So how are you feeling about graduation and everything?
Super weird, because – I’ve told people this a couple times, but there was this moment, like, Sunday night before the last week of classes where somebody was like, “This is your last week of undergrad,” and I was like “Holy shit, it’s my last week of undergrad!” And it was just so weird because up until that point, I had been so ready to get out of here, and then all of a sudden I was like, oh, maybe there are some things I’m going to miss…I guess one of the ways I’ve been trying to handle that is by creating a bucket list of things to do before I leave. We’ll see how many of them I actually get done, because bucket lists are impossible like that, but I’ve decided that it’s better if you don’t get everything done on your bucket list because then that means you have to come back.
True, that’s a good way to look at it.
Yeah, I feel like I’m cheating when I say that, because the point of a bucket list is to finish everything…
But you don’t have to finish it now!
Yeah, that’s not my version, so I’m gonna go with that.
What are some of the things on your bucket list?
One of them was to spend some time sitting on my roof outside of my house, because my bedroom window leads right out onto the roof, so my girlfriend and I ate popsicles on the roof the other night while the sun was setting, and it was really fun. Another one was to make pudding pie, which is like pudding and then a gluten-free crust so Nora can eat it…and we tried to make it, but it failed miserably, so it was more like pudding soup but it was still tasty…Another one was to see a movie at Movie Tavern because I had never done that, and I got that checked off. Oh, and then I wanted to eat s’mores at Aromas, have you ever gotten s’mores at Aromas?
It’s so fun! They bring it out, and it’s like, they have all the makings for s’mores and a little fire in the middle of this tray.
Yeah, it was really good. So checked off a couple things, got a couple more to do.
So you mentioned that you had a change from being ready to get out to being a little sad to leave, do you know what brought that on? Was it the last week of classes coming, or anything else?
I think it’s also that it’s finally becoming real that I’m leaving. It’s still not super real, Michelle took my grad pictures with Nora this morning which was so fun. And we were wearing our grad gowns, and when I put it on I was like, oh my god, what if I actually fail some of my classes and this is actually not the time that I’m graduating? Like what if I miss a requirement that I need? So it got to the point that I was really nervous that I was not actually going to graduate—which I think in some ways, like, I’m more cognizant of the reality that I’m going to graduate because I’m so worried about not graduating. That’s, like, very convoluted but it kind of makes sense?
Yeah I get it, definitely. So what do you think you’re going to miss most about college, or being here in general at this point in your life?
I don’t know…I mean I’m obviously going to miss the people. It’s gonna be very weird to not be in a place where I just am with all of my best friends all of the time. I think I’ll end up in DC so I’ll be close to a bunch of William and Mary people, which will be really good, but it’s not like I’ll hang out with them every night. So that’s gonna be a really big change, that I’m not necessarily looking forward to because I’ve found a lot of really great people here. And I also am gonna miss the classes in some way, because I’ve had a lot of fun with research projects I’ve done, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of taking advantage of the academic experience that William and Mary has to offer. It’s also just, throughout my time here, I’ve been really, really excited and passionate about the studies that I’ve been working on. And so, I guess stemming from that I’ve started thinking maybe I want to do some sort of research assistantship for a little while out of college, because I’m not sure if I’m completely done with, like, researching things and using those same things except in a job way, not just a school way.
What’s some of the research you’ve done here?
So my studies over the past couple of years—I’m majoring in Hispanic Studies, and minoring in American Studies—but basically everything that I’ve done has been sort of related to oral history, which has been super cool. Kind of inspired by Humans at the start, which is kind of fun. So I’ve done more and more research on oral history in a variety of different classes, but I think the most important one that I’ve done is, I did an independent study this past fall about a play I saw in Spain. And the play is called Presas de Papel, which roughly translates to “Women Imprisoned in Paper,” and it’s about women who were incarcerated during the Franco dictatorship in Spain. And it’s written by descendants of women who were actually incarcerated, so it’s a very personal history, and it’s a very important history for Spain because there is so little recognition of the women’s experience during the Franco dictatorship. It was a really important play to see, and I really loved it. I messaged one of my professors who taught a class on Franco and his dictatorship’s aftermath, and was like, “What can I do with this? I’m not sure I want to do a thesis, but I really want to continue working on this play because I think it’s really cool and important.” So she suggested an independent study for the fall, and I ended up doing an independent study and I got funding to go back to Spain in November for a little less than a week which was insane, but that’s an entirely different story. And I was able to see a new version of the play as well as interview a couple of different people about their ancestors. One in particular was the descendants of Matilde Landa, who was this super famous icon of the Spanish Republic, and she was a really, really important leader for the Republicans, I guess rebels, counter the Franco dictatorship. That was really amazing to get to talk to them about their experience and their family history and how that’s impacted their lives. And at this point I have a pretty close relationship with the creators of the play and the actresses, and it’s just been really cool to kind of be a part of that and use my skills to help further their story.
That’s super awesome. So, kind of switching gears here, you were studying abroad when you saw the play?
What was that like, how did that contribute to your experience here?
