The Power of a Group of Misfits

Before I begin, let me preface the fact that I use a lot of UnCollege terminology — you’ll pick up on it as you read along.

Just over two months ago marked the beginning of the launch phase of my gap year. When I first arrived in San Francisco on January 11th I was immediately overwhelmed with anxiety. I froze up and avoided heading straight to the dorms because I was terrified at the thought of meeting a group of 30 new fellows. Luckily I already knew 15 fellows from voyage phase in Bali, but despite this, I spent several unnecessary hours in the airport that first day to avoid the immense amount of discomfort that usually comes with meeting new people for me. I sat in a corner seat at Starbucks doing absolutely nothing for over an hour aside from dwelling on the fact that I was internally panicking. I went to the bathroom to fix my hair and makeup which took about 45 minutes, and I wandered around to see if there was anything I could preoccupy myself with to distract from my anxious thoughts.

Little did I know, this was the one day of launch I wasted entirely. And that’s because there was nothing to avoid. Instead, what happened following my airport panic attack would be the best ten weeks of my entire life.

Week one I connected with such a range of diverse and pure individuals — most would develop into friendships I am certain will last me a VERY long time, potentially a lifetime. To the people who’d go on spontaneous adventures with me, to my “piano teacher” who I played with several nights a week, to the friends who tolerated my stupid freak outs, to the people who’d converse about anything and everything for hours on end, to the MVP who kept every secret I ever told her including my most personal, to the people who shared their life stories of such various cultures, and most importantly, to the people who entered my life and impacted it in some way— I am eternally grateful.

I have never had so many connections or been a part of a community filled with people who are all so different, quirky, and bring distinct traits to the table. As a result of such a diverse and incredible community, every person has some sort of affect on one another. Each individual is a bright light with something new to offer.

Trenton is the happiest and kindest human I have ever met. He’s the one you’ll find jamming along to Bruno Mars in the middle of the night and the person who will agree to have a picnic with you at any given time.

Josh calls everyone out on their bullshit but just wants the best for everyone — and he has the biggest heart in the world. You can hear him from a mile away and can find him singing along to “Perfect Day” in the shower.

Marco has lived beyond his years. He’s lived in six different countries throughout his life and he’s only 18. He’s been through some tough transitions, but he has a heart of gold and finds it in himself to be vulnerable. He allowed himself to form connections and delve deep into his relationships despite knowing full well how much it hurts to have to say goodbye to them.

Ryan is “the learner that made everyone curious” -anonymous UnCollege fellow. His love of books is astounding and he allowed us all to question everything. You’ll find him engaging in intellectual conversations in which he forces people to think in ways they never have before.

All 45 individuals that make up UnCollege Cohort 12 have their own unique story such as the few I’ve mentioned. To try and capture each and every one of them would be impossible, but know that we are a group of misfits destined to achieve greatness.

The community we formed was a powerful one — one that seemed as though it was never supposed to end. And that’s because the community we built was rare. It’s not often you find one where the main priority as a collective group is growth. There was no competitiveness in what we did. We were all rooting for each other and were there to be a support system. There was no selfishness in the goals we set out for ourselves and the things we were able to achieve. We helped each other get to where we wanted to go — we built one another up and made each other feel whole.

The idea of community is stereotypically valued for the sole reason that it is a place where people can feel like they’re a part of something. While this might be true, the UnCollege community is more than just that. Like I said, it’s a rare dynamic in which we focused solely on growth within ourselves and for each other.

Every single fellow is so genuine, and genuinely happy for that matter. Because of this, we were able to be so present when we were together. Whether we were having a dance party, heart-to-heart, singing, or having an intellectual conversation, we got lost in the moment. My mind wouldn’t wander when I was with them, and I would feel 100% my authentic self. I could let loose and just be me knowing that there would be zero judgement from anyone. We could appreciate everyone’s quirks no matter how “out there” anyone was. And that’s because social hierarchy was nonexistent. Popularity wasn’t a thing. Being “weird” with a negative connotation wasn’t a thing. And being a loser most definitely was not a thing. Everyone was so open to everyone. Looks were entirely unimportant, unique mannerisms and way of speech were embraced and not looked down on. Everyone dug deep to find what was at the core of every individual.

