Penny Chen ’23 Shares Essay at Cum Laude Society Induction

As part of the Cum Laude Society induction process, each student candidate shared one of their Common App essays for review by the Cum Laude faculty members. The faculty selected seven essays to be shared at a special luncheon held for the student candidates. The students then selected Penny Chen ’23 and Ali Oak ’23 to share their essays with the Upper School student body during the ceremony. Please enjoy Chen’s essay, below.

I’m always late. I was late to my own birth, and I’ve been late ever since. The only predictable thing about my unpredictable arrival is that it won’t be at the planned time. Be at soccer practice 15 minutes early? I get there only seven minutes early. Schedule a meeting with my college counselor for 12:30? I end up walking in at 12:32. Plan to hang out with my friends? They inevitably get the text: “I’ll be a few minutes late.”

Time is a funny little thing. Or is it seriously infinitely large? It’s relative, after all: ticking away slowly during lengthy lectures, stressful presentations, or exhausting soccer practices but flying during laughter-filled hangouts with friends, before robotics competitions when our robot is barely functional, or right before tech week when we have an incomplete set. Time is precious; tiny pockets of it will just slip through your fingers without your noticing, and it’s the only thing you can’t get back.

So, I fill my time: studying, practicing the piano, reading, helping my parents, doing chores. Sometimes up to the point where I no longer have time. There’s always something to do. But when the moment to leave arrives, one minute is spent grabbing all my stuff, one putting on shoes, one getting into the car, and next thing I know, I’m going to be five minutes late.

I started learning from my tendencies. I’d tell my parents we needed to leave five minutes earlier than the travel time Google Maps provided. Suddenly I was arriving on time; I mean, barely, but technically I arrived on time.


Everything changed when I got my license. Suddenly, getting to places on time rested entirely on my shoulders; I had to plan, especially for unpredictable traffic or obstacles.

But it wasn’t just about arriving at places on time. Learning to drive taught me to take control of my life as a whole. I became more independent, learning to manage myself and my activities and maximize my time, especially as my life became busier with more and more extracurriculars and other activities. I learned to prioritize my work and events, filling my trash can with multi-colored crumpled-up Sticky Notes crammed with neat yet messy to-do lists. I learned to be efficient and stopped wasting time on perfecting the unnecessary (like my handwriting—it was a bad problem: I’d erase whole sentences just to make my writing perfect or take an extremely large amount of time to write a small number of words). I’m still learning how to balance life and live it to the fullest: understanding when I have time to hang out with my friends and do fun activities while keeping my studies up and working toward my life goals.

I’m still late. But not all the time. I’ve made a habit of building in at least ten extra minutes to my travel time: five for actually getting on the road and five for the inevitable traffic. But as long as I’m driving, I know that everything will be okay because I’m in control of myself and everything I do. I might be late, but I’m on the way.