A week ago I couldn’t stop crying. It was mostly because everything about my installation for my senior thesis crumbled to pieces two days before it was due, but I think simultaneously it hit me that this chapter of my life was ending. So much of what I loved and appreciated was suddenly over. I’m not one to cry and I cried five times in public that day.
I was crying for everything that happened this past year and for all the past four years of college. I was crying from this immense relief I felt that I no longer had the extreme pressure of my thesis looming over my head. I didn’t have to think about my thesis every single day anymore. It was physically and emotionally exhausting. I was crying because this beautiful thing that gave me purpose was coming to an end. I felt like I was sending my child off to college. It no longer needed me to obsessively nurture it as I did. Now it just exists in the world. I was crying for everything good and bad.
Now I am at this stage where I almost feel void of emotions. I feel hauntingly okay. I began to question if I’m in denial or if my emotional box is broken because I’m not as dramatically sad as most of my friends. But then I remember something my therapist said when I told her how sometimes I felt like maybe I missed out on the typical college experience, “How can you regret something if you lived the life you wanted? People usually only feel regret when they feel like they haven’t made choices that aligned with their values.” This was one of the hardest years of my life, but it was also one of the best years of my life. For once I did 80% of what I wanted to do as opposed to getting guilt tripped by peers. I stopped going to random house parties. I stopped drinking. I stopped having so many loose friendships and instead focused on a few friendships. I worked in my studio on my thesis. A lot. I had dinner parties with delicious food and good company. I read every night. I cooked more. I spent time with the people who actually inspire me. It was an amazing year and it only took me three years to get here.
There is comfort and closure knowing I worked really hard and did the best I could under the circumstances. I spent time with the people who mattered to me. I grew both personally and creatively. That is enough. This year was the furtherest thing from easy, but I never felt more alive. It felt authentic to the life I wanted to live so now it feels okay to say goodbye. The future no longer freaks me out. What freaks me out is that I won’t be able to run down the hall and dramatically panic to my professors about how my life is in ruins and I have no idea what to do about it. Saying goodbye to my professors feels different than saying goodbye to my friends. It’s impossible to describe my college experience without talking about my professors because without them, I don’t think I would’ve even stayed in Michigan past first semester.
Since the age of 8, I hated school. Hate is almost an understatement. It was this deeply shameful experience where I always felt out of place. For 10 years I hid my fears and resentment. Instead I tried to forced myself to be the stereotypical Asian mold my parents, family, and friends prided to be. While it seemed effortless for them, I continuously failed at it despite tirelessly trying. The first time I failed a test was second grade. I almost failed algebra in 7th grade. I took every math and english tutoring class you can think of from Kumon to SAT prep. While all of my friends were in honors math, I was in lower level math and I physically hid this fact by running out of class right as the bell rang so no one saw me. I dreaded going to school because every single day I was reminded that I was a failure, that I would never amount to anything, and that I was stupid. We laugh and joke about stereotypes, but it was mentally and emotionally exhausting to ask myself “What is wrong with me?” every single day since the second grade.
Then I entered STAMPS at Michigan and I met Hannah and Franc. For the first time since the age of 8 I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was worthy of taking up space. College wasn’t perfect by any means, but I wasn’t afraid to go to class anymore. My professors taught me more than what typography or poster design meant, they taught me the power of realizing there is never anything you are supposed to be. They gave me the room to grow and become the person I wanted to be. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to thank them for the past four years.
My friend randomly asked a few of us a few weeks ago over brunch if we had ever been called stupid and I looked her straight in the face and said, “Yes.” I avoided elaborating because I still felt ashamed and I don’t even know why. My senior thesis IP was about my fears of vulnerability and difficult relationship with shame, but my longest kept secret was the years of shame I felt while attending school.
Someone once told me that if you feel out of place, it’s not you, it’s your environment. I’m sick of seeing human beings struggle because they feel unworthy of the space they occupy. Success is a socially constructed idea and I challenge you to define success for yourself instead of letting your parents, siblings, peers, friends, relatives, bosses, etc. define it for you. Let’s stop teaching children these mentally damaging expectations and instead allow room for them to be whoever they want to be. Sometimes it just takes one person to say, “Hey, you’re pretty great.” Never dismiss the power of believing in someone when you see something in them. I was lucky enough to of found two at Michigan early on and even more this past year. The only thing that scares me is leaving the place and the people who made me feel at hoMe, and admitting it’s time to build a new one elsewhere.
My thesis advisors, Hannah and Stephanie asked our section, “What advice would you give myself knowing what you know now?” Senior year and especially IP is what you make it to be. It can just be another year and another project before you graduate and leave this town or it can be a special time to self-reflect on who you want to be moving forward with your life after college. It’s important to appreciate your professors and peers because they will be the support system you won’t know how to say goodbye to in May. My personal advice to juniors entering their senior year/about IP:
1. Life sucks. Shit happens. Life moves on with or without you. But understand that there are supportive people who want to help you. You don’t have to do it on your own. It’s okay to feel hopeless, frustrated, and lost sometimes. It’s okay to ask for help and accept help.
2. Self-care over the hustle. Self-investment is not being selfish and in fact, it is the opposite. If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot help anyone else or make meaningful work.
3. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from doing what you want to do. There is nothing you are supposed to be doing. Know your values and your boundaries. Don’t feel guilty for building the life you want for yourself. At the end of the day, the people who care will still be there and the people who don’t, won’t be, and you’ll realize you’ll survive without those people.
4. With that in mind, make time for important people and important events. Appreciate and value the goodness in your life. Kind words go a long way. Finding the balance between your creative work and your loved ones will be a lifelong battle, but don’t give up.
5. Stay curious and never become cynical. Keep believing that good things happen to good people with some hard work and dedication. Even if everyone else stops caring, I need you to be your own force of nature. I hope you have the motivation to live an authentic life and if you find yourself slipping, I hope you find the courage to start over.
6. Most importantly, you are enough. You were enough the moment you were born into this Earth. You were enough when you felt like giving up. You were enough when you felt like a waste of space. You were enough when you pursued this project. You will always be enough. Don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise. If you do nothing else in this world, but truly believe you are enough, I will be proud of you.
It will be a bittersweet goodbye at graduation, but I cannot be more thankful for the past four years (from TMP1 to TMP2 to IP, it’s been one wild, adventure). I’m grateful for each person who has played a role in these past four years either briefly or for the long run. Now, it’s on to the next chapter in the NYC hustle.