Yale sophomore who chose Yale over other Ivies opens up about his experience

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(Photo by Yehia Saleh)

Kwasi Enin ’18 had a big decision to make his senior year of high school. Like most high school seniors, he needed to decide where he would be going to college in the fall. Unlike most high school seniors, Enin had been accepted to all eight Ivy League schools.

Enin eventually chose to attend Yale, where he is now completing his sophomore year. Originally from Shirley, New York, a suburb on Long Island, he is majoring in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. An avid singer, he is also a member of the all-male a cappella group Society of Orpheus and Bacchus (SOBs), the Yale Glee Club, and the Yale Collegium Musicum.

YaleNews recently caught up with the busy sophomore to ask a few questions about his experience at Yale.

Why did you apply to all eight Ivies? How did you feel after learning about your acceptance to them all?

To be honest, it was because of the influence of my high school best friend’s mom. She is a Princeton alumna, and ever since the eighth grade, she continually told her son, Camara, and me that as smart young black men, we needed to make use of our minds and shape the world around us for the better. She demystified the thought of applying to impossible-to-reach colleges like the Ivies, and gave me the little bit of inspiration to keep them on my horizon as I went through high school. Eventually, at the end of the 11th grade my AP English Lit teacher, with whom I have a very close relationship, told me about the endless opportunities in both academic and social spheres that her second oldest daughter found after she attended the University of Pennsylvania. She convinced me that applying was worthwhile, especially because these colleges are also some of the most generous in terms of financial aid (a fundamental principle of these schools that often goes understated to bright students from underrated public high schools). So my parents found the time between 10th grade and the fall of senior year to tour all of these campuses, which were eye-opening and beautiful. I found reasons to love each school for its mission, spirit, and the lifestyle of its students.

I first received an early acceptance from Princeton in December (sorry, my fellow Yalies). It was kind of funny, but after all of my friends and family put the hilarious idea in my head that “Princeton is your safety school,” I realized I may not be as happy as I anticipated there and applied to the other schools in hope of an even better financial aid package and the different experience I could have. When the rest came in late-March, I was fairly shocked and excited, but didn’t think of my college acceptances in the crazy, “completed Ivy League circuit” that most of the media believed it to be. It was also a pretty sad time because I opened the acceptance letters with my then-girlfriend and she was not as lucky as I was that day.

You received a lot of media attention after getting into all eight schools. What was dealing with the media attention like?

I would not call myself someone who likes to live in the spotlight, yet it felt like my little story became the most discussed topic of my life for a solid month. I had only wanted my guidance counselor to know, but she wanted the principal to know, and she wanted the PR man at my school to know, and he thought it was absolutely necessary for the Washington Post to know. I will admit performing for David Letterman was the highlight of those 15 minutes of fame. But I really felt mischaracterized by many online articles and their commenters. I really hated the way my race was the biggest topic, and how people constantly chose to downplay my worth because of it. Realistically the attention I received was bittersweet.

With so many choices available to you, why did you choose Yale and how has your experience been like? Did it match your expectations?

I chose Yale for a lot of reasons. I don’t want to discount the merits of other prestigious institutions since most undergraduates tend to form a deep connection with their school. But at Yale, I felt appreciated; I really enjoyed the people I met during Bulldog Days [Yale’s annual admitted student event], and the music scene seemed perfect for me! I have just gotten through sophomore slump and felt some of the disillusionment that comes after the magic from freshman year wears off. Nevertheless, Yale is my home and I love it for all that it is and isn’t.

Did Bulldog Days affect your decision to come?

Bulldog Days (BDD) was probably the “funnest” three days I had experienced in my life at that point. It was definitely the largest motivating factor to choose Yale. I really loved meeting so many diverse individuals who were all in the same boat as me, but who had even more interesting life stories than I did. Actually, I had a group of about 10 friends, and we spent most of our time going to every possible BDD event and spent the night exploring campus for hours without end. We all were making hard decisions, yet amazingly, we all chose Yale and still hang out together. It just goes to show that you can make the best out of any situation and the kind of people who meet randomly at Yale can become really close people in your life.

What has been your favorite class? Favorite professor?

I believe my favorite class so far has been Music 334: “The Performance and Analysis of Early Music.” You get to sing early Gregorian chant music with the Yale Collegium Musicum and get graded for it. It’s spectacular. My favorite professor is probably Professor J. Antonio Templanza from my English 114 seminar, “A Republic of Science.” He really understood how to address my writing without tearing me down; his sass while explaining some of the most important philosophies that make up our modern understanding of truth and science was on point; and he even brought in blueberry cheesecake (my favorite) for the last day of class.

What is a typical day for you (if there is one)?

I would likely get up at about 10 a.m. I would get to Psychology 200: “Statistics” and enjoy an informative lecture with Professor Gregory R. Samanez Larkin, after he sets the mood with some Two Chainz or a funny recent Twitter fiasco. Then I would kill 15 minutes before strolling back into SSS 114 for a lecture on a novel thesis of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Professor Brigit Rasmussen for “Race and Gender in American Literature.” After that, I would eat in Commons with some friends from my all-male a cappella group, The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus, and some fellow Yale Glee Clubbers while blabbering either about a new riff someone landed on a solo or the adventures of the past weekend. I’d trek up Science Hill for “Microbiology,” go to a discussion section for “Organic Chemistry,” and finally take a short nap in my room in Ezra Stiles College. Later that evening, I would sing to the random guests scattered around Mory’s Temple Bar with SOB, finish a Mory’s Cup that someone so graciously offered to the group, and spend a little time at our house on Elm Street afterwards with everyone. Then I would likely come back to my suite and talk to my suitemates and old “frocomates” [students from the same freshman counselor group] about life before I do some homework before bed.

What extracurricular activities are you involved in? Which one has been the most meaningful?

Currently, I am involved with the Yale Glee Club, Collegium Musicum, and SOB. Outside of those groups, I have done two research projects at the School of Medicine: one in the Alzheimer’s Research Disease Unit and another on Long QT Syndrome and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I’ll also be working on an original project this summer in New Haven, after receiving a grant from Yale, on the localization of biomarkers in the intestinal-cell lineage of planarians — i.e., stem cell research on flatworms.

I think my involvement with my a cappella group has been the most meaningful to me. For all the successes, and occasional rejections, that Yalies experience, we are surprisingly bad at remembering to take care of ourselves and the people we hold dear. Yet, the 20 guys I laugh and sing with for about seven hours a week gave me what is likely my first and last niche within our macrocosm here in the heart of New Haven. Whether it is cruising up to the lesser school (oops) for the annual Game to tailgate with alumni, or singing for national television during our spring tour in Costa Rica, or even planning out the best way we can spend a week in Russia after classes end this semester, the SOBs remind me about the joy of living in the moment with people that matter. For that, I will always be thankful to them.

What’s one piece of advice you would give your freshman self? What about for the pre-frosh?

I probably would have told myself that under-committing is completely undervalued. It is so easy to want to do a million things at once. Yet being burned out after freshman year is a really sad way to start off Yale. Also, remember to look for study abroad programs around December. I spent the summer learning French and sitting by the Seine in Paris because I started my application to the L1-L2 program early: Don’t forget that they will be due around early February.

Specifically for the pre-frosh: Never stop asking questions. It really is the gateway to discovering how to get anything accomplished, and how to learn about people’s lives. There’s nothing better than rosy-cheeked pre-frosh with a golden glint in their eye asking you about your day while you’re dying inside because of impending finals, and you get to feel like the coolest person they know for 10 minutes. So do it: Ask away, and make memories!

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