What do you want people to know about you most of all? What is most quintessentially you?
I guess, I would at least hope, the thing that people remember me by is how much I care for people and how I show that care. A few weeks ago, my housemates and I were talking about love languages, and I took this online test and it told me that my love language is quality time and I think that’s very accurate for me. Outside of relationships too, like friendships. I really value just spending time with people, even if it’s just getting coffee with someone once a week, I think that’s how I show people I care about them. I at least hope that I’m successful in that, even if we’re not best friends that spend every day together, just showing friends that I care about them and they matter to me.
Do you think that’s the reason you joined Humans? What motivated you to join?
I joined as a sophomore, so I had a year on campus, just following the page. I loved it, and always loved Humans of New York from the beginning too. And I think I just applied because I wanted to meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met, I think that’s something that’s cool about Humans is that you just start conversations with people and see where it goes, and having a reason to do that, and not just going up to someone randomly and being like, “Hey, I wanna be your friend!” This campus is small , but I’m graduating and I still see faces around campus that I don’t recognize, so I think I was just hoping to join Humans, meet people, and find more familiar faces, start more conversations….
Do you have an interview that sticks out to you the most?
I interviewed my friend Kylie in the middle of last semester. I interviewed her about her haircut, because I had known her last year, and then hadn’t seen her in a few months over the summer and when she came back to school, she had a pixie cut, which was very different for her. So I asked her about that and she had a very empowering story behind it, because her boyfriend at the time, when she brought up that she wanted to get her haircut, he said, “No you won’t look good, I won’t find you attractive anymore if you cut your hair.” She broke up with him, and said I’m gonna cut my hair and I’ll still be beautiful. So she cut her hair and she rocks it, so I think that was an empowering story that you cant let others dictate your life or your decisions, and you have to honestly just do whatever makes you happiest and other people can just deal with that.
So that kinda leads me to ask you about your plans after college. I remember, when you interviewed me as an applicant to Humans, and you said you studied mathematical biology or something like that, and I was like “what the heck is that?” And now you’re going to Harvard, for mathematical biology?
Computational biology, yeah, very similar.
What is that? What brought you to that? How does that create a part of your identity?
I’ve always been really interested in science and math, and I got here, and I didn’t want to do pre-med, because I didn’t think being doctor was what I wanted to do, but I still wanted to do something where I felt like I could help people using my science and math background. And I found the mathematical biology major, and it’s kinda a weird major because it’s hidden. I’m technically an interdisciplinary studies major with a concentration in CAMS, with a concentration in mathematical biology so it’s several layers deep. I’m really interested in personalized medicine where you sequence someone’s DNA, because people respond differently to drugs and treatments, and the thought is that it’s just because of our DNA. So, the whole idea behind personalized medicine is that if you can see someone’s entire genome, you’ll be able to find the specific parts that would respond to the treatment, so you can figure out which treatment would be best so you don’t have to try a bunch of different treatments to find what’s best and by then, the patient may be in a worst state then they were to begin with because all this time has passed and they haven’t even gotten a treatment that’s worked. So that’s what I’m gonna be involved in for the next two years at Harvard and probably what I’m gonna write my thesis on, which is crazy to think about. I think my whole goal in life is to be able to help people and I don’t wanna be just stuck in a lab forever, I wanna have some sort of connection with people, so going into personalized medicine I would get to help people, I would see the change that I’m making with the patients that I see while still doing research and having a foot in both fields.
Was there ever a time in your college career where you were like why do I know I wanna do this?
The reason that I decided to do personalized medicine over straight research happened last summer. I had this internship that I was super excited about and it was great in the end. I was doing research and I was in a room with no windows with three other people every day all summer. It was great and I learned a ton, but I really craved more human connection. I think that was a tough time for me, because I was like “Wow, I don’t enjoy this, what am I doing with my life? I’ve spent the last 21 years studying this topic that now, I find kind of boring.” I think I just had to revisit my goals, and rethink what I wanted to do, because up until then I just thought I would do into research.
Are you excited for Boston? Have you ever been to Boston?
I’ve been to Boston a few times. I’m so excited.
I feel like that’s very different from Oregon?
Portland, yeah. It’s different. I was considering moving to New York City after this, I was given a job there, so I was kinda set on going there, which is even more different than Boston. So now going to Boston doesn’t seem like too crazy of a step. There’s so many schools there, so the average age is pretty young. I’ve met a couple people from my program and the school so far, and they seem so great and so passionate about what they do. They are so intelligent and the professors and the researchers there are amazing, so I’m very excited. It’s gonna be a fun two years, it’s gonna be a lot of work, but fun.
Tell me about your best friends from William & Mary.
