India Braver ’16 is one of the founding members of Humans of William & Mary. When I first joined HoWM in February 2014 as a freshman, she became head of the newly formed videography team, and I had the pleasure of working with her on several memorable projects among many other efforts that involved our entire group. I have always seen her as my friend and mentor, an avid story-teller and caring organizer. Her friendly and cheerful personality has always left me a vivid impression, but her adventurous mindset of navigating her world, coupled with her excellence in academics, simply amazes me. The paragraphs in italics are mine. —Ben Zhang
What was the most interesting interview that you remember, or what was the moment within the HoWM family that you remember most?
There are so many memories within the HoWM family, so I’m going to talk about an interview-type experience, just because if I did the HoWM family ones I would probably start crying. We have so many memories! Remember we ate ice creams in the HoWM Experience and someone wrote something inappropriate, like “fuck this scool,” and we changed it to “fuck this is cool.” I’ll never forget that…and just building it up and knocking it down. That was a whole experience in itself. I remember poring over photos for the calendar, the night we took the 9/11 photos…There are just so many amazing memories from all the people…yeah I don’t want to talk about those because I would start crying.
One interview really stood out for me, because it took me a lot of effort to get this picture. I was in D.C. for the William & Mary in D.C. winter program in the first year that they ever did it. A tour guide saw that one of us was wearing a William & Mary sweater and had a William & Mary bag with us, and said, “Oh, I went to William & Mary!” But he was just passing through. I remember chasing him because I wanted to talk to him. I remember talking to him for a while, trying to find out what his life was like at William & Mary. Everyone else was getting mad at me, because we were supposed to follow a structured tour and he was not our tour guide. He used the word “TWAMP,” and it was so weird to hear that in the context of the real world. I want to move away from here. I don’t live near here. I live in New Jersey and I’m going to go to California. To have that experience in D.C. outside of the William & Mary immediate bubble is really cool. He was Class of ’63—I still remember all this. He was a polyglot and spoke more than eighty languages. We tested him for the next ten minutes, asking him to say different phrases in different languages, anything we could think of, and he knew how to do it. He said, “I guess you can say I’m a true TWAMP.” That was a surreal experience, just to show that people’s stories continue outside of William & Mary. What I really like about HoWM, the reason personally why I joined, is to showcase these experiences that people have. It is really cool to see how this extends beyond the walls of the school or campus, or beyond graduation, because I’m graduating!
Do you think you are taking this perspective, or this mission of trying to learn about other people’s stories, to your future destination?
Yes. Also on a more basic and superficial level, it’s nice to know that, even though hopefully I’m moving across the country to Los Angeles in two months, there will still be William & Mary people around or people who have so much in common or something you can connect with about. That’s just really reassuring. People are people. Being a member of the Tribe is for life.
From the perspective of a graduating senior and a HoWMie, what do you think sets the William & Mary experience apart? Why do you find the presence of a TWAMP somewhere else reassuring?
I think William & Mary people are very special. We are pretty cool, and my best friends are here. I’m going to miss everyone so much. The fact that we did have so many shared experiences together, whether it was eating cheese fries at Paul’s, or celebrating blow-out, or going through convocation or walking across the Crim Dell with your best friends. I think those are always things to look back upon and smile regardless of how new or how old we are to the Tribe. It applies also in general to any college or community, because you have shared experiences and you got to know each other so well. With some of my friends here we’ve talked hours and hours into the night. That happens at every college. It’s cool to have those connections and relationships with people. It’s not specific to William & Mary, although I do love William & Mary.
Since we are talking about Humans of William & Mary, have you discovered anything human during your time here as a HoWMie?
I learned a lot about people, yes being a member of the HoWM team, but mostly just being a college student. My freshman roommate and I are still friends, for example. We did the four-year Reveley lunch; we lived together all four years. When you live with someone or you’re interviewing people, you realize there are just so many different perspectives and not everyone thinks exactly the way you do, which can be really hard to get used to at first- it was definitely hard for me. I approach problems in such a different way than my friends a lot of the times, which can be really helpful, or really annoying depending on the situation. And a lot of times, I might think about something in a very clear way in my head, but I also have to think about, would I be able to communicate that with someone else? Would we both be confused and lost? And sometimes, it’s easy for things to get lost along the way and for people to get hurt. In the end, I think, you just always have to remember to think about things from somebody else’s point of view too.