I never thought I was the type of person to want to be surrounded by people 24/7. For the first time in my life I literally was never alone — not only physically but also mentally as I never felt lonely. On average I’d spend ten minutes of my day solo: bathroom and shower. Outside of that the rest of the time was with the fellows either screwing around at our office or sitting in the hall of our dorm being goofballs. If not the hall then it’d be in one of our rooms and we’d get completely carried away talking until 3AM every. single. night. I adjusted to sleep deprivation lifestyle because there was just so much purity and goodness in everyone that I couldn’t help but spend every waking minute I had in me in order to be with these people. I’m so glad I never took my precious time with them for granted. I was voted “most likely to be found socializing in the hall” for our UnCollege superlatives and I have to say I’m very proud to have earned that title.

On our last day of launch we had a four hour day worth of activities that the staff had planned for us and kept secret. We had to be up early for it and I knew everyone would have a hard time getting up thanks to some very legal substances from a celebration the previous night!

I had a good feeling about what this day would bring so I forced myself out of bed and ran to everyone’s rooms to shout at them to get up. They were beyond irritated but it was so worth it. We got an uber XL and bolted to our office as we were already a half hour late. Luckily they waited for us to start the first activity.

After a quick check-in, the coaches set up a circle of 15 chairs facing inward. They asked 15 people to sit in the chairs and blindfold themselves while the rest of us were asked to form a circle standing outside the people sitting down. For about ten minutes, we’d walk around the chairs and were asked to tap one of the blindfolded fellows on the shoulder if they impacted us in a way that one of the staff members stated out loud. Some of these statements consisted of, “Someone who inspired you to be a more authentic version of yourself,” “Someone who led you to do something you never imagined you could do,” “Someone who made you laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed.” Everyone had a chance to be blindfolded once, so when it was my turn to be blindfolded and people started hugging me when it came to statements like “Someone you’ll stay friends with beyond launch” and “Someone who was there for you when you needed them most,” I completely lost it underneath the blindfold. I could literally feel the love and was stunned at the impact I had evidently made on people. Once it was over and we had lifted our blindfolds before the next group of 15, it was clear that others had gotten emotional under their blindfolds too.

For the next activity we sat in four separate circles based on who we had as a coach throughout launch. My coach was the magnificent and brilliant Coach Paul. In our circles our coaches gave us each a book that was fitting to who we each are as individuals. Mine was “The Gifts of Imperfection.” This just speaks to how well my coach had gotten to know me, and how well he listened. During our coaching sessions we discussed the fact that I like to consider myself a “word perfectionist.” I feel a need for my words to come out eloquently and in the way that I intend them to. Because of this, I get anxious to public speak in fear of my words coming across differently than I had planned. It’s why I love writing so much — it gives me time to process and speak more thoughtfully. So thank you, Coach Paul, for giving me the tools to embrace this piece of me.

Inside the book I received, there were notes from the entire UnCollege staff. Each note showed how much each of them really got to know the true me. They expressed a love for my Spongebob impression, a sense of inspiration from me challenging my comfort zone, and overall just showed how much they truly saw me for me. All the other fellows were ecstatic about their books as well and they were touched by the notes inside. Everyone agreed it exemplified the depth to which UnCollege saw us, how much they believed in us, and the extent to which they cared about us.

A few days prior to our last day, the staff laid out an envelope with each fellows name on it so that we could write each and every fellow a personalized note. It took hours for me to complete this because I had so much to say about every person, but it was so worth seeing their reactions when we opened them on the last day. We were all overwhelmed with gratitude for one another. I sobbed reading some of the notes I received because I just couldn’t believe how lucky I had gotten to have met and developed relationships with such amazing people. I broke down realizing I was lucky enough to be a part of something so beautiful — to know people with such beautiful hearts. The feeling was mutual amongst the cohort, and as a result we all had an enormous group hug. This was the first of many that day.

