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Life in Harvard University – Dublin High School’s Grace Li Takes a Passion for Writing to the Ivy League

February 23, 2016
Credit to Cynthia Guo

Photo credit: Cynthia Guo

CAMBRIDGE, MA–The next entry in’s popular Life in College Series puts the spotlight on contributor, and Dublin High School Class of 2015 graduate Grace Li. We recently caught up with Grace to ask her about her experiences at Harvard University (including serving as an Arts Editor for the Harvard Crimson) since graduating from Dublin High School. You have chosen to pursue a degree in English Language and Literature at Harvard University. What sparked an interest in writing?

Grace Li: “It’s hard to pinpoint a start because I don’t think there was one. It was more of a gradual realization—I’ve always loved make-believe and reading and writing silly poems and short stories. Then in high school I started taking this affinity for writing more seriously. I was lucky enough to attend summer creative writing programs that solidified my intent to major in English and study fiction in college. My creative writing teacher at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, Naomi Jackson (check out her novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill! It’ll make you cry in a good way), taught me a lot about characterization, which helped me understand why I enjoyed writing so much. I love finding interesting characters to break down and build up. There’s so much to learn from them.” How did you end up choosing Harvard?

Red BrickLi: “I was deciding between Harvard and Stanford at the time, and I think had three main reasons that made me choose the first:

  1. I needed to experience a life outside of the Bay Area. California is home, but I didn’t want safety. I wanted excitement—something new.
  2. If I could describe the general “feeling” I got from researching and visiting both schools in a few words, it would be “liberal arts education” for Harvard, and “entrepreneurial spirit” for Stanford. I preferred the former.
  3. I love red brick. I think Harvard’s campus is beautiful.” Of all the experiences at Harvard you’ve had so far, what’s been the most unexpected?

Li: “I wasn’t expecting to find my best friend here within the first few weeks. More importantly, I wasn’t expecting him to come from our rival high school, Dougherty Valley. We’re incredibly different (he’s a computer science/math guy, I’m purely arts/humanities, he went to the clearly inferior high school, etc…) but it doesn’t matter. College is filled with people with diverse interests and talents, which makes it so exciting.” You’ve already landed a writing position at the Harvard Crimson, as an Arts Editor; what role do you believe college newspapers should play in a school’s community and beyond?

Li: “Newspapers are meant to inform the public. College newspapers do that, just with a more specific audience.” You are now three time zones east of your friends and family. How has the adjustment been, living so far away from home?

Li: “It’s been harder than I expected. I never thought that I was the homesick type, but I’m counting down the weeks to Spring Break when I can fly back to California and enjoy all the things that make Dublin, home (basically lots of T4 runs). I still keep in touch with a few really good friends from high school, thanks to Skype, Facebook, and the occasional postcard here and there.” Have you had any time to pursue any activities outside the classroom?

Postcard from a DHS friend at PennLi: “Yes! I’m currently an Arts writer for our daily newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. I love writing for Crimson Arts. One moment I’ll be writing a blog piece about a cat app, Neko Atsume. The next I’ll be doing an interview with a former New Yorker cover artist. There are so many different types of articles to write—reviews, features, satirical music video breakdowns. And through the process I get to improve my writing skills by working with experienced executives on the board.

“In addition to Crimson, I design layout for a campus literary arts publication, Tuesday Magazine. I’m also comping for Harvard’s Small Claims Advisory Service (SCAS), in which undergraduate students help individuals navigate the small claims court system in Massachusetts.

“‘Comping’ is a semester long process in which potential club members are trained or tested to join an organization. For example, SCAS teaches compers about the law so they’re prepared to help clients as real members. Every organization is different in terms of the comp process, but the ones that I’ve encountered so far have comps that focus on training compers, rather than weeding them out.” How well prepared have you felt so far for college? Did AP courses play a valuable role at Dublin High School in preparing you for college? Are there any Dublin High teachers you’d particularly like to thank, and why?

Li: “College forces you to work independently. While we receive a lot of support from the teaching fellows and professors, it’s up to the student to take the initiative in going to office hours and asking for help. Only a few assignments end up being put into your final grades, so you have to make each one count. In high school, I typically worked on essays on my own. But here, I only feel comfortable turning in a final draft if I’ve discussed ideas and outlines with my TFs beforehand.

“In addition to papers, I also I have several hundred pages of reading to complete each week. And for sections—which are sort of like Socratic seminars—I need to prepare questions and thoughts beforehand so I can actually contribute to the discussion. I can’t really ‘wing’ things here.

“That being said, I think that because my high school schedule was piled high with APs, I adjusted to the intensity pretty quickly. 10th grade Advanced English and AP Language & Composition in particular helped me grow immensely as an academic writer, and I will always be grateful to Ms. Vallejo and Mrs. MacDonald for the constructive criticism I got from their classes.

“I’d also like to thank Ms. Sundstrom for teaching us the importance of time management, and Mr. Aminian and Ms. Johnson for the incredible support they’ve given to me throughout high school. In all honesty, every teacher I’ve had at Dublin High School is amazing. I could list all of them and reasons why they’re great if you wanted me to.” Have you adjusted to east coast winters yet?

Li: “Definitely not. Just the other day I was visiting the West End Museum with my Expository Writing class. We had to trudge through the snow to get there, and I was freezing. Someone looked over at me, asked what was wrong, looked at my feet, and went, ‘Oh my god. You’re not wearing [snow] boots.’ And that pretty much sums up my winter experience so far.” Are you a Red Sox fan now? More broadly, how does Boston culture differ from the Bay Area?

Boston Public GardenLi: “I still don’t know anything about baseball (whoops) and I don’t know if I can comment on Boston culture since the city is really diverse, but I’ve realized that Harvard’s location really lets you take advantage of everything Boston has to offer. The Boston Public Garden is only a short train ride away, and there are so many places to get to by walking from there. I can go to the top of Prudential Tower to see the entire city (it’s beautiful at night) or go out for late night chocolate fondue. I can get dim sum at Chinatown or watch the Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. I can stroll down Newbury Street and grab a Georgetown cupcake.

“Or, if I don’t want to travel too far for sweets, I can just stay on campus in the city of Cambridge. There are so many great dessert places, from Zinneken’s (‘Belgian waffles made by actual Belgians’) to Insomnia Cookies (open until 4am for those really desperate nights).” What advice do you have for seniors who will be graduating from high school and then heading off to college in just a few months?

Li: “My best friend always says ‘Ds get degrees.’ While this is definitely not true, I think the spirit of the saying is definitely something second-semester seniors should keep in mind. Your last few months of high school should be about making the most of your time—doing what’s important to you. Whether it’s spending quality time with your friends and family or taking up a new hobby, you should do what makes you happy. Don’t stress too much about school.

“But please don’t aim for Ds. Your teachers (and parents) will be really upset.”

Dublin High School Junior Grace LiAt the Dublin High School 2015 Senior Awards Night Grace Li was awarded the Silver Key Scholastic Art & Writing Award and a National Merit Letter of Commendation, earned a Gael Scholar and President’s Gold Award for Education Excellence, and earned Dublin High School’s Advanced Scholar Diploma.

Other articles in the Life in College series:


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