They are all my housemates, I live in a house with 8 other girls, 7 of us are Kappa Deltas, 2 of them are not. I kinda went through a phase my junior year, because I had a lot of friends who were graduating. All of my friends were seniors, they were going to be leaving, I didn’t know what to do. I signed on to live in this house with all of them, it has been just amazing, we’ve all gotten so close. I wasn’t close to them before, but now we spend so much time together, both inside the house and out of the house. We’re going strawberry picking next week, we took grad photos together. We took some pictures on our couch because that’s where we hang out all the time, even though it’s a three-person couch. We just kinda squeeze in and spend all our nights there, and mornings, I was on that couch for like 6 hours today. I went into this year where I thought I wasn’t gonna get super close with them, and my house was just gonna be somewhere I slept, but it’s truly become my home and being able to live with friends that I absolutely adore and want to spend all my time with has been life-chaining. I’ve made lifelong friends in this year.
What is it about them that you’re so drawn to? How do you admire them?
I live with 8 different girls and they’re all different, but also similar in so many ways. They’re all very hardworking and very passionate about what they do and choose to get involved with. Like Ariel, I’ve gotten super close with, she’s just so driven and so caring and kind. She has so many friends throughout all these nooks and crannies of campus, which is reflective of her personality, she’s just so friendly and kind to anyone she meets that literally, anyone she talks to will become her best friend. I was at Cheese Shop with her and a couple other housemates a few days ago, and she just started chatting with a stranger and we just chatted with them for 10 minutes while we waited for our sandwiches, and that’s so reflective of her personality because she can just talk to anyone and makes them feel heard and valuable. That’s Ariel, and then there’s Beth, who’s just amazing. She’s known her life that she wants to be a teacher and she works so hard towards that goal, and she’s so passionate about equal pay and higher wages for teachers and is really fighting for that cause, and it’s cool to see that in her. I could just go on and on, and it’s really sad that we’re all gonna be in such different places next year.
Does it feel weird to be a real adult now? Going out into the world? Do you even feel like an adult?
Compared to freshman year, I definitely feel like I have gained so much more knowledge and independence and everything, but I still don’t feel like a total adult. My parents still have to help me with my taxes, I FaceTime my mom all the time when I’m cooking, or I’ll FaceTime my dad and have him help me with my math homework sometimes. I’m not fully there yet, but I don’t know if I want to be. I don’t wanna be a full-blown adult yet in my life, I just wanna have fun. I think it’s important to have responsibilities and do all that boring stuff, but still have fun, and hang out with your friends at midnight when you should be asleep…
I went through a really rough phase in sophomore year when I was just so stressed about school and everything happening in my life. It really took a toll on me, and even my physical health. I started getting cold sores, and they were so painful and I got them just because I was so stressed. That really taught me a valuable lesson, that yes, grades are important, but to a degree. I’ve gotten into Harvard and I have four or five C’s on my transcript. It’s important to a degree, but at some point, you have to realize that grades are not everything. And if you do wanna go to grad school, that’s awesome, but they look at more than just your GPA. It’s not something you should kill yourself over, or get cold sores over. It’s important to hang out with friends and have that quality time. Don’t hole yourself up in Swem seven days a week to get an A in a class, when you could just get a B and be happy.
To that point, is there anything about William & Mary that you would want to change or help improve?
I definitely would want to change the stress culture here. During my four years, I’ve definitely seen it get better, because it’s something that’s talked about more now. People say don’t spend the night in Swem during finals, they say spend time with your friends, take time to get an actual meal, things like that. I still think that there’s work to be done. People here are so talented and driven, and I think people just feed off of each other. People think “I wanna be more like this person, or this person, and that means I have to study more hours for this test,” and I think it’s important to realize you are your own person. It’s okay to be stressed, that ‘something that’s gonna happen many times, but it doesn’t have to be competitive. Sometimes people are like “I studied this many hours for this test, hahaha, I’m better than you,” and that’s just not how it works.
If you were to give a One Last Thing Speech, what would you say? What would your theme be?
I guess the whole thing of One Last Thing is to give advice to people, so I guess I would say just show people that you care. Show people that they matter and they are valuable in your life. Because it really can change someone’s outlook to know that someone cares about them. Even something as small as sitting with someone in Swem and studying with them, can at least lift someone’s spirit for the day, because at least they’ve seen a friendly face.
How were you able to figure that out? Were you able to find that perspective through experiences or do you think that mentality has always been within you?
I think it’s always been a part of what I try to do, but especially in sophomore year, when I was having such a tough time, it really meant a lot to me when my friends reached out and checked in and made me eat dinner with them. When I looked back on sophomore year, it was something that really changed my outlook, because I was so stressed about everything happening in my life at that point. So having people who cared about me and who showed me they cared about me really changed everything for me. So now I try to pay it back and do it for others.
Michelle: How has senior year been going, and how does it feel to come close to the end?