Last summer I studied abroad in Cádiz for the first part of the summer, and then for about a month afterwards I was volunteer farming, wwoofing—do you know what wwoofing is?
No, I don’t.
It’s basically just volunteer farming, but it’s through a website, so I was doing that on a farm outside of Madrid. I was there for about a month, and that was really, really cool. And that’s when I saw the play. And that was also I think in some ways more formative than the study abroad experience, because I was by myself—I only spoke English when I was calling home or calling Nora—so it was a very different experience. It was also really cool to farm because I had never done anything like that before. So that was really interesting, and I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to study abroad, because the fall of my sophomore year I studied in DC, which was awesome, but it meant that I was not quite sure if I wanted to take a full semester to go abroad. So it was super cool that I got to do the Cádiz program to actually go abroad since I was not feeling like I could take another whole semester away from campus.
Yeah, that’s really cool. How did you come into the volunteer farming thing?
Well I had been wanting to wwoof with a couple friends for a while, but it just didn’t work out for me to do it with them and it was a way for me to stay in Spain a little longer and continue to use my Spanish on a daily basis and continue learning Spanish and do something a little different. So I decided that I would kind of just take the risk and try and find a farm that matched with what I was interested in doing, and it worked out pretty well.
That’s really cool, that’s an awesome experience. So you kinda touched on this, but what initially drew you to your research, your major, what you’re eventually going to be doing?
So immediately after graduation I’m going to be going home, and I’m gonna be working with my mom at the Harrisonburg City Public School’s welcome center. We register students for school there. All kindergarteners, all preschoolers, and then grades first through 12, all students who speak another language besides English at home. I’ve done that for the past four summers, so it’ll be kind of nice to return to something normal before going out and doing something completely different. But in terms of how I kind of got to this research project, I think it really did start with Humans, and it also started when I did my DC semester. I studied there with Professor Zutshi, who’s a history professor here, she’s amazing, I love her very much. She taught the semester on conflict resolution and nation-building in South Asia, which was super cool. And so over that semester we had read a book about the use of oral history in post-conflict zones, and that’s when I started doing more research about oral history because I was like, “Oh my god, this is the academic form of what I love about Humans!” I was really excited to find something that combines my passion with academics, and so I wrote a research paper on that which was really, really cool. And ever since then with any class that asks for a research project of some sort, I always do something with oral history just because it’s such a broad field you can tie it into whatever you’re doing. So then spring of my junior year, I took a class called El Franquismo y sus Fantasmas, which is like, “The Franco Era and its Ghosts,” so about the history of the Franco era and also how it is perceived today in Spain. And so that’s what got me interested in that particular history, and I did a little research on oral history following that class as well. And then when I was in Cádiz, I did a whole different project about the Franco era and oral histories and testimony and the use of testimony, which was super cool. And then it all kind of culminated with Presas de Papel.
So it sounds like you kind of got started with that because of your experience with Humans, so what drew you to Humans in the first place?
Yeah! Well, when I was in high school, I discovered Humans of New York and I started a version at my high school, Humans of HHS, which was really fun and rewarding to me. I really loved the idea of just finding these intimate connections with complete strangers and giving them a space to tell their stories. I had been doing journalism for a while at that point—that was my senior year of high school and I was part of the newspaper starting my sophomore year—so Humans gave me a part of the newspaper that was kind of my baby, and I was able to help it grow into something that was bigger than me which was really cool. And so once I got to William and Mary, I immediately reached out to Humans of William and Mary like, “When can I join? I’m ready now!” And they were like, “Wait for the application, we’ll be posting it soon!” So that was really cool, and during my interview I talked with Dani, she graduated, was it last year? No, it was two years ago at this point, that’s crazy! She graduated two years ago, she’s just this really incredible person, and during that conversation, we talked for like an hour, maybe like an hour and a half, and it was just really crazy to be in this space where I was asking this complete stranger all of these questions and she’s giving me these very genuine answers, and that made me be like, “Okay, this is something I really do want to be involved in.”
So have you had a favorite particular moment with Humans or anything like that?
Yeah, so my freshman year we were doing a series of interviews for Charter Day, and reading students a section of the charter and asking them about their feelings about it. And I did an interview with a woman who, as she was reading it she was telling me, “You know, I feel really disillusioned right now.” Because she was going through the reporting process for sexual assault, and it was not at all the system it claimed to be. And so our interview was a lot about her process of maneuvering through that system, and how she’s trying to make it better. She co-founded an organization called 16(IX)3 here on campus, and it’s not very active anymore, but I ended up doing a couple of follow-up interviews with her and the other members of 16(IX)3, which was really cool, and trying to give them a platform to spread their message because it’s really important. It’s called 16(IX)3 and the 9 is “IX,” like the Roman numeral of Title IX. And I ended up getting two of my good friends involved with the organization as well, so even though I wasn’t able to stay part of it, one of them was very involved for most of their college experience which was really cool. But that was one of the few interviews where I really had, like, this immediate, real conversation with somebody, which was really powerful and I’m really grateful for her opening up to me about that. And I’m really happy that I was able to give space to her message.
