As tens of thousands of high school seniors clamor to catch the eye of someone in Harvard University's admissions office, one La Cañada High School student is resting easily in the knowledge that she has already been accepted through the school's Early Action program.
Senior Dahlia Kaki, president of the LCHS Athletic Leadership Council and student representative on the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board, heard last month she'd been one of 992 applicants invited to attend Harvard in the fall. She received an email from Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons on Dec. 15 but had postponed opening it until after a school event to delay what she thought was certain rejection.
While walking across campus with friends, she read the email: Dear Ms. Kaki, Congratulations! I am delighted to inform you that the Committee on Admissions has admitted you to the Class of 2018 under the Early Action program. I hope you will decide to join us at Harvard.
"I just lost it," she recalled. "Both of my friends were screaming. It was great."
Today, Kaki is carefully weighing her options and has not yet officially declared where she will attend. Although Harvard University is just one of the 11 schools to which she applied, she said she became captivated by it when she got a chance to see campus life firsthand during a visit last spring.
"It was a beautiful campus, and the atmosphere was something I really felt in tune with," Kaki said. "Students are there because they want to be there, they want to learn, and not just for the requirements. That's something I really admire."
Acceptance into the prestigious school is no small feat. According to Harvard statistics, some 35,000 students apply for 1,660 admission slots. That's why, despite her many accomplishments — a 4.8 GPA, JPL internship, volunteer work and fluency in three languages, among others — Kaki was surprised she'd made the cut.
Others in the LCHS community, however, are less surprised. Bill Lively, who teaches AP European history and advises the Associated Student Body, wrote a recommendation letter for Kaki.
"Though she would most likely disagree with me due to an innate sense of humility, Dahlia is quite frankly the best role model that we have at La Cañada High School," he said. "Not only did she challenge me to become a better teacher, but she inspired me as well through her unwavering motivation to achieve greatness."
Although Kaki does not yet have plans to pursue a particular path in college, she hopes to connect her penchant for science with her sincere desire to help others on a global scale. LCHS Principal Ian McFeat said he has no doubt of her capability to do just that, wherever her path may lead.
"Dahlia is willing to go above and beyond for others, to think about the perspective of others, and to act in benefit to the world around her," McFeat said in an email interview. "I think she has both the academic drive and the personal countenance so necessary to make change in the world — Dahlia truly is the change she wants to see in the world."
Kaki will travel to Cambridge, Mass., in April to attend Harvard's Visitas, a weekend-long orientation for admitted students. Until then, she offers this advice for students who may have similar Ivy League dreams.
"Start early, but don't stress out," she suggested. "And I definitely would recommend anybody who believes they're qualified to apply do so, because I applied thinking I wouldn't get in, and here I am. So don't be afraid to apply."
SARA CARDINE is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org