We are all humans, and we can empathize with each other. We have shared experiences and that’s why we build really strong bonds as a community, especially when you put a bunch of awesome people together in the formative years of our lives. But also just recognize that everyone is different, and you have to be able to respond to people, even knowing sometimes that you just cannot relate at all, and you’re not even necessarily expected too. Interviewing someone for a video about what it’s like being a freshman at William & Mary when you’re a junior or when we interviewed people for Ribbon Day about mental health or just talking to your roommate about something commonplace like what time you should set morning alarms for, you have to remember that they are coming from a different perspective than you. And they are probably approaching things a very different way than you are in their head. You need to respect that. That something doesn’t make sense to you doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense.
Has there been anything that you struggled with in your head when you were interviewing somebody?
I remember when we did the interviews for Ribbon Day, which were related to mental health. I did a lot of those and recorded them on my phone. When I was transcribing them, I remember crying. Even if you don’t understand where someone is taking a story and you want to editorialize in your head, thinking “Why didn’t you do this?” or “Why didn’t you tell someone?”, you need to take a step back, and just respect the person you’re interviewing. You’re not the person in the situation, and you don’t really understand what they were feeling, or what they were thinking, or what was happening. It is important to understand that, as much as I would love to relate to every single person I interview with, that’s not always going to be the case. Even if they told me their entire life story, I would never actually know what it was like to truly be them. As much as you would like to be there for someone, you need to also understand your own limitations. Sometimes all you can do is to say, “I can’t imagine how hard that must have been. I have no idea what that was like, but thank you for sharing.” I know I said earlier that the most important thing I learned was to consider things from somebody else’s perspective, but sometimes, that just means acknowledging that you can’t really do that, and you don’t want to trivialize somebody else’s experiences by attempting to.
What you can do as a listener is to really pay attention to what they are saying and validating their experiences and feelings, instead of always trying to put yourself in their shoes, which might not be the best thing.
Because you can’t do that! You can’t always put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s more important to recognize that and respect that. Just listen and try to be there in ways that you can.
Yeah, that was kind of what I found just in the past two years. While I was establishing deeper friendships with people and having more of a personal tie to some of my friends, hearing their stories, some of them are really unexpected.
People always surprise you.
How would you respond? A lot of times you don’t need to say anything. You just need to look into their eyes and make sure that you are there for them to listen.
Exactly. That’s what I would say. Sometimes you just need to listen.
I also learned to appreciate that when other people help me in that way, because they can’t necessarily resonate with me, but they’re there for me and they listen to me. I learned to find a lot of solace and comfort in that company. I think it’s a mutual learning process for college students. Because when I was in high school I was surrounded by people with very similar experiences. When you come to college it suddenly get so diverse. And exactly, people are surprising. How do you handle that? For people who are reaching out to friends, they need to adjust their mindset. I cannot expect everybody to totally understand.
I’m a problem solver, so a lot of times I try to solve problems in my head. Someone would be telling a story or sharing their experience: “I have sixteen things due and I’m freaking out. I’m really worried about X, Y, and Z.” I’ll say, “Okay, why don’t you prioritize and do this first and then do that? You know, if we research things online, I’m sure we can find a solution to this.” But that’s not what you need all the time. Sometimes you just need somebody to step back. That’s a very superficial example, a stress situation. But even in more important situations, you can’t always solve everybody’s problems for them. Sometimes people do just need a shoulder to lean on and to listen to them without judgement.
Or take their mind off of something. I remember just last week I was having a difficult afternoon. When my friend came over, all he did was to offer me a ride off campus. I was really hesitant. I have to learn to convince myself that that was what I needed instead of some solution or some time to go tackle the problem. I just needed to step away for a little bit. The best thing that a friend could offer was to take me on a ride off campus. That turned out to be the greatest solution ever!
