Almost a year ago today, I opened my early decision acceptance e-mail.  I didn’t jump up, I didn’t scream, and I didn’t think about the amazing opportunity I was just given.  I was still in complete shock from the events of that day.  I was exhausted from crying and emotionally drained.  Last year I received my letter of acceptance on December 14th, a day that I will never be able to forget.

I woke up on the 14th before my alarm, too excited for that e-mail at 6pm. I don’t think I listened to a single thing that my teachers said in class; however, in my second period class, someone said they had heard there had been a shooting in Newtown, twenty minutes away. Walking to my next class I saw our school’s principal and vice principal hurry past, looking concerned and very grim. It wasn’t until Psychology, my last class of the day, that I learned the full extent of what had happened. I live in Woodbury, a town right next to Newtown, so the news that young children had been shot at Sandy Hook Elementary was shocking and unthinkable. I spent all 46 minutes of that class trying to hold back tears. I thought of all the young children I knew who went to Sandy Hook; I thought of my own little cousins suddenly being gone forever. I watched as my good friend cried uncontrollably in the seat next to me. Someone shouted out another CNN update from her phone—the attack had been in a classroom of first graders. Mr. Bunovsky continued to teach for about ten minutes until he broke down and couldn’t lecture through his tears. The sounds of his sobs filled the silent classroom, raw and terrifying. Seeing my teacher, a grown man, break down so completely was something I will never forget.

When the final bell rang, we filed out solemnly. Teachers and students alike lined the halls with tear-stained faces. No one was talking, nor were people hugging—we were numb. When we got home my brother and I sat down in the kitchen and turned on the news to a terrible cycle of the same stories, all centered on a tragedy still so fresh no one could fully grasp the story. Pictures that showed the grief of the survivors and the families of Newtown began to surface online. My Mom came home a few hours later from her office, where she had had no access to Internet or TV. My brother and I had to break the news to her: twenty first-graders had been shot. We had to tell her that Dawn Hochsprung, who had been our elementary school principal, was among those dead. My family hugged a lot that night. We cried a lot, too; my eyes never got a break from tears that day.

At that point, I don’t think I realized how big the Sandy Hook tragedy really was; I didn’t realize how the town in which I’d lived for much of my childhood, the school that I’d attended, and the place where most of my extended family still resides, would become infamous across the country.

By 5pm that evening, we couldn’t watch the news anymore and my parents tried to segue back to normal by cooking dinner.  My brother had disappeared to his room and I was trying to distract myself with mindless TV when I happened to glance at the clock. 5:57. At that point, I realized that I hadn’t thought about Johns Hopkins since 7th period. I felt so ashamed over my previous fears and stresses over the admissions decision. I had obsessed over opening a link while twenty families had to face the loss of a child and six others had to deal with missing loved ones. My acceptance was something over which I had absolutely no control and I suddenly realized how little sense it made to worry about something like it for so long. I had thought I lived in a safe community; I had thought my family and I were safe from any sort of danger, but after December 14th I realized how naive I had been. Life is fleeting. It is unpredictable, short, and so, so precious. Instead of stressing about college acceptances, I should have been treasuring the moments I’ve spent with my family. There are some things over which we have no control. We might live for a long time, but we might not.

A year later, I find that it’s so easy to become caught up in the “Hopkins Bubble” by obsessing over grades and stressing over trivial things.  Just thinking about December 14th, though, puts everything in perspective for me. I’m truly grateful for the close friends I have made here and for my family at home.

So this Friday, when early decision admissions come out, I hope everyone takes a step back and thinks about what is truly important in life. Yes, getting your admissions decision is a big deal, but what is truly important is appreciating those around you and the moments you spend with them.