Alumni Personal Statement Spotlight: Emerson Tiwang, Princeton ’25

This week, PeerForward is shouting out Emerson Tiwang, a 2020-21 Peer Leader who started his freshman year at Princeton University last month. Emerson’s advice to this year’s Peer Leaders is, “I encourage them to embrace their story. Your story is powerful and it is what makes you unique.” Read on below to be inspired by Emerson’s story, as he shared it in his college application personal statement:

My world before the pandemic was a tenuous game of Jenga: school overlapped basketball, which overlapped church, and extracurriculars, and studying for APs, and finding a job, and finally the few hours of sleep I was trying to get. One wrong move and the whole tower that represented my life would come crashing down.

It was all becoming too overwhelming for me.

And then­­ the world stopped.

Although it was a fearful time for many, the pandemic brought something so unexpected and foreign, I was unsure of what to make of it: free time to do whatever my heart desired.

Spring break was just around the corner and contrary to society, in those first three weeks of quarantine, I was living the dream.

I sat back and binged How to Get Away with Murder while enjoying a handsome bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in excessive amounts of rainbow sprinkles, whipped cream, and–of course­–chocolate syrup. I flipped the pages of 1984 and The Intelligent Investor, relishing at how I no longer needed to set aside my desire to read the classics or improve my financial literacy. At last, I could rejuvenate and be present in the moment, something which I had not done since entering high school because I had been chained to my responsibilities, fearful that if I let go, even for a second, I would disappoint someone­–my teammates, my community, my family or even myself.

However, the joke was on me, in what seemed like a snap of a finger I was catapulted back into the hurricane I call my life. Somehow, amidst a pandemic, Hurricane Emerson managed to escalate from category three to category five. In a single day, my coach asked me to set up a FaceTime check-in for the team, my principal requested that I organize an impromptu meeting, my mom begged me to stand in a two-hour Costco Line for groceries, and Google Classroom alerted me about a programming project that required I study three chapters of the textbook just to complete twenty lines of code. In addition, as the oldest in the family, I was tending to my three elderly grandparents and helping my younger siblings navigate distance learning, knowing my own studies on the fundamental theorem of calculus awaited me.

Previously, when I found myself in such situations, my trusted method of checklists on my phone kept me afloat. But the method was no longer effective, each typed task only reminding me of everything I had to juggle without offering a solution. Instead, Hurricane Emerson only intensified.  Alas, all I could do was lay helplessly on the couch and stare at the popcorn ceiling, longing for the middle ground between the demands of my life and my newfound freedom. That’s when something poked me from between the cushions. It was my planner, gray and abandoned, its sight reminding me of a quote I heard on the Impact Theory podcast:

“There’s power in writing things down.”

And in that moment, I realized that maybe my planner was the solution. So I started to progressively write down and designate time for each and every task. From brushing my teeth and going to the store to working out and watching Power, I found that putting things down on paper provided the solace I desperately needed. I pumped my fist in triumph and let out a sigh of relief, marveling at how I was finally able to structure my life, effectively moving me into the eye of the storm. Although my planner cannot forecast the unexpected developments that may arise, it has been the key to not only navigating Hurricane Emerson but more importantly finding a harmonious balance between business and pleasure. The Emerson who plays basketball, serves his community, studies rigorously, reads for leisure, and binges Netflix can now blissfully coexist in the same world.

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