I remember at the beginning we had no idea what we were doing. We were just going out with cameras and interviewing people. We had little badges that said “HoWM Photographer” which Teymour had made. We cut them out—they were just paper—and we are going to wear them and interview people. That was basically our giant vision. It’s so cool to see how that has changed. Then we did other things, like Catherine’s face painting pictures, Steph’s HoWM Experience, the calendar you made, and any of the videos that we did. Seeing people take it to whatever direction they wanted to take it was really cool. When we started HoWM, we just wanted to share people’s experiences and stories. That should matter any more. People should just take it to whatever direction they want to.
When you guys first started…I interviewed Lynn who was not there for the spring semester when I joined. I asked multiple people about that moment when we hit a thousand subscribers. How much did you remember from that?
We had had a meeting the night before, and we were going to wait it out. I think we didn’t end up waiting together. I just remember we were all refreshing the page trying to wait to hit a thousand. There are sixteen group text messages saying, “Everyone invite everyone you know to like this page.” Sometimes there are people who like the page now and I’ll get a notification, and I would realize that was definitely from that one day when we were trying to hit a thousand likes. They are liking it three years later! It was so surreal to see this little project that we started had grown so much, and that people are taking so much from it. I remember when we first started out, people were so receptive. We were almost shocked by how well perceived it was, how much people responded to what we were doing.
I like our stack in Swem a lot, and the silly photos we would take each time. We were just “hanging in there for finals.” We had some pretty good moments in that stack.
It’s such a unique dynamic when you have a group friendship like that. That was not something that I was used to, because I’ve always considered myself to be a person-to-person character, but then I think HoWM really made me feel at home. It is really special.
What about the first application process? I heard so many stories about the chaos. I want to hear your perspective.
It was really chaotic. I think we interviewed almost everyone that applied. I think we talked about pros and cons of the applicants. We were shocked by how many people wanted to join HoWM, and so we ended up interviewing probably thirty people. They were group interviews—we paired people into groups of two or three—because in our heads we were justifying it, thinking it would be more comfortable for people to do that, although it probably wasn’t always the case. We had limited time and there were so many people we wanted to get to know. It became really chaotic to do so many in a row.
It was really cold one day and we were doing it in Swem. But the time didn’t work out. Swem was closed for a snow day. At first we were doing interviews in the space between the two entrance doors. It was so unprofessional. It was freezing, but that was where we told our applicants to meet us, in Swem, not knowing that it was going to be closed. Mews was closed too. So the five of us just stood there with our notepads and laptops asking questions in the freezing cold, because people kept coming in and out of that door. It was definitely a bonding experience. And then we moved to the Jamestown lounge because I lived in Jamestown, and so I said, “My dorm had lots of really nice lounges. I can go get one.” We then asked the applicants, “Hey is this okay?” It worked out. Since I lived right next to the second north lounge, that was probably the one we picked.
I remembered biking from here, Lion M, all the way to Jamestown. It was probably my first time stepping into Jamestown. I went in and, of course, I didn’t know any of you at the time. It was you, Steph, Teymour, and Dylan. I think two of you were sitting in the couches and the other two were sitting on the side. It felt like an interrogation.
We thought it would be less intimidating…first of all we didn’t know who was going to be the interviewer, because we all really cared about the project. We all wanted to be there. This project is like our child. We want a say in this. I’m assuming it must be really intimidating to have four of us bearing down on you with the questions. Some of them were really hard. I just remember someone came up with a question that we should ask, “What would you us if this was an interview?” I remember feeling like I wouldn’t be able to answer that. I feel bad. But it worked out.
Now let’s talk about being a senior and graduating.
Okay, I can talk about this now. None of my friends want to talk about this, and that’s been difficult for me, because I don’t internalize things unless I’m talking about them. I will write constantly that graduation is in 14 day, 13 days… It will annoy the hell out of everyone, but we won’t talk about it. I didn’t realize that my last ever last day of classes was going to be Friday until last week! I was like, “Oh my god, this is our last day of classes,” and they told me, “Yeah, you are the one who’s counting the days down to graduation. Why don’t you know this?” I said, “It’s because we haven’t talked about it.” As much as I would try to talk about it, no one really wanted to. So this is good. I can talk about it.