Nicole: I guess especially this year, I’ve just been really trying to make an effort to appreciate literally every aspect of my life here and trying to make time for all the people in my life, not just my best friends but also the people I know on a lighter level, too. I feel like especially during my freshman and sophomore year I was very much the kind of person who thought school was more important and that I had to put my studies first. When people would invite me to something, I would often say “I can’t go, sorry, I have to do this homework, or study for this test.” Not that school isn’t important now, too, it obviously still is; but I’ve definitely been taking more time to just stop by for an hour when people are doing something and they invite me, and do my homework later or push it to tomorrow morning to take the time to spend with friends. It’s been very bittersweet but it’s also been nice being able to have those moments with people and spending more time with the people I care about while I’m still here.
M: What are your favorite things to take time for now?
N: It’s fun to plan things with people and get out to try new things. But, I also like the more spontaneous things, like just going bowling instead and just doing that, or having a friend call me and turning it into a game night. My favorite moments are when you’re just expecting to have a typical day and it ends up being a more spontaneous hang out with friends that you didn’t expect and just roll with it. It always ends up being a really amazing time.
M: Do you have a really memorable experience?
N: Earlier this year, I was with some of my friends and we originally planned on lunch and going to this brewery. It was right after we came back from winter break, and we decided to just spend the whole day together and keep it going. We ended up going out to dinner, too, and we were talking when our waiter came over and asked us about being students. We told him we were seniors and we were really sad about it. That’s kind of the general attitude about the last semester and being all sentimental. He kind of looked at us like “What are you sad about? You’re about graduate, you’re going to go change the world. There’s nothing to be upset about.” That really stuck in my head because that wasn’t everyone’s attitude; yeah, it’s sad that everything’s coming to an end, but there’s also so many new opportunities that are coming our way and so many new memories that we’re going to make. We’re ending our time here, but even when you don’t have anything figured out, things are going to really start to get interesting. There are a lot of things to look forward to in the same sense. That really stuck out to me because it was a nice sentimental time with friends, but this guy came in and helped us look at it from this way, too.
M: So what are you most excited about after graduation?
N: I’m excited about figuring my life out. I haven’t really gotten there yet. In a lot of ways, I thought that I would have my life figured out at this point. At the same time, I know this next year is going to be kind of a roller coaster because the programs that I’ve been applying to are just for a few months, and then I’ll be going to grad school after that. I’m excited to see the places I’ll end up in, because I’m not sure how that will look like yet, or the people I’ll meet in those places. I’m also excited about the relationships I’ll keep in touch with from William & Mary and from home, and being able to see those people again after periods of time and pick up where we left off.
M: So what are you looking to do?
N: Eventually, I want to go to grad school, probably in a year or two. But in between that time, I’m trying to get research experience in marine mammal cognition. I’ve been applying to different research labs and volunteer programs to both get experience working with animals–I’ve worked with fruit flies here, but my work with fruit flies isn’t the most applicable to dolphins and sea lions, so I’m trying to dip my toes in the water with that, literally and figuratively–and also to build on my research experience. Fingers crossed, that one of them will take a chance on me!
M: What drew you to studying marine mammals?
N: I study neuroscience now, which I had planned on going in as a Biology major as well as Psychology. I wanted to do the biology of psychology and my advisor pointed out to me that that literally was neuroscience, so I would consider that. During my time studying that here, I always found that the research articles or the topics I genuinely got excited about were the ones about animals. So I thought, why have this be something I occasionally read and get excited about? I want my whole life to be something I can be excited about everything that I’m doing, so I’ll do animal cognition instead of people. People are great too, but I find to be animals more interesting and cool to work with.
M: Have you worked with animals before?
N: I haven’t, I’ve always loved learning about them, though. When I was younger, I felt that I wanted to study marine biology and I thought that that was what I would end up going to college for. I’m not really sure what happened in high school, where I kind of got away from that and wanted to go into more lab research. But I’m glad that I’m deciding that I want to reclaim my childhood dream. I also wanted to be a whale trainer for a while as a kid, but then I saw blackfish and I don’t know anymore! I think it will be cool to combine my initial interest of working with animals with the later one of lab research though.
M: I know you studied abroad, how did that influence your experience here?
N: I previously was very much someone to always put school first and was very focused on my grades–school is important, and this is a very hard school–but, having the chance to go abroad meant having the chance to take classes where my grade only counted as transfer credit. It didn’t matter if I got an “A” because it would only show up as a “T” on my transcript, I only had to pass. Also, the school I was studying at, it was a good school, but I felt like it wasn’t as hard as William & Mary. So I had the chance to spend time with friends and know that I’ll be fine and still get a good grade by simply paying attention in class. I really just had no stress about school whatsoever because the pressure to do well wasn’t there. At the same time, I ended up doing really well in all my classes. I was still taking things like neuroanatomy and global health, so they weren’t complete jokes of classes. Just having all the pressure off allowed me to excel in them and let me realize how much stress actually affects your grades–me being really stressed out about things at school wasn’t the best motivator. Before I went abroad, I would be getting so stressed about some of my classes that I would be nauseous just from nerves, and that isn’t normal at all. I don’t need to live my life like that. So coming back into senior year, I still have hard classes left for my major but I’ve really calmed down and taken the time to enjoy myself with friends. Making sure I’m feeling emotionally healthy, too, helps my grades way more than studying all the time- and is also just a better use of my time. It definitely changed my outlook on my studies. Getting a break and being away from here for a few months and returning for senior year made me appreciate everything here. It made senior year more special in that sense.
