18-year-old Liangyu began her summer rejoicing, along with her dad (Che) and mom (Chen). Her year of exhausting study as a senior in high school was finally over. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school, and was expecting to be the first to attend college in the Fall.
In celebration of her upcoming freshman year, her mom bought her a smartphone so she’d fit right in with all her new college classmates. This gift is common in China as a high school graduation gift, usually because the senior year of study is so intense that some secondary school teachers and administrators ban phones from use. No phones in the classroom, in backpacks, on your person or even on the school grounds are allowed.
“Concentrate only on doing well in your studies,” is the stern, strict message reiterated again and again.
I remember one of my teenage friends who told me that, at his school, the punishment for seniors having a phone was to confiscate it until the end of the year. Much to his dismay, and some of his classmates, they’d snuck in their phones and were caught. He was forced to give up 6 months of texting, chatting and virtual game-playing until he finally graduated.
Despite the unpleasantness of doing without his much-beloved communication device, he actually felt himself lucky. One teacher had a devastating solution for a second-time offender. The teacher found a student with a second smartphone, an upgraded new one he’d purchased when the old was confiscated. The teacher angrily snatched the phone away, threw it onto the floor and stomped on it!
Needless to say, that pretty much put the kibosh on anyone else’s ideas of breaking the cellphone rules in school.
Sometimes the off-to-college reward is a computer, but for a majority of students, it’s a new phone that accompanies them on their higher education journey.
And so it was with Liangyu, whose August departure as a college freshman was right at her fingertips. . . . or so we all thought.
The Background Story
I’ve actually told this story before in a previous post but let me just give you the shortened version.
My relationship with Liangyu and her parents, farmers in the countryside, began in 2016. “Snow” Xue, a junior high school English teacher, invited me to visit Che and Chen on what she called “an adventurous Saturday outing.”
After 3-hours travel via bus, ferry and foot, we arrived at a typical Chinese farmhouse, nestled amid lush, green rice fields.
Che and Chen greeted us at their doorway. We enjoyed a home-cooked meal, heard stories of their difficult life, and were led to visit nearby neighbors, many of whom asked about their daughter. Without a secondary school nearby, the two had sent 13-year-old Liangyu to Luzhou to study but the cost of room and board, book and activity fee, and other expenses were too much of a burden. Che wanted her to stay at home and help her mother on the farm. Chen wanted her to be educated. That’s where Snow and I stepped in. We offered assistance, with a promise to supplement her education with what the parents couldn’t afford.
Five Years Later . . .
After 5 years of financial help from Snow, myself and a few in America, Liangyu joined her classmates on June 7 to take the nerve-racking 2-day gaokao, the college entrance exam. This standardized, national test is necessary for all wishing to go on to higher education. Liangyu’s score, 517 out of 750, placed her at the lower end for university enrollment.
” Have you decided what you want to study?” I texted Liangyu in July, after her results were known.
“Yes! I want to be a Chinese or English teacher, like you and Teacher Xue. My mom says I can also try to be a doctor. I will decide by the schools that choose me.”
“What schools have you applied to?”
“There are 9,” Liangyu replied. “Here are my choices.”
With that, she sent me the link to her 9 choices. They popped up on my phone with each university giving the number of freshmen that are accepted into a chosen program, the entrance exam score required, and the difficulty of the course of study chosen: Low, average and difficult.
Here were her choices with her intended study hopes, all second-tier universities.
Sichuan Nationalities College in Kanding (Chinese major); North Sichuan Medical College in Nantong (English major); Sichuan Tourism College in Chengdu (Business English major); Panzhihua College in Panzhihua, Sichuan Province (Chinese language and literature major); Anqing Normal University in Anqing, Anhui Province (Chinese language and literature major); Qufu Normal University in Rhizao, Shandong Province (Chinese language and literature major); Hunan agricultural University in Changsha, Hunan Province (English major); Yunnan Agricultural University in Kunming, Yunnan Province (Business English major); Shanghai Normal College in Shangrao, Jiangxi Province ( English translation major)
All of the above were within her scores, with some listed slightly higher than her 517 but she felt confident she was close enough.
Sad to say, the competition must have been quite fierce. None of her 9 accepted her.
Choices Few; A Determined Decision Made
It goes without saying Liangyu was devastated. For several weeks, she didn’t have the heart to tell me what had transpired. I can imagine her giving a good sob into her mother’s arms and feeling inconsolable. She must have felt she let down so many: Her teachers, her parents, Teacher Xue, those of us in America who have seen her through with financial help, herself . . . .
Two options remained: give up her college dream and join her parents on the farm or repeat her senior year of high school, with the hope that her 2022 gaokao score would be higher.
Liangyu’s determination won out. She chose the latter.
It will be another year of grueling high school study: 7-days-a-week, morning to late-night classes, for a full year but she’ll have the continued encouragement and support from those of us who care. She’ll also have the benefit of studying at a higher level school. She has enrolled in Luxian No. 2 High School, the second best school in Luzhou city. This should give her a better chance of reaching her desired entrance exam scores next year.
Despite this heartbreaking setback, Liangyu, we are very proud of you for continuing onward.
As we say in Chinese: 加油! 加油! (Jia-you, Jia-you!) You go for it!!