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Part I: From Bobcat to Lion

Previously Published Jun 2. 2021

Previously Published Jun 2. 2021

What I remember before December 15th, 2020: I struggled with counting when I was younger, and this might have shaped my inability to do math.

What I remember after December 15th, 2020: I was a bobcat once; I am a lion now.

What I remember about December 15, 2020: Banners are the impetus of the best pep talks.


“You have a string of colorful banners behind you. Can you tell me how many there are?” Dr. Gerges gestured to the wreaths of coral, aqua, and silver streamers hung above my bed. I was the last person on the AP Calculus BC Zoom on what would have been a typical Tuesday, and though Dr. Gerges had just finished illustrating the intricate dance woven into Euler’s Method, it was this simple math question with which he was quizzing me. 

“I— I don’t know. I never counted. Twelve, maybe?”

“This is exactly what I mean. You do not know the number of banners that have been in your room every day. How will you know if this college is the one?”

I opened my mouth to interject but reluctantly clamped it shut. He was right. I didn’t.

“So whether you get in or not, you will not know what is out there for you until you get there.” 

I nodded grimly, thanked Dr. Gerges, and packed my things, readying myself for my one-way trip to the gallows.



I had stopped counting the number of execution hyperboles about ten panic attacks ago; even my best friend, who stood in my exact place two years prior, was starting to sigh in exasperation. 

Next to me, the box of tissues she retrieved from the living room rippled against the wind; I fisted the first three and crushed them in my clammy palms. I looked up at my screen and cursed silently. 4:07 PM. 

The temperature must have dropped ten degrees; my thick wool coat and earmuffs were no longer enough to prevent violent shivers from breaking across my chest. Wordlessly, my best friend reached for my hand, squeezed it warmly.

“I think I’m ready now.” I paused. “Might as well get it over with. I mean, there’s no way I’m getting in, so ripping off the band-aid now would be best, right?” It was clear I was stalling.

“Look, you’ll be fine. But whenever you’re ready. I’m here for you.” She squeezed my hand again, and I imagined my colored streamers and Dr. Gerges and how tomorrow, my friends would be there to erupt my phone with pink heart emojis, no matter what happened on the other side. There, I decided two things: 1) I had already won at life. 2) It was time. 


Drowned in a sea of Pantone 292, my portal’s siren lullaby beckoned; I swore it was mocking me. I logged in. I waited for the page to load. I dug my nails into my skin. I squeezed my friend’s hand harder. 

The inevitable: “Status Update: An update to your application was last posted December 15, 2020.”

I clicked the bait. Then the screen turned pitch black. 

The next thing I remember: metallic hammering, the symphony of fingers jamming into the mousepad. 

“What are you doing?” I screamed.

“I think you got in!” My best friend was now pecking at my mousepad at an Olympic pace, matching my escalating heart rate. On cue, my fingers curled around my tissue, digging its feathery sheets into my palm. I could almost feel my muscles audibly tense. 


Even months later, when I tried to recount the narrative to my friends over a Zoom meeting with close to perfect accuracy, I cannot quite reconstruct the thrum of electricity wiring through my veins when my screen parted its black curtain into the New York City skyline. Or the way the hymn of “ROAR LION ROAR” dyed my blood Pantone 292. Later, my lips would curl in triumph, but at the moment, I screamed and squealed until the pigeons fled from their perch on the telephone pole. 


“C-Can you read what it says?” My best friend pulls the laptop closer.

“Dear Serrina: Congratulations! Dean James J. Valentini and the members of the Committee on Admissions join me in the most rewarding part of my job—informing you that you have been admitted to the Columbia College class of 2025!” Her breath catches, wisps of white-hot air escaping into a cloudless sky. 

“Does that mean…?”

“Yes, it means…”


“No. Not just that. YOU’RE GOING TO COLUMBIA!” Her hands clasped mine again. I thought about my first Fourth of July and the fireworks that ricocheted out of the mouth of the sky because soon enough, like those fireworks, my messages pinged, one after the other until I had fifty-five unanswered messages in my inbox and iMessage. 


I laughed in disbelief. I watched the Columbia acceptance video 123 more times. For the rest of the night, I stuffed myself full with pad thai, wonton soup, fried rice, and an atrociously inappropriate amount of Philz hot chocolate. I fell asleep dreaming of lions and Spongebob (because my Stanford friends eventually tired of watching the video with me, so we set our sights on debunking the hidden innuendos in Spongebob).

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Serrina Zou, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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