M: What else changed your outlook here at William & Mary?
N: When I was looking for different dealing with stress tactics, my dentist recommended me to make short term checklist of different things you could check off. It gave me a more tunnel-vision to get through the short term things, and I wasn’t stressed about the other things that were happening or coming up later. I started doing that, and realized the way I was measuring my days was by how much I was checking off that I was stressed about. I heard of people doing a one-line journal entry a day, and I have a friend who does a notecard thing where she adds onto it each year. To try to make things a little more positive, I started writing down everyday before I go to bed one thing that made me smile that day, or made me happy. Sometimes it’ll be something really fun like spending the day going to wineries with friends or going on a cool hike, but sometimes it’s just something really simple like- I was in Swem all day but then I ran into this person and they told me a story that really made me laugh and brightened my day. Then, when I am really stressed out, it’s nice to both reflect on the day and find that one thing that still really made me happy, and it’s nice to have the whole collection to look through when I need some cheering up too.
M: If you were to give underclassmen advice, what would it be?
N: I think it would be to take the time to appreciate everyone in your life. Something I’ve been thinking about recently when people talk about what they’re going to miss the most about William & Mary, is that I’ll miss my friends, obviously, and being in such close proximity to them. But I know that the people I’ve become really close friends with, I’ll stay in touch with them and see them again. The thing that makes me more sad about are the people who I’m more lightly friends with and the ones that I’ll have a 20 minute conversation with when I run into them, but never explicitly make plans to hangout with, and the thought of falling out of touch with those relationships that I still really value in a different way. I just wish I would’ve had more time to develop those relationships. I love how easy it is to connect with people here and how genuinely interested everyone is in meeting new people. I guess my advice would be to just really just take advantage of the community we have here and put yourself out there as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to be the one to reach out to get to know someone. Sometimes I’ll be kind of nervous doing that, which is ironic as someone who goes around and interviews strangers, but I still get nervous when I go up to someone I don’t know and talk to them, but I never regret striking up a conversation and getting to know someone a little more. Even if it doesn’t turn into “Wow, you’re now one of my best friends!” you really won’t regret making an effort to converse with the people around you. I would really say, try to get to know as many people as you can and hear as many stories as you can.
What do you wish that people knew about you? What do you want to say about yourself to start out?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I always hope that other people know that I’m open to conversations and I’m open to understanding other perspectives. I think that’s the least I can tell someone else because a lot of times we tend to give ourselves attributes or let other people attribute names, positions, and categories to us. But then we lose sight of the commonalities that exist between us all. When I introduce myself, I try not to confine it to just solid, noun words or phrases. Instead, I try to orient myself in a way that makes others feel comfortable interacting with me down the road. I think that if you want real interaction and real human connection, it arises after your introduction. If you say you’re “so-and-so”, that can sometimes preclude a better interaction. I just want people to always know that I’m open to new perspectives and to hearing other stories.
Is the desire to hear others’ stories what made you want to join Humans of William & Mary?
I don’t think I was that sophisticated back then actually – I was a freshman and I wanted to get involved in student groups. The first photography gig that I got on campus was with the Virginia Informer, which is a newspaper. I don’t think they publish these days, but back then we still published paper copies of our newspaper and we had a website. I discovered them at the activities fair which is how most people discover their interests. I felt like there was always something off with photojournalism though. The process is that they give you a contact and then you email and meet them. You show up and you take a picture. Or it’s some sort of event where you register with the name of your publication and then you just show up and take pictures. There was very little interaction; instead it was a lot of observing from a distance and reporting what was going on. You always want it to be objective, and that objectivity was very contrived. I was behind the lens and behind my camera, and so I was always taking pictures from my perspective. I loved capturing moments that were meaningful to me. I always construed meaning in images, and so I couldn’t isolate myself from that. For example, whenever I take pictures of authority figures, I always take them at a certain angle. But whether or not a person is in a position of authority is very subjective. Also, the pictures I took of events were always very much infused with my own understanding of who is important, what action is important, and what is worth documenting. A lot of that made my pictures unfit for photojournalism.
