, I washed out of the spiral of self-doubt as I applied to different schools. I poured myself out into words on a page, into private musings and other application essays. In the seemingly interminable chasm between January 1st and March 14th, I kept participating in my extracurricular activities—debate, science bowl, robotics, etc.—doing my best to savor the fleeting moments of high school with my friends in spite of the stress of waiting.

Some last words: Keep in touch with your friends. Don’t detach. It’s harder now to keep in touch with people and to stay involved over the internet, but that also makes it more important than ever. Remember to take care of yourself. And, always, always, always remember that, at the end of the day, you will end up becoming yourself.

Finally, inspired by the twins (who provide a very large and very good list of content to listen to and watch), some of the music I listened and sang along to in 2018 as a kind of catharsis:

and a special shoutout to this very specific cover of “Only Us” from Dear Evan Hansen which I found recently:

Like CJ, I’ll be reading and responding to comments for the next few days, if you would like to say something. I’m not very good at being comforting, but I promise that I’ll try.

  1. And, now that the semester is over, that tin can truly is empty. back to text
  2. the fact that I was a debater will surprise exactly zero people back to text
  3. these topics are split into domestic and international, but this is not important for the conversation at hand back to text