It’s cool how that became an ongoing thing, like with the follow-up interviews and your friends joining and everything.
Yeah, it was really cool. And, like, I always wish that I could’ve done more with it, but you can look back all you want and wish you could’ve done more with something when it’s not always possible.
Yeah, you can only do so much. Kind of ties in but also kind of different – if you could tell yourself, like as a freshman, or give an incoming William and Mary student a piece of advice, what do you wish you knew?
That’s a really good question, I wish I knew a lot of things. I mean, this year especially has been really tough, but I think I would tell myself to go to counseling earlier and to stick with it because that’s a really important resource. Maybe go off campus earlier for counseling, just because the counseling center here is so overbooked that they can only give you appointments on a semester basis, and I think that I would’ve done counseling more regularly throughout college if I had gone off campus earlier. I would also tell myself, or any incoming freshman, to really listen to what your body wants and what your mind wants and respect that. I know that I have pushed myself a lot to do things that were not the best for my mental health, so I think listening to that a lot sooner and being more selfish about my time and what I want to do with my experience here, I think would have made it easier in some ways. But I also think college is a really important place to learn all of that, so I feel like the biggest one is to just use your resources—oh, and the Wellness Center! So good! Go there all the time, for everything! It’s an amazing resource on campus and there are some really amazing things that people are just not taking advantage of the way that they should. I went to my first yoga class there in April and it was insane. It was so beautiful, the rooms are just really nice and they have these giant floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the trails, so when I went it was all of this beautiful green and it was incredible. And so calming, exactly what I needed. I’ve tried to go every week since then because I know free yoga is not gonna last for must longer, gotta take advantage of it! But also don’t feel like you have to take advantage of everything, because there are so many opportunities here, just find the things that are important to you and do that, and don’t feel guilty about the things you can’t do.
Yeah, that’s true. I have to try that yoga sometime though!
You’ve gotta go! The Wellness Center is so good!
I guess for any of those things, were there any specific points where you really found those things out?
Well I think that this year especially has been really hard, so I’ve learned a lot of this, this past year… Going to Spain in the middle of the semester for, like, not a whole week was really discombobulating – if you’re gonna go abroad at some point within the semester, miss at least a full week of classes, it will be okay! Because that was just crazy, I felt like, as soon as I was getting into a routine there, I was back, and I had no idea what was going on for the longest time. So, yeah, would definitely recommend taking more time when you’re doing those sort of things. And I started off-campus counseling at the end of last semester, and I think I realized a lot of this stuff through that, I’m more aware of judgmental thoughts of myself and how I have a tendency to not be very kind to myself in my head. And so I think being aware of those things is super important, you can’t fix them right away, but so long as you know that they’re happening and it’s not necessarily the truth, then it’s a start. Starting, still figuring things out. It’s actually really funny, I read this note that my mom had written to her parents when she was in college. And it was a beautiful note, really well-written, and she used all these metaphors, like, being tossed around by the waves or something like that, talking about how she felt really alone and confused in college. And in some ways it was really comforting to read that, that my mom had experienced a very similar thing 35 years earlier, and it’s okay to be so confused, and so stressed and anxious. There are people here to support you, and there are people going through similar things. That was really cool to get a chance to look at because I was like, “Wow, I feel like I wrote this.”
That is really cool, to kind of know that you’re not alone in that, especially coming from your mom of all people.
It is really sweet.
And then just one last thing—what would you say has been, if you can pinpoint a favorite moment or experience that you had here, a memory of any kind?
That’s a really hard one…I think one of the most important moments, and also one of my favorites, is the night that I kissed Nora for the first time. Well, she kissed me. I came into college with a boyfriend, thinking I was straight, and then I met Nora, and even in the fall semester when I was still dating this other boy, I had, like, told my friends at home, “Yeah, if I was ever to kiss a girl it’d probably be Nora.” And then that spring after my ex and I had broken up, Nora and I ended up hanging out a lot more and I ended up being like, “Oh shit, I think I really like her.” I didn’t actually tell her that for a long time because I was worried about messing up our friendship because she thought I was straight, and I knew that she was gay, but I didn’t know if she liked me, and it was just very confusing. And so then, one night I invited her over to watch The Terminator 3 because I had to watch it for class. I invited her to watch this really dumb movie with me, and at that point I think she was a little suspicious because it was a really stupid movie. So we watched the movie, and we returned it to Swem, and we were walking around, and we went back to my dorm and we were just laying on my bed for, like, ten minutes in this really awkward silence. And then finally, she was like, “so, about what Vega said?” Because her friend Vega had been, like, questioning about whether or not we were a couple, or into each other or anything, and I was like, “Yeah, I kinda like you,” and she was like, “I kinda like you too.” And then we were quiet for another five minutes, and then she was like, “Okay, I think this is the part where we kiss,” and I was like, “Yeah, I think so too.” And, like, it’s been over three years since then, and I can’t believe that we’re actually graduating, it’s so weird. But I think that Nora is probably the most important thing that has happened to me at William and Mary, so it’s been really cool that she’s been basically here for everything, all the ups and downs and everything in between.