It feels like just yesterday I was holding my little sister’s hand as we prepared to cross a busy street. Despite being only four years older than her, she was about half my height, even with her little ponytail at the top of her head.
Now, she’s a senior in high school, writing her college application essays and studying for AP classes. In the blink of an eye, she’s become a big girl capable of not only crossing the street by herself but also of preparing for her future.
Let’s get one thing straight, though. I’m still a head taller than her.
As my sister begins to navigate the adult world and stress about what universities she should apply to, it’s my responsibility as her big sister to guide her through the process. So I’ve been helping her with financial aid applications, editing her essays and helping her decide what majors she would be interested in.
But there’s one thing that keeps holding her back from pursuing what she believes is best for her: our grandmother.
When I tell my sister to apply to schools outside of California, she replies, “You think Grandma would let me?”
When I tell her to select a major that she wants, she says, “That’s not up to me.”
My sister’s responses triggered a memory of my own college selection process.
For the most part, my family left me alone during the application process. I was free to apply to the colleges of my choice, and I was told that where I choose to go is entirely my choice. Yet, when I was accepted into Lehigh as an Early Decision recipient, and I announced that this was my final decision, my grandmother completely lost it.
She screamed at me for being selfish and going to a random no-name school on the other side of the country when I had so many better options within California, close to home. When I told her I had to withdraw the rest of my applications, she accused me of being a coward running away from the results. That I was ashamed of the possibility of being rejected by the UC school my friends were accepted into.
Normally, I don’t put up a fight against her because I know my place, but somehow, I mustered up the courage to defend my decision and argue against her baseless accusations.
Eventually, the yelling ceased and my grandmother threw a tantrum, giving me the silent treatment for five months straight. She refused to eat anything for the first couple days and she ignored my existence, refusing to even look at me for the remainder of the five months. Initially, when my grandmother’s health was deteriorating, my aunt looked me dead in the eye and said, “You’re killing your grandmother, you know?”
Imagine being a teenager and having your own family member tell you that you’re actively killing your grandmother just because you want to go to a college that your family doesn’t want you to go to. I still think about her words to this day. Honestly, it was probably the worst time of my 21 years of life, but I stood my ground and now I’m here at Lehigh.
And as I watch my sister gather a list of colleges to apply to, I’m wondering if I made the right choice. Is there even a right choice?
As a senior, I can definitely say that my three years at Lehigh have exceeded my expectations. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve met supportive mentors and friends who have helped me navigate the college life. I managed to go abroad for the first time to three different countries and have them all fully funded.
If I had gone to a UC as my grandmother wanted me to, would I have been able to achieve the same things? Would I have been happy?
I don’t really know the answer to any of these questions, and I don’t know what the right choice will be for my sister when it comes to deciding what college she will go to next year. However, I also don’t think it matters so much.
I got off to a rough start to get to Lehigh’s campus, but now I’m thriving. It was quite the journey to get to where I am today, but I managed.
Wherever my sister decides to go, regardless of whether or not it’s the right choice, as long as she makes the most of her environment, I think she’ll be fine.