Dream it, achieve it! – Harvard Prize Book Award for SJPS

The finalists from St Joseph’s Private School for the Harvard Prize Book 2020

   Harvard Prize Book Awards are awarded to outstanding students who not only display general excellence and high character as well as achievements in other fields to nearly 2,000 high schools around the world. This award has attracted the attention of many talented young students from around the world. Despite the many setbacks in the year 2020 with the pandemic and different stages of control orders, the Harvard Prize Book Program for the year 2020 is successfully concluded.

  On the 30th of January 2021, three St. Joseph’s Private Secondary School 2020 Form 5 batch students, Joelle Lim, Jaypheth Balang and Tan Ik Xuan went through an interview with a panel of Malaysian Harvard University alumni for the Harvard Prize Book Award.

   These students have been shortlisted from a pool of five highly competitive students based on their excellent record in the areas of academic distinctions, extra-curricular activities and communal works. During the graduation ceremony for the 2020 Form 5 batch, Tan Ik Xuan was named the recipient of the Harvard Prize Book Award for the Year 2020. For her, it was a dream come true and she still could not believe that she was actually chosen for the award! Let us read the sharing from the three top candidates and know that you can achieve your dreams if you put your heart and mind into it!

   Here are the shortlisted candidates and the prize recipient sharing their experiences:

   I first heard about the Harvard Prize Book Award (HPBA) when I was in Form 4, and my impression of this award was that it was only attainable for students who excelled in many areas. It felt very beyond my abilities, but I still tried my luck applying for it. It was surprising when I found out that I had been shortlisted as one of the final three candidates for the HPBA, and needed to be interviewed by a panel of Harvard alumni.

   A few hours before the interview was nerve-wracking, to say the least. I did not know what kind of questions would be asked, and how the panel would react to my answers. I was nervous, but I still did my best in communicating with the panel. They mainly asked about my past experiences and tried to find out what drives me to do what I wanted to do. In the end, the interview went better than I expected.

   I feel that the whole process of applying for the award was a very unique experience. It allows me to reflect on my life choices, my past experiences, and it also helps me to have a clearer view of my future. On top of that, I have also managed to gain more confidence in myself and my abilities. I am very glad that I had the chance to apply for the HPBA. As for the students who are interested in the award, I recommend that you go for it!

Tan Ik Xuan (The recipient of the Harvard Prize Book Award for the Year 2020)

   Being chosen as one of the candidates for the Harvard Prize Book Award (HPBA), I counted myself lucky and blessed among my peers. Honestly speaking, I was motivated when I was given this opportunity. It meant that I had another reason to excel in my mock examination. After our results were out, a few of us were asked to write a personal statement, and this was another challenge for me. It was my first ever personal statement.

   At first, I had no idea how to write a personal statement, so I sought bits of advice from teachers, seniors and peers. Through writing a personal statement, I got to know more about myself, my goals in life and ways that I would try to achieve them. Reflecting on myself, I knew my strengths and weaknesses better. I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for an interview with the Harvard Alumni panel recently, and I have learnt a lot during the interview session. I was nervous at first, but soon I found myself talking casually to them as they were friendly.

   This experience has also taught me that a successful person should not only excel academically but also needs to be active in ECA and socially outstanding. I am grateful for this opportunity given as it has really boosted my self-esteem.

   Last but not least, my advice to future candidates is to always be prepared and ready to embrace any upcoming challenges.

Joelle Lim

   Before the interview, there was an encroaching feeling of panic and stress, not because I wanted to win the prize that badly, but because I did not want to look bad in front of the interviewers who are all extremely high achieving people. I initially had the intention to prepare for possible questions that they may have asked, but I was too busy studying for SPM, so I did not do so. Whether that was luck or not, that decision saved me precious time because the questions they asked were not questions that I would have prepared for anyways.

   Ms Mildred was present during the interview, along with 3 others who joined via online. Seeing the enlarged faces of the alumni projected onto the screen and they staring down on me made me feel uncomfortable and scary at first. As the interview progressed, the situation gradually got less uncomfortable and more fun. The questions they asked were random and friendly, not the type of questions I was expecting from an interview, but more from a get-together amongst strangers. I enjoyed the interview as it progressed, but that may have been because I liked hearing myself talk and in that interview, I was given the opportunity to talk a lot. Some of the things I talked about were things like my life story, my ambitions and the reason I have those ambitions, what I would do with two million ringgit, and, because I told them I was interested in law, they also asked me what did I hope to change in the world or in Malaysia through my involvement in law. From what I heard from my friends who were also interviewed, the questions asked were not ‘template questions’, but random questions that came to be out of the interviewers’ curiosity.

   I can’t exactly say for sure what the way to do well in an interview like this would be, but I chose to be as genuine as possible and tell them the first thing that came to mind as soon as the question was asked. To be prepared for this interview, I think we have to know our subject-matter and be as genuine as possible. In fact, as long as you know yourself well enough, I think you don’t have to worry so much and you absolutely should not rehearse your answers and they will just come out sounding manufactured and insincere.

   After the interview, I ended up reviewing the answers I gave in my head and while I was pleased with a large percentage of them, I did regret a few things I did during the interview that was an effect of how casual the interview felt. For example, when I was asked why they should pick me over the other contestants, I told them that I was uncomfortable with claiming to be better than them in any way as they were my friends, which when I thought about it, was definitely not a tactically sound decision to make when I am in an interview of any sort. However, since genuineness was the anchor of all my answers, it was a reply that I gradually accepted.

   As a whole, the interview felt like a discussion and there was one where I could voice things that I knew but never put into words before. I feel like my interests and self-understanding solidified further after the interview as I verbalised parts of my personality and dreams when I was under the pressure of being questioned. If not for the prize, the interview would definitely be the core of this entire experience as the interview was of value inherently, especially for those like me who have no experience in interviews of this sort and are a bit confused in life. The experience of being genuine not only to the interviewers but also to me is hands down an experience worth being jealous over, so 10 out of 10, highly recommended.

Jaypheth Balang