So when Humans was founded in December 2013, I wasn’t a part of it because it was founded by two seniors. The initial team consisted of their close friends – a couple of photographers that were sophomores and juniors at the time. One of the very first posts was a picture that had my freshman Orientation Aide in it, and so that’s how Humans of William & Mary showed up on my Facebook feed. I saw it, and I liked the page because I thought it was a good idea. I actually knew Humans of William & Mary before I knew about Humans of New York. I researched the whole objective of the Humans campaign and thought that it was a cool way of interacting with the world. Honestly, I didn’t come in with a lot of understanding of what I wanted to do in terms of my social life, but it was Humans that really introduced me to the idea of opening yourself up, storytelling, and the power of narratives. I saw that Humans was looking for new members and so I applied. I think during the interview process, they became interested in me as a candidate because I could make videos. I showed them a video that I made – they wanted to start a new video team so they were actively scouting people that could do that. I specialized in video production during my first year in the group. I made a lot of videos and tried to pull together some video projects. The group at the very beginning wasn’t as close-knit as it is now. We met once a month and it had a very directive style. They would give orders of what should be done, and then they would ask for opinions and we would have a fake discussion about it (-laughing- maybe the old directors shouldn’t see this part). They came from student government backgrounds like the traditional leadership experiences that exist on campus.
Are you glad that the membership of Humans of William & Mary has shifted away from it being mostly comprised of individuals like that?
Yeah, I love that. We started having weekly meetings with the second generation of directors – Steph Faucher and Lynn Nakamura… They wanted the group to be closer together and to function more like a family, and, most crucially, they wanted everyone to contribute creative ideas. They were all about creativity and they still are today. Steph is a photographer and a producer, and she makes videos. Lynn is doing marketing and she’s going to grad school in Richmond. They are both very creative, and both of them are entrepreneurs. They knew what would be a good way to promote their cause. With Humans specifically, it’s not a commercial cause, it’s a communal cause. They used their skills, their shrewd judgment about our campus community, and an understanding of what we needed to steer Humans in a community-oriented direction.
How do you think you’ll apply the principles behind Humans, or the storytelling or photography aspects of it, to your life after college?
My journey in Humans preceded my personal journey of understanding narratives. So, going forward, I think I’ll definitely gravitate towards more personal aspects of it. I might not go out and interview a lot of random people, but I think when I’m traveling or just when I’m in my immediate surroundings, I’ll grow my tentacles out a little longer so that I can touch more people and listen to more stories. I think the curiosity regarding other lives that I developed as a member of Humans of William & Mary will never fade away. This also applies to people who I think I’m really close with like my family members. When I went home, I would be more curious about the stories of my parents and grandparents. My dad would be happy to tell me about his time in college which he never talked about when I was little. I was brought up in a way that emphasized my own growth. China is a place where dramatic changes are happening and have been happening for the past thirty years, so people are very forward-looking, especially with their kids. I think I only discovered that I crave connections to the past and connections to narratives when I was at William & Mary. So I took that back home, documented my grandparents’ stories, and scanned a lot of old photos. And the whole thing has been such a positive experience for my entire family. When I looked at photos of my grandparents from the 1960s when they first got married, I would upload them to my family’s group chat and people would respond so joyously. It was beautiful to see that happen and to experience all of it occurring as a result of my growth in college. Hopefully I can continue doing those sorts of projects and continue to influence more people. To use a Christian analogy, it’s like being a missionary where you’re always trying to spread words and perspectives to others.
I found that to be true too. For my Worlds of Music class, I just had to write a music ethnography about someone in my life who has a connection to world music. My mom has studied West African percussion for years, but I think that if I hadn’t been in Humans, I would have never thought to ask her personal questions about her relation to it. It’s not like she wasn’t willing to tell me about it before, I had just never thought to ask her about it in-depth.
Exactly. Our parents know us for our entire lives, but we don’t really know most of their lives. We are their projects. They transform themselves for us and they become different people for us. But we never got to know the people that they were. Before my mom had me, I’m sure she had a full palette of interests – she used to play five instruments. I’ve never even seen her play those instruments, and it just blew my mind seeing all of their old pictures and listening to their stories. Sometimes things suddenly make sense as to why our parents are who they are. They might have grown up a certain way, or have had a certain experience that I have never heard. It’s amazing.
So switching gears a little bit, you’re going to graduate school in the fall for chemistry. Ever since you told me that you were pursuing a chemistry major, I’ve found it interesting to think about how a hard science like chemistry and Humans would fit together. Did you feel like it was necessary to join Humans so you could experience more of the arts?