For the final activity, we all stood in two separate lines facing each other. Days in advance, the staff had us individually email them a song we felt depicted our personality. One by one the staff played the songs we picked and we would walk through the aisle when our personal song came on. Every song was a perfect representation of every fellow. My song was predictable. Within the cohort, I’m notorious for constantly playing a song called “Unique” and for saying I feel empowered every time I listen to it. The fellows would jokingly mock me for this throughout the ten weeks. They also know that I can do kip ups (hip hop dance move) as they would cheer for me to do them in the dorms in the middle of the night. So, I of course picked Unique and when the beat drop hit I went in the aisle and nailed some kip ups while simultaneously shouting that I felt empowered. The fellows were screaming, cheering and dying of laughter. Because despite making them hate the song due to overplaying it, it was an excellent depiction of me in a nutshell.

If you remember what I said about Josh earlier then I’m sure you can guess that his song was “Perfect Day.” If you remember what I said about Trenton then you know he picked a Bruno Mars song. Only Trenton had to leave early that day to catch a flight so we all got super emotional when Bruno Mars came on and we knew it was for him but he wasn’t there to groove for us. My friend Nick chose “My Way” by Frank Sinatra and went around recording each of our faces. If you know the song then you can imagine the level of emotion in the room. We shut the lights off and held our phone lights up — it was truly magical. The day felt like something out of a dream. We were all so happy dancing and singing together, so present, and so immensely grateful for each other.

It was hard to find a dry eye in the room. And many of the people crying were unexpected. Trenton hadn’t cried in years and right before he left that day he cried. I had never seen some of the people I felt closest to even look sad before and they were crying. My best friend Yzzy and I had an ongoing joke throughout launch that she was a sociopath because she literally never cries. Yep, she cried too. It just speaks to how much we were all impacted by the immeasurable amount of love present in our cohort. Yzzy went from being an introvert who enjoyed doing things on her own and going to bed early, to someone who was completely extroverted and surrounded by people 24/7. She felt the same way I did: these people were just so special we didn’t want to waste a second away from them.

Watching Yzzy shift from total introvert at the beginning of launch to the complete opposite by the end was moving. Not because there’s anything wrong with being introverted, but because it shows how powerful the impact of this community was — so powerful that it could completely alter the way in which we would normally live our daily lives.

After all the activities were complete and the day came to a close, I felt a wave of emotion come over me (as if I hadn’t felt this already). I went to the back of the room after hugging every person and wiping each other’s tears. When I got to the back of the room I called my parents. I was speechless at first, with the exception of a few cringeworthy crying noises through the phone. Simply, I called to say thank you. I told them I couldn’t explain the impact these people had on me, or even begin to explain the beauty or the weight in the day I’d just had, but that they should know how endlessly grateful I felt. I wanted them to know that they made the right choice in allowing me to join UnCollege and that it would become a piece of everything I do moving forward.

And so I have to face the fact that it’s time to move forward. I found myself having a deja vu moment while at the San Francisco airport before heading home. I realized I was sitting in the same seat in the corner of the same Starbucks I had been hiding out in at the beginning of launch. Only this time I was avoiding getting on the plane. I wandered the airport for awhile looking for ways to preoccupy myself, but this time it was to distract myself from the thought of leaving. I wasn’t ready to come to terms with the fact that I had to say goodbye to something so beautiful. I didn’t want to let go of the people I’d become so close to — the same people I was so scared to meet and avoided the first day. Now I’m avoiding letting go of the irreplaceable bonds I’ve formed. But I guess all good things must come to an end, and I know I’ll keep these precious people in my life even if they aren’t physically with me. But I do hope with all my heart that our paths cross again one day. To my wonderful group of misfits, you really are destined for greatness.