這家一年前想都沒想過女兒會去的學校，奧克拉荷馬大學，的確在三月底我們登記後給女兒許多專屬優惠：五年學費全免，提早畢業的話可以挪到研究所用、四年每年五千五獎學金、五千特別給National Merit Scholars的獎學金、第一年住宿費四千二補助、兩千元買電腦或書本等各種雜費，以及兩千元海外留學費用。
「妳知道OU（University of Oklahoma，奧克拉荷馬大學的簡稱）的mascots（吉祥物）是兩批馬喔！叫做Boomer and Sooner。」吉祥物在台灣的大學好像沒有吧？剛來美國時根本不認識這個字，對我這種不懂球類運動的宅女來說，球類比賽前，穿動物裝出場的表演有啥稀奇呢？
「為了提升排名，OU是公立學校裡面收最多 National Merit Scholars的喔！每年都有將近兩百人！」
「我不能去，我得去NIH（National Institute of Health）打工。」
「那沒關係，可以優先電話註冊，妳什麼時候有空呢？」原來，National Merit Scholars選課有優先權，甚至可以在老生和研究生之前選課，確定想上的課絕對不會額滿，而且還有專門的老師在電話裡諮詢任何選課問題，六月初就能選好課。
「嗯，好吧，妳可以看。」哈！我就知道這女兒拿我沒轍！只要一點點人情攻勢，或者說多問一次，就能讓她投降。那時才四月初，剛被長春藤盟校拒絕的時候，Johns Hopkins和Washington University in St. Louis給她備取，女兒這封信給的是Washington University in St. Louis，凱的母校，那所凱口中多好多好、多美的學校。憑良心說，雖然是繼父，但兩個女兒都很看重凱的意見，比我說的還有影響力，她們壓根就看不上我的母校，University of Texas at Austin，說那是給德州佬念的！
凱看信的速度比我快多了，只見他低頭看完信，抬頭問我“Since when can she write?”
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I know you receive thousands of formulaic letters from wait-listed applicants so I will spare you yet another one and simply tell you why I want to go to Washington University in St. Louis.
My stepfather went there.
When my sister and I were little he regaled us with tales of Wash U., about how rigorous the classes were, how intelligent the other students were, how beautiful the campus was, and on and on. He always told me how I would fit in perfectly with all the other slightly geeky students. Listening eagerly, I drank up all his stories and vowed to myself that I would go to Wash U. someday too.
When I was in middle school, I wanted to become a lawyer just like him. He is funny and smart, driven and determined, ambitious and hardworking; in short, the best role model I could have asked for. As I grew up, I was drawn toward science and away from law, but the motivation to learn and work hard remained. Because of him, while still in middle school, I studied geography for the county geography bee (I won), and spelling for the National Spelling Bee (I did not make it past the semifinals). In high school I studied Spanish on my own with his help and skipped two years of classes (I scored 5 on the AP exam), and, most recently, began studying German outside of school because of the abundance of scientific articles written in German (this is still a work in progress). His own drive is evident in everything he has done, from working his way through law school to repairing our house on the weekends after working grueling overtime hours at his law office to finding time to watch movies and laugh with us no matter how busy he is.
He does all of this while undergoing treatment for Stage IV cancer.
He has been battling the disease for four years and has not once given up. No matter how much his back pains him or how tired and drained he feels from taking four different medications a day, he always finds time to crack jokes, complain about constantly driving me places, toil on our infinitely problematic house, and quiz me on German verb conjugations.
I am not the best writer. I am not an athlete. I will never become a concert pianist or play the flute in a symphony orchestra. I am most definitely not the next Picasso. I am shy and tend to clam up in interviews. I have the worst handwriting of any girl in my class, and I cannot drive a car to save my life. I am impatient and impulsive and talk too fast and fidget and laugh too loud and too often and have much too short of a fuse. Even if you accept me, not only will my family be unable to make big donations, I will need substantial financial aid.
But I am strong like him. I will never give up. Because I am driven and determined and passionate and talented and hardworking and ambitious, I will try and try and try again. I am Thomas Edison sifting through thousands of materials to find the perfect light bulb filament. I will throw myself against the iron door until it breaks because I will not shatter before it does. Wherever I go, I know I will bring this fiery passion, this stony determination to bear. I want to set the world on fire. I want to make sure everybody knows my name.
Before you toss my letter in the trash can with the thousands of other wait-list letters, I want you to see me. See me not just as a walking assortment of grades and test scores, extracurricular activities and predictable essays, but as a unique person who very much wants to study biology at Wash U.
Whatever happens, I have no one to blame but myself. Maybe this letter is crazy, the outstretched arm of a dying soldier bleeding from a bullet to the gut. Maybe this letter will not influence you at all; maybe it will merely prove why I should not be admitted.
But I have to try.