Olivia Rodrigo doesn’t need to go to Harvard | Inquirer
Emil Amok!

Olivia Rodrigo doesn’t need to go to Harvard

/ 10:58 AM April 04, 2022

Grammy Awards Olivia Rodrigo accepts the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Album.(REUTERS)

Grammy Awards Olivia Rodrigo accepts the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Album.(REUTERS)

This weekend you could have been celebrating as one of the lucky 3.19 percent to get into Harvard’s incoming freshman Class of 2026.

It’s the lowest acceptance rate ever, which means that of 61,220 people who applied, 1,954 students made the grade.  Lucky you?

Or were you in the other pile of 59,266?

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I thought about every one of those rejects this weekend as I saw Olivia Rodrigo reap the benefits of what she did when she was 18.

She wasn’t waiting for John Harvard to sing her praises.

Rodrigo produced and released the album, “Sour,” which became a worldwide chart-topper in 2021. The album also featured her debut hit single, “Drivers License,” a love cry with the hook, “ ‘Cause you said forever, now I drive alone past your street.’”


The biracial Asian American Filipino, (the rare mix of father Filipino/mother, Irish-German), who grew up in Southern California and starred in Disney television projects like “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” made a splash on Sunday at the 64th Grammys.

Nominated in 7 categories including the biggest ones, for Album, Record and Song of the year, Rodrigo won Best Pop Solo Performance for “Drivers License,” Best Pop Vocal Album for “Sour,” and “Best New Artist.”

She’s already won Time Magazine’s 2021 Entertainer of the year, and Billboard’s Woman of the year in 2022.


I don’t even know where or if Rodrigo went to college. Does anyone care?

But I mention her because she is a Filipino American with exceptional gifts. If she uses them to pursue her artistic and creative passions, who needs Harvard?

She serves as a model for all those who got college rejection notices this weekend.  Don’t despair. Don’t concentrate on what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you have and who you are. Take your Harvard kiss-off letter and your good grades and test scores and go to your 2nd or 3rd choice. Or pursue the thing that makes you YOU.

Would that be your singing voice?

Before Sunday, I’d never heard of Rodrigo. Maybe that’s because I don’t listen to current pop music all that much. Although interesting to note, I do know the music of Bonnie Raitt, who was given a lifetime achievement award by the Grammys last night.

And by the way, Raitt, by coincidence, did go to Harvard.

Now as for Rodrigo, when I asked my Gen Z daughter if she had heard of her, she texted back all in BOLD CAPS. YES. HUGE FAN.

In fact, Rodrigo is being talked about as being a voice of her generation along the lines of a Taylor Swift. As a Filipino American of mixed race, she certainly represents the diversity of the youngest American generation. And sings the universal songs we’ve all heard, but with a very modern American Filipina sensibility.

I’ve listened to her music and can see why she’s already capturing the imagination of a global audience.

Interesting how there was no shortage of Filipino representation at the Grammys. Bruno Mars, the mixed-race soul styler of Hungarian/Jewish (father)/Filipino (mother) ancestry, and now part of Silk Sonic, won song of the year for “Leave the Door Open.”

In that category alone, Mars was joined among the 10 nominees by, H.E.R.,  a/k/a Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, the half Filipina/half-African American songstress from Vallejo, who won the category last year for “I Can’t Breathe.” This year she was back with “Fight for You;” And then there was the newcomer, Rodrigo, with “Drivers’ License.”

Three Filipino Americans competing against each other in the Grammys’ top category?

I don’t think that’s ever been done. And they’re not singing “Dahil Sa’yo.”

Frankly, my favorite moment was when H.E.R. and Lenny Kravitz jammed on “Are you Gonna Go My Way,” featuring H.E.R. dueling Kravitz on guitar.

If you think H.E.R. is simply a rapper, watch her rock out with Kravitz and you’ll see what a dynamic musician she really is.

To see H.E.R., Mars, and Rodrigo competing at the highest level was special on a Sunday night when I didn’t expect much. Not after last week’s celebrity slap.

Instead, we got a strong signal that the Filipino American story continues to evolve and expand with a new generation of mixed race Filipinos finding their way to be a major part of American culture.

We’ve come a long way, manong. We’re in peoples’ ears.

Ted Cruz is neither a woman nor an Asian

The Senate Judiciary Committee will likely send Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to the full senate for confirmation no later than Tuesday. And then history should be made by week’s end with Jackson poised to be the first African American female to the Supreme Court

It’s not going to be easy. It hasn’t been so far. It will be dramatic.

You’ll recall how in the Judiciary Committee hearings two weeks ago, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) engaged in some strange hypotheticals about race and gender.

“Under the modern leftist sensibilities, if I decide right now that I’m a woman, then apparently I’m a woman,” said Cruz, who is definitely not a woman, but used it to argue if he could sue for discrimination.

Jackson responded properly that because lawsuits on those issues are “working their way through the courts,” she was not able to comment.

But Cruz pressed on, this time on race discrimination, referencing the case of Asians challenging Harvard’s affirmative action policies. “Could I decide I was an Asian man?” Cruz asked. “Would I have the ability to be an Asian man, and challenge Harvard’s discrimination because I made that decision?”

Once again, absurd. Ted Cruz is not an Asian. He could sue on his own.

And once again Jackson refused to answer because this is a case she might decide on.

But then Cruz got to the real question of whether Jackson, who had served on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, would recuse herself from the upcoming SCOTUS review of the lawsuit brought by Asian American plaintiffs against Harvard’s admissions policies.

And this is where Jackson said she was planning to recuse.

That was the news.

Jackson’s ascent to the court replacing Breyer wasn’t expected to change the political dynamic. 6-3 is still 6-3 when Breyer goes and Jackson comes in.

Still, announcing the planned recusal was just a stark reminder. The votes just aren’t there to protect affirmative action.

A friend of mine, a former law school dean, began to wonder aloud why Harvard didn’t try to settle the case by amending the admissions policy.

His reasoning is sound. “Over the years, challenges to disparate impact in housing policies that were on their way to the Supreme Court got settled because the civil rights community did not want to risk a major loss at the Supreme Court,” the former law school dean said. “Better to fix one policy and settle with one litigant than to have a Supreme Court decision making an unfavorable law.”

The point is all schools will have to follow the opinion, if the court does indeed end affirmative action policies.

“Institutionally, they have to be in compliance and not just wait to be sued,” my friend said.

If only Harvard had changed whatever policy prevented even more Asians from getting accepted (the ones who sued), then there would have been no SCOTUS decision, and no nationwide impact.

But now the Supreme Court will hear the case in October and render an opinion by June 2023.

Jackson’s planned recusal didn’t change what now looks more inevitable. It’s just a reminder of the Supreme Court math, and the irony of it all.

There appears to be nothing she can do to save the policy that provided real opportunity for BIPOC students for decades.

In the meantime, if Harvard is forced to change its policies, it could mean what I believe to be a record 27.8 percent Asian American class this year would have a lot more room to grow in the future. The percentage of Asians could get much higher and closer to the 40-50 percent figures at the University of California.

If I had Olivia Rodrigo’s talent, I still don’t think I’d apply. She’s following her talents. And there’s still tougher things than getting into Harvard. Like  winning three Grammys in one night while still a teenager.

NOTE: I’ll talk about these items and more, including Ukraine, and the Slap, on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” the microtalk show of the AAPI, at 2p Pacific on Facebook, on my YouTube Channel, and on Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com

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TAGS: college admissions, Filipino American pop stars, music
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