Harvard University Office of Undergraduate Admissions February 18, 2006
Dear Sir or Madam:
Imagine my joy upon learning that your office is "happy to read helpful letters from people directly familiar with applicants' lives outside the classroom." I've been in Turin for more than a week and I've become directly familiar with American speedskater Joey Cheek. Perhaps the name rings a bell.
About three hours ago, Cheek won a silver medal in the men's 1,000-meter long track event at the Oval Lingotto. It was a glorious race. The arena was electric. A Dutch band played a funky version of Volare and the stands were filled with a melange of nations: Orange-clad speedskating fans from Holland cheered on Jan Bos and Erben Wennemars. The Yanks were there, too, cheering heartily for Joey, Casey FitzRandolph and Shani Davis. Joey just missed out on winning the gold. He was gracious as a silver medalist. He congratulated Davis and skated around the ice, waving to the fans in the crowd.
I'm not sure how many Olympic medalists are skating around Harvard Yard these days, but I can assure you Joey has spent his time in Turin very productively. Last Monday he won the gold medal in the 500-meter long-track event. He entered the race as the defending world sprint champion but had to topple the world record holder at the distance, Japan's Joji Kato. He was the only skater to break 35 seconds in both parts of the race and finished with a combined time of 69.76 seconds. He grabbed a flag, and tears flowed down his face.
Of course, all of this happened in Turin, two months after your office rejected his early-decision application. Yesterday I spoke with his mother, Chris, just to confirm the facts. On Dec. 12, Harvard University e-mailed Joey to let him know that his application had been denied. "He was so disappointed," Chris Cheek said. "He said, 'Mom, they rejected me.' That was his dream."
Like a speedskating race, I'm sure it was close. Your office, according to Chris Cheek, said there were some reservations since Joey had been out of school for 10 years. She said you called him a perfect transfer student down the road. Joey called you a couple of times, but the decision stood.
There's no easy way to put this: You screwed up. Big time.
It's OK. It happens. (Yes, it even happens to Harvard people.)
A little background: Joey graduated from Dudley High in Greensboro, N.C., in 1997, but I can assure you he has used his time productively over the past nine years. He left his family at the age of 16 to move to Calgary to become a world-class speedskater. He won a bronze medal in the 1,000 at the Salt Lake Games and received a phone call for his efforts from President Bush (who, as you know, has a masters from the Harvard Business School).