Sometimes I think of myself as being an undercover spy because I’m in the chemistry community and spreading the word that people matter more. People matter more than material well-being. But, this is what I find interesting. The community of chemists and the scientific community in general is much more well-cultured and concerned about humanity than an outsider would normally expect it to be. When we think about the commonality of us as people, scientists are still dealing with people primarily. They are in lab environments, they have students, and they have families. The community itself operates as a human community as opposed to a machine. When you want to get published, you need to acquaint yourself with reviewers. When you go to conferences, it’s awkward for sure because they’re all scientists, but they are actual people doing actual things. I think that what’s unique about the scientific community – the image we present tends to evade that aspect. We always want to talk about our achievements and our results because that’s the nature of the profession. We are supposed to be providing guidance and knowledge to other sectors of society. But, I see that human aspect in college when I interact with my professors and other young, aspiring scientists around me, and so I feel much more comfortable. The people in the scientific community are more than just cold knowledge and books, they are actual people. My lab culture is very artistic – one of my friends is really good at drawing, I do photography, my friend Aaron Bayles dances salsa, and we’re all into different styles of music. One of the other graduating seniors is into forensic science, and she’s an English minor too. We are a group of people that value so much beyond science, and this group of people is graduating. I was talking to my professor about how our lab culture is going to change. My professor said, “Yes, I have witnessed a lot of changes. Of course I am very sad and a little bit worried about having a new generation of people come in.” But because our scientific professions are more isolated from our personal and emotional lives, we can sometimes be on the same page much more easily than other types of people. My professor has noticed how even when the lab culture has changed across generations, people still always bonded over science. I believe a bond is a bond. Chemists love talking about bonds. You connect over science. I also think there is inner beauty in the science that we do. I never see it as conflicting, I see it as organically relating. It is one thing in my head.
Something else that I wanted to ask you is if there is any interview that you’ve done that sticks out to you the most as being particularly meaningful or special?
There are so many great interviews, but a couple came to my mind just now because I did them around this area. One was with our campus photographer, Stephen Salpukas He’s the person who has taken most of the pictures that you see on our homepage, wm.edu. He of course had six cameras strapped onto him, and he talked about his career as a photojournalist, taking pictures for magazines, and finally landing his current job as the campus photographer for William & Mary. He talked about the technical aspect and the human aspect of photographing an event. For example, how you gauge expectations, how late you can show up to an event and still be okay, how you can juggle multiple events that are booked in the same time slot, and how you can walk in and immediately go to the place where you can find the best lighting. Again, to him, the technical aspect and the human aspect of photography are one thing. Both of these things are so integral to his life, which is similar to how chemistry and a broader focus on the arts and humanities are to me. He is way more experienced in photography than I am, but I had to take his picture, which was so intimidating – taking a picture of a professional photographer! He was very accommodating though. That was a great experience.
Another interview that I can recall was with a girl named Anna Henshaw, or the segway girl. It was the first interview we published on the website. She really opened my eyes to how much our campus lacks facilities for people who need special accessibility. She goes around campus on a segway, and some people are on wheelchairs. The lack of accessible pathways and entrances/exits really affects your dignity. We all want to be respected as equal beings, but it’s not right how unaccommodating some of the campus facilities are. Sometimes human concerns become second place, which should never be the case.
And then of course, One Last Thing happens around this area as well.
Why did you not want to be a speaker for One Last Thing this year?
More people should have the opportunity, and I don’t think I really need a platform to speak. What is a platform? I think a lot of it originates from consumerism. A one-on-one conversation is good enough for me. There’s no message that I need to get out to people that urgently. The reason why I don’t crave a setting where I can share something intimate with a lot of people is because I do already have a lot of supportive friends who talk to me on a one-on-one basis, and I’m able to recognize that. So, that’s why I think One Last Thing is a good opportunity for other people to have a chance to speak.
Do you think that you’re ready to move onto a new stage of your life or do you wish you had more time to spend in college?
I still remember when I was a freshman, and when the senior year of college seemed so far away. I think I’m ready to move on to the next stage of my life. I tend to see things as a unified whole, as opposed to separated parts. I can both enjoy moving to the next stage of my life, but also stay connected with this community. This community is not a solid thing either, it’s not a rock in the middle of Virginia. It’s fluid, and it’s the people there that I care about the most. A lot of the graduating seniors are going to different places, but William & Mary will always be a base and hopefully it will still be something we bond over long after we graduate. At the same time though, we are more than just our college experiences. We are a similar age and are of a similar generation. We will go through a lot of things together, and we will still have many common experiences regardless of where we end up and what kind of life we lead. That was proven to be largely true when I graduated high school. I was still able to bond with my high school friends because the majority of us went to college. Regardless of where you go, college is something you can bond over, and in the future it will be your family or your job that you bond over. You can always bond over just being people, regardless of the different hats that everyone wears. So, in a way, you’re never leaving any community behind. It’s about how you seek out a community around yourself and how you try to build a community around other people.
Do you have any final piece of advice that you would give to current students or graduating seniors?