The other day, because none of my friends wanted to talk about it, we watched the Gilmore Girls episode of graduation from college. One of the characters, Rory Gilmore, graduates from Yale. She moves on with her life and gets a job. It’s the last ever Gilmore Girls episode. We were just crying watching it, because this is too real. But it’s a good way to talk about it without having to actually talk about it ourselves, and to remind ourselves that everything is going to be okay.
From what I know, you switched to pre-med really late into your college career.
Not quite too late. Almost! I doubled majored in government and economics, and I like them. I like economics a lot. But I didn’t want to go into either of them. I guess it wasn’t really an existential crisis, but I had this moment of clarity, not even that, just a feeling that I had all junior year of how unhappy I was with my classes. I was very happy with almost everything else in my life. I had great friends; love my family, and I was having a good time. It’s just that I didn’t like my classes. I was going to be here for another two years and I have basically finished my majors. I thought, “Well, what was the point of majoring in these things when I don’t really want to do them?” I really missed science, so that was one of the driving factors. And I really loved problem solving and I felt I wasn’t using part of my brain that I had used a lot in high school, because in high school I did so much math and sciences. I think I kind of burned out.
The reason why I came to William & Mary and did government and economics was that I had just watched West Wing, so I was like, “Oh my god, I want to be President!” Actually the last thing my dad said to me when I came to William & Mary for the very first time was that, “I hope you grow up to become the President.” We had just finished watching West Wing together. So I decided to major in government and it’s going to be cool; I’m going to be President. I’m never going to do math and sciences again. I took AP Chemistry, Biology, and Physics my senior year, so it was a lot.
But I miss using that part of my brain. It was going to my second semester of junior year. I called my parents and they were super supportive, maybe because they were both doctors but also because they love me a lot. They said, “okay, if this is honestly what you need to do and are willing to work hard to do it,” because it was pretty hard to declare pre-med until the last couple semesters, “you can go for it.”
So yeah I did! I stayed and took summer classes. I studies really hard. I asked my friend Ben for help with orgo. It worked out. I did the pre-med track. But I think the most ridiculous part of it is that I’m not going to medical school. I think I would go to vet school if I did do anything, but I’m not going to do it right now. I probably won’t do that; it’s just something in the back of my mind that I could possibly do. I don’t regret it at all. People ask what the point was of taking all those classes when you are going to forget them in six months. I’m not going to remember whether something is cis or trans, what’s an alkene versus an alkyne in a year. I think I learned a lot about the world and science, of course, but I also just learned a lot about myself from that experience, having to manage my time more effectively and use that part of my brain again.
It was definitely overwhelming at times, but looking back at it, even if it’s just silly, I can just say that’s something I did. I did pre-med in two and a half semesters of college, and I’m proud of that. It definitely didn’t feel nice when I didn’t get sleep, and I thought maybe I shouldn’t have done this. If you are going to do pre-med, don’t do it in the stupidest possible way, taking all your chemistry, biology and physics at the same time. Maybe spread it out more.
I don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I’m going to move to Los Angeles in July. Hopefully I want to work in television, or write and produce television. At least there will be a lot of life experience to draw from there.
Could you talk a little bit more about your experience with television?
I really like television.I feel like I’m from 30 Rock sometimes, where it’s been a driving force in my life. It is what I turn to when I do need comfort. A lot of people turn to books or friends, and I turn to television, not in an unhealthy way, I don’t think. Even in this interview we talked about Gilmore Girls, which really helps me come to terms with graduation. Part of the reason I like HoWM so much is the storytelling aspect. You are sharing and telling these stories that other people would otherwise not get a chance to listen to.
I think storytelling is the main thing that connected everything I wanted to do in my life, whether it’s the fact that I love podcast and listen to six episodes a day, or that I love television. I like hearing other people’s stories, and I like being able to help share other people’s stories. I watched West Wing and I decided I wanted to be President. I watched Scrubs and called my parents, “I wanted to be a doctor! This is definitely something I want to do or at least try.” I realized that all of those things weren’t coming out because of something deep inside. I want to save people and be a doctor, and my parents are both inspiring doctors and they do have really cool stories. But it’s more that I heard stories on television or at other aspects of my life. It’s the fact that they were stories that I related to and I loved that caused me to do things in my life. I made that connection. I always wanted to work in television, so I might as well just go for it.
