Over the next two years, Amy followed a typical path at our school. She worked hard, took advanced courses, earned good grades, and played soccer for the school and a club team. Whenever I saw her around campus, she was always smiling with her friends but never failed to stop and chat with me for a few minutes.
Around October of her junior year, I realized that I had not seen her or heard her laugh around campus, so I asked a colleague if he knew anything about where she was. He told me that she had decided to spend the year studying abroad in China, which made perfect sense to me.
Amy had had never been shy about talking about being born in China and adopted by an American family, and she had expressed curiosity about learning more where she had come from. So when she heard about the opportunity to travel, study, and explore China all at the same time, she jumped at it.
The rest of the year passed quickly, and the following August, I was delighted when I saw Amy's name on the roster for one of my classes. When we had a chance to catch up and chat, she eagerly told me about her experiences in China and how they had shaped her desire to study languages at Middlebury College. She said it was her dream school, and she asked me for help with her application essays.
For weeks, we met after school to sharpen her essay, and I advised her to take a risk in writing about being adopted and how her personal history led to her transformative year in China. The more we talked about her life and her goals, the more impressed I became with her. And, because I had taught and coached other students who had gone to Middlebury, I was certain that she would be accepted.
A little over a year later, Amy followed me on Instagram, so I followed her back. Through her colorful photos and intense black and whites, I learned of her travels to Abu Dhabi, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Japan, Singapore, Cyprus. She discovered and embraced her talent for photography, and with each picture she took, her portfolio and world view became more diverse and deep.
I also saw pictures of her in the royal purple uniform of her school's soccer team: official team photos, goofy selfies, action shots of her leaning into opponents and fighting for the ball, and one of her lifting the champion's trophy that came after she scored the winning goal in the Shanghai league final. It was the team she captained, and it was the team that earned a shoutout on the FIFA World Cup's Twitter Feed.
Amy recently graduated from NYU-Shanghai, and she has chosen to stay in her adopted city where she has just created her own company, Okra. Her goal with this company is to use her talents as an artist to create new relationships between Chinese companies and the rest of the world. Is it wise to start a new business during a global pandemic? Conventional wisdom would say probably not, but Amy's four years in Shanghai have taught her to take risks and to trust herself. They have taught her to be open to new experiences and to boldly jump at opportunities.
Amy recently told me that being rejected by Middlebury was probably the best thing that could have happened to her, and while it was painful, it was the catalyst that changed her life. I have a slightly different take on this event, however. I don’t think the rejection changed Amy; rather, I think it was the thing that pushed her to become a greater, more dynamic version of the incredible person she had always been.