My final advice would be to listen. When you asked that question, the trees were rattling. Listen physically to whatever is happening around you including people and other perspectives. That applies to myself as well, because it’s something that I have to remind myself of all the time. I don’t think that I’ll ever not have to remind myself of that because it’s so easy to get lost in our own brains. It’s a shame that in America, a lot of the time it’s difficult to access different perspectives. The idea of diversity has been constructed in such a way that makes you feel comfortable, but true diversity is something that is inherently uncomfortable. People should expect and explore that discomfort. America is never a project that’s been well-fulfilled or realized – it’s always in progress. A more perfect union is what people should strive for, and the way to get there is through listening and always taking in different perspectives. When you listen, people become honest about what they feel and think, and what they see and perceive. The whole idea of listening to other perspectives is so old-fashioned and stale, but it’s well-tested and true. The reason that this piece of wisdom is so long-standing and that people are still talking about it is because it’s hard. No one listens perfectly, so then it becomes something that you have to put effort into and make intentional. You should never feel good about the state of openness that you are in, and you should always be seeking out another way of thinking.
My senior year was different from the rest of my years. One of the main things is that I stopped running Cross Country. I ran for the team for the past 3 years and this year I decided that I wanted a change. I’ve been running since I was in the 1st grade and it’s the only sport that I have ever really done. After a lot of thought I realized that life here at William and Mary is so full, in so many different ways, and the amount of time I dedicated to running didn’t allow me to experience everything that the school had to offer. I still love running and I go every day, I miss my teammates and still support them to the fullest. The whole experience was a new move for me and, I hate quitting things, but I realized that I would be leaving an amazing experience for another experience that is just as rewarding. It allowed me to have all sorts of new experiences, I could hang out on the terrace in between classes rather than rushing to practice, I could meet my friend late at night that needed someone to talk to rather than go to sleep for a 7 AM practice the next day. Overall the decision was beneficial to me in a whole new way.
What were some of the highlights of your year?
In a weird way, all the difficult trials I had to go through were the highlights for me this year. Through all the tough situations I grew closer to other people and learned more about myself. I realized that it’s very easy to stay surface level with someone and never really get to know them. For example, in clubs that we join we might have a vague sense of who a person is but we never really get a chance to sit down and talk with them. It’s easy to assume that we will eventually grow a close friendship with someone and base that assumption off past friendships that were easily made, but sometimes it just never comes to fruition. Only through making a point to get to know someone will you actually get to get past a superficial level and grow closer to that person.
Another highlight from this year is landing my dream job! It’s an advertising job in New York City that is a yearlong program for figuring out which parts of advertising you prefer. Every couple months you rotate roles and campaigns. Specifically I will rotate between account management and account strategy. Account management is where I can act as the liaison between my company and the client. At the end of the year there is an assessment of what you like and from there you are placed in that section more permanently. Account Strategy is less involved with clients but centers around looking at competitor, the clients internal strengths and how each affects the position of the client.
A great memory I have of the company is when I went for a tour. I absolutely loved it, everyone there was so full of energy and I completely felt “in the zone” while I was there. After that I had the chance to celebrate with all my friends and I got to see everyone I loved that day which really makes that moment stand out for me.
It’s hard to think of all the highlights of the year but I think a lot of them lie in the small moments. For example, when you learn something in class and it intersects with something you love, it feels like a door opens just for you and I love that feeling.
One of my favorite small memories is from my friend Joanna. She will always drive me home, and even though I tell her that campus so small, her excuse will simply be, “I have a car, let me drive you.” She would do that all the time and sometimes we would just sit and talk until 2 AM and I cherish those spontaneous moments of friendship. I almost forget another big highlight; I threw myself my own birthday party. I know what you might be thinking, and don’t worry, there were other people there. It was with my friend Joanna and my other friend Ryan; we never got to celebrate our 21st birthdays with one another since they were at weird times during the year. Ryan and Joanna were celebrating their 22nd birthday and they told me to join and celebrate my 21st—in mid-April, and my birthday is in August. That whole memory was so much fun and I love it so much.
What is one of the most important things you learned from your 4 years attending William & Mary?
I think one of the most valuable things I learned from this college is to pursue what you love and to simply “be and do awesome.” I learned how to make the mundane into exciting and how to turn the challenging into rewarding. I would never think of throwing myself my own birthday party or roommate appreciation lunch. Simply put, the people at William & Mary taught me how to approach life more playfully. Coupled along with that idea is the idea of “Just do it”, whatever it is. It may not work out or you may face obstacles but at least entertain the idea.
What has been the toughest experience you have had at William & Mary?
For me it’s not an experience but just a recurring problem and that’s the feeling of inadequacy. It’s not something caused by the school but simply a problem with human nature. A big thing for me is trying to figure out if what I have done in the past 4 years has been important. I absolutely love what I have done at this school, but this specific question has afflicted me, mainly in this year. Many people I know have a cause and set up a lot of their activities around that cause. I don’t think I have found my cause yet, which isn’t something I want to rush since I want it to be genuine, but the toughest question I have asked myself was whether I have done enough while I was here.