Do you have any solid plans for summer?
I’m doing Birthright once I graduate, going with my twin sister to Israel for ten days. That will be really cool. In terms of life plans, I’m literally going to move to Los Angeles where I think I know two people, and I have one really good friend who I’m fortunate enough to have and is probably going to move in with me; we are going to be roommates. We don’t really have any solid plans, which is really scary but also exciting, because it opens up so many possibilities.
I’m not going into this completely blind. I’ve done so many informational interviews and done so much research on where I should live, who I should be meeting, how should I talk to people, how should I network. I’ve called so many William & Mary alumni who live in LA area, phone chains on phone chains. People would say, “I don’t work in television but I know of a friend of a friend who might be willing to talk to you.” Then I would have to chase down every lead and follow up with everyone. I’ve definitely been doing that. Even though I don’t have a job per se, or even a place to live yet, I’m not worried about it. I think people are good and helpful, and they have been so nice to me. I think people expressed that they’d be willing to help introduce me to people and get settled. It’s just nice to see how responsive the William & Mary community is. All I did was calling them and say, “Hi, I’m a graduating senior moving to Los Angeles. Can you help me out?” and “Tell me what you did.”
Remember the time zone difference when you are doing your interviews because I messed that up one time and I felt so bad. It just didn’t click in my head. Oh yeah, California, that’s the other side of the country. 7 o’clock, I can do that, but it’s actually 10 o’clock my time. Oops!
I almost feel like you have an adventurous mindset when it comes to life.
I think it’s honestly because I’m really lucky. I think I’m in a really unique situation where my family has been super supportive in terms of allowing me to figure out what I wanted to do. When I told my parents that I was doing pre-med, they supported me financially so that I could take summer classes. I’ve always been fortunate enough that my parents have been supportive and willing to help me out however they possibly could. I definitely had a lot of opportunities where I could try a lot of different things, take an organic chemistry class, or move across the county that a lot of other people aren’t necessarily able to do, although I do think a lot of people here could do that more if they wanted to. One of my friends wanted to be a film director since he was really little, but he’s going into consulting. I know him personally and I know his situation, so I’m just like, “We know if you really wanted to, you parents would probably be supportive. Or you could work in consulting for two years, make enough money and try to make you real dreams happen.” I think there are a lot of people here who don’t take the opportunities that are available to them right now, and that’s fine. Not everyone is a position where I’m in. I can move across the country and I honestly don’t think I can do it without the support of my friends and family; it would be too scary for me.
There are some people here who I think should try to find what their passion is about as opposed to settling down right away. It is so easy if you had something in your mind and you have been on a path your entire life to just stay on that path. That’s cool sometimes. I have an identical twin sister and she’s wanted to go to law school since she was a sophomore in high school. She’s going to Columbia Law and she has made that happen. She is going to a Supreme Court justice one day and that’s going to be awesome. But there are other people who I feel like are nailed to a path just because what else they want to do, so they are just going to continue doing what they are already doing. I felt that way my freshman and sophomore years, trapped by my government and economics majors. I felt I didn’t like this but I was going to continue doing this, because I was so far along, and what would be the point in not doing that? But what if we are in a position where we can explore other things? I think if you have that chance, you should.
Yeah, many people here definitely settle down in a career or academic path.
People are so diverse here. You have so many different people with so many different interests that it is weird that many people end up doing the exact same thing. So many people go in to consulting or finance. But our student body is so diverse, so it sometimes doesn’t make sense to me that so many people would make the same decision about the rest of their life, something as important as that.
The scariest part about moving to LA and working in television is that there is no set path. It’s not like I apply for this job and I get this job, or I go to school for this. I’m going to go there, send out a billion resumes, work in a coffee shop, and maybe eventually work my way up and meet the right person at the right time. But that doesn’t mean it’s not something worth trying just because it is difficult to do.