101: Life As an Undocumented Student at Harvard



Normally on the podcast I’ll be interviewing admissions professionals, but I wanted to begin with a student named Daishi Tanaka for a few reasons:

He is an inspiring human being with an incredible story, as you’ll hear on this podcast.

He happens to be undocumented, and under the new administration a lot of questions have come up for students and parents and even teachers/counselors--big things like What’s changing in general? To more specifics like “Should students reveal themselves as undocumented in their personal statements?” I wanted to interview Daishi to get his perspective on this, since he’s on the front lines of this debate. And just, on a human level,

I wanted to find out from Daishi what it’s like living as an undocumented college student under a Trump administration while attending Harvard University.

Quick side note: there are many wonderful colleges out there (Harvard is just one of them) and one of my goals with this podcast is to introduce you to some of the non-Ivy-League schools, but, I elected to kick off the podcast with Daishi and, well, he happens to attend Harvard.  

This is also a special episode because it’s in two parts. In the next episode I interview Dr. Aliza Gilbert, a 2017 Counselors that Change Lives recipient whose dissertation examined how high schools influence an undocumented student’s college search--she also discusses how counselors and teachers can advocate for undocumented students, so be sure to check that out.

But in this episode--the one you’re about to hear--we discuss:

What a typical day is like for a Harvard student

What it might mean for him and 700,000+ other undocumented students if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy is repealed

What Daishi wrote his college essay about and why

What he felt like he really nailed in the college application process

How he stays calm/centered


What the show’s about [0:57]
One thing that makes Daishi amazing [3:05]
What a typical day at Harvard is like, including how the food is [4:05]
The class Daishi feels lucky to take [8:20]
Whether Harvard was easier or harder than he thought it was going to be [9:15]
What surprised Daishi about college life [10:25]
What helped Daishi most in his transition to college [11:45]
What it’s like being an undocumented student at Harvard [13:15]
How things have changed for him since the election [17:30]
When and how he began to embrace his undocumented status [19:15]
What happens to him and 700,000+ other undocumented students if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy is repealed [23:40]
What election night was like for Daishi and the members of his organization, Act on a Dream [26:05]
What makes Daishi so brave [28:20]
Daishi shares the personal statement he submitted to Harvard [31:05]
The perfect line in the essay that explodes in my mind and takes it to the next level [35:11]
What it was like writing his essay and how many drafts he wrote [35:50]
When Daishi knew he was done with the essay [36:30]
Why he chose to open the essay with three repeated Japanese words and what resonated with me personally [37:23]
What it’s like looking back on the essay years later [39:24]
What Daishi felt he nailed in the application process and advice to students applying to college [40:27]
What was crucial for you in the college application process? [42:06]
The crazy thing he did in high school that led to a topic for his second essay[44:30]
Why he chose the topics he chose and why he chose to reveal his undocumented status in the essay [47:38]
Daishi’s advice to other undocumented students debating whether or not to reveal their status in their college essays [42:07]
What it was like the day he was accepted to Harvard [53:40]
When he began to feel he was woven into the fabric of Harvard history [56:49]
What the future looks like for Daishi [58:35]
The new role Daishi’s organization is playing on the Harvard campus since Trump’s election [60:35]
The advice Daishi would give to any student going through this process [1:02:57]
Show and tell [1:04:58]
Guided Meditation to the Most Relaxing Song Ever [1:05:00]