LATHROP – Megan Cai had a dream. From the time she was a little girl, she already had big dreams. But the most cherished one, which she pursued with single-minded determination, was to attend an Ivy League school.
Today, Cai’s dream has come true. Not only is she going to attend Cornell University, one of the most prestigious of the Ivy League institutions of learning. The university has offered her a full-ride scholarship of $250,000.
While she credits the loving support of her parents in helping her achieve her goals in life, “I worked towards my own goals and was never forced to by them. Getting into an Ivy League school was my dream alone, and I have achieved that dream!” said an understandably ecstatic Cai who graduated at the top of her class at Lathrop High School – she shared valedictorian honors with classmate Hargan Oerai at their graduation ceremony on Thursday.
She had originally set her heart on Harvard. It was one of the eight campuses she sent applications to for college admission – Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine in the University of California system, plus Cornell, Emory, Wesleyan, Grinnell, and Harvard – and received acceptance offers with “generous scholarships” from all of them – except Harvard.
But Cai was philosophical about that one rejection. “I never did visit the campus. However, I am sure that it was not the school for me after speaking with some alumni,” she said.
Cai is also very practical. She applied to the UC campuses and the other private schools “as my back-up plan should I be rejected from my Ivy League goal,” she explained.
“They are all excellent schools, and I wanted to be sure that I was going to a reputable university,” she added.
At the graduation ceremony when she shared the podium with friend and co-valedictorian Hargun Oberai to leave some nuggets of wisdom to their classmates, Cai summed up her message by saying that “the end of high school is just the beginning of the rest of our lives and we cannot treat it like the end, for it is the moment our lives begin.”
For Cai, that beginning of the next chapter of her young life will be more years of serious studies in college. Just as she has set her mind and heart on going to an Ivy League university, her dream at this stage is to become an attorney. “I want to help shape the policies that govern our country and help to improve society as well through the field of government,” she said, outlining the reasons behind her choice of a profession.
A creative writer whose stories and columns have been published in the Manteca Bulletin starting when she was a freshman, Cai has also talked about pursuing being a journalist and a lawyer at the same time.
As for her role models growing up, Cai did not have to think long and hard, or look far and wide to give her honest answer.
“My mother influenced me the most, and my father did as well. My parents never forced me to achieve or do school work, but were completely supportive of whatever I chose to do with my life. I think having their great support for my dreams and the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be made me far more ambitious than those who are forced onto a path by their parents,” she said.
As to the highlights of her four years at Lathrop High, there is only one that stands high above the rest, one that proved to be a life-changing experience for her in more ways than one. It began with a very innocent question that she asked her mother, Angela, one day whether their family is related to anybody who is famous.
As it turned out, they did have a relative who was more famous than Cai ever imagined. Armed with just the name of that relative, Cai did practically all of the research work herself using both online resources, telephone calls to people and institutions in China, and letters. Her hard work and extreme patience were rewarded when she eventually found out that her family was related to one of China’s most illustrious filmmakers and internationally renowned film directors, Cai Chusheng, who happened to be Angela’s uncle. Cai Chuseng was the brother of Angela’s late father, Cai Lusheng, a former editor of a daily newspaper in Hong Kong before he and his family moved to San Jose in the United States.
Two years ago, Cai and her mother traveled to Beijing and other regions of the communist country to get acquainted with relatives they have never met and to visit the museum and other places of honor dedicated to their famous relative.
“Visiting China and meeting my long-lost relatives for the first time – that was the most life-changing experience for me,” Cai said.
So life-changing that after this momentous meeting with their relatives half-way around the globe, they changed their last name from Chu to Cai.
This summer before making the big step of moving to Cornell for the beginning of her college studies, Megan Cai will be spending time with a friend from Mexico who is coming for a short visit. As it happens, this friend from Mexico is someone whom she met in China. The significance of that connection was not lost on Cai.
“I think it’s rather cool to be able to make a friend halfway across the world and still be able to meet them back home after such a long time,” she commented.