What are your favorite spots on campus?
I love the terrace since it’s a place where you can meet with your friends and form new friendships through mutual friends. Another favorite place, which many people don’t know about, is the small study space behind the career center, it’s a beautiful garden which I encourage everyone to see. Another hidden gem is behind the end of the sunken gardens near the Crim Dell where there are the readers’ statues. The two statues are of a boy and a girl reading and those exact same statues were at one of my old schools!
What are your favorite campus organizations that you have been affiliated with?
Probably all of them, I’m very biased. I obviously love HoWM, I think it’s extremely important to imagine people complexly and we do that by sharing their stories with our community. I am also a part of an on campus ministry called RUF and I love it. I have been a part of it for the past 4 years and I feel as if they constantly give to me as a whole, even when I feel as though I can’t give as much back. They feel like a family to me and are so dedicated to loving other people and fostering community growth. I enjoy my work with the admissions office as well and I love welcoming people to our amazing school!
Who are some of the closest friends you have made while at William & Mary?
My roommate Leanna Eisenman, I lived with her for all 4 years. We are very opposite in a lot of different ways, yet also very similar. After being close with her for the past 4 years I have realized that Leanna is the most genuinely kind person that I have ever met. She constantly believes the best in people. She has an amazing forgiving nature, looks for the best in a person. But she is low-key a major badass. She does neuroscience and is extremely hardworking, yet is very humble about it. It’s only through passing that I realize all the major things that she is learning about or the research that she’s conducting. One of my favorite things about her is that she loves adventures; she will be the nudge that pushes me to try something new or crazy. She is the absolute best and puts up with my antics all the time!
Also my other suite mate ZaKiya is incredible. She is a love source for so many people; she’s the person that will give you a hug when you need it the most. She is very wise and insightful and is excellent at reading people, I sometimes feel that she knows me better than I know myself. She will know when I don’t mean something I say and let me know about it, not with words, but just with a simple look. She is basically my conscience.
Two of my other really good friends are Brendan McNamara and Joanna Hernandez.
I am confident that Brendan will be the next president. Not because he tells you, but because he is someone who I think can do anything. I have the most confidence in him out of any one I know; he will do difficult tasks playfully and graciously and make it seem effortless while being very humble. He is a person who is very thoughtful of others and will make a point to show that he is thinking of you. He’s not the loudest voice in the room but when he does speak it’s very powerful and leaves an impression on you. On top of all that he is pure fun. He’s the type of guy to start body-rolling at the beginning of a party and is always looking to make things fun for others.
Joanna Hernandez is the light of my life and has the biggest smile you will ever see. She’s an amazing Zumba instructor and injects life into everything she does. She is very thoughtful and tries to inject that same love of life into everyone that she meets. She makes me want to be and do better in my every-day life. She makes it look natural but I know she does this with intention. She will always see the best in me even when I don’t see the same in myself. She is an amazing friend to have!
What are some changes that you think should be made to the William and Mary community?
I always believed that we should be more diverse, but genuinely diverse. I believe it’s great that we are admitting students from non-traditional backgrounds but we never see the true representation of all backgrounds here on campus. William and Mary still is a predominantly white school and that may be reflected in our decisions made here on campus. As a community which values equal inputs we have to ensure that people of all backgrounds are represented in that decision-making process. It is better to have opinions that are not reflective of your own in order to foster a stronger community. As a school we are becoming gradually better at making our school more diverse in all aspects, but we still have work to do.
Academically I believe that we are amazing but we should make more of a push to take what we learn in the classroom and apply it to a real world situation. I believe that there should be more classes that embody this idea; this type of learning opens up a whole new side of understanding that we have not been exposed to before.
Outside of the people you have met here at the college, what else will you miss?
I definitely miss the reason that we are all here. I haven’t taken note of this until recently but we are a community that is focused on growing and making the world around us a better place. Once we leave a university setting we may not find an environment where there is inherent curiosity and resources to indulge that curiosity.
Who are your favorite professors here at the college?
Professor Scott Cone is amazing. He is actually a full time psychiatrist and teaches part time. I had him for 3 classes: Community Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Personality Theory. He makes the classes very engaging. He would teach from the textbook and asked us whether or not we agreed with the material that we just learned, he would allow us dispute the material that we learn and not take it for inherent truth. He is very personable as well. He talks to students as equals, has an amazing sense of humor, and pushes us to apply what we learn. He wants us to use what we learn to help people, for example, he would tell us to design our own non-profit using the theories that we learned in class.
What has been the most impactful interview you have conducted for HoWM?
The interviews I conducted for the homelessness project really stuck with me and were amazing. It’s so easy to be set in the student mindset where we believe that everyone in our community is a student whereas that is far from the truth. Going to the Quarter Path Inn and meeting so many beautiful individuals opened my eyes to how closed off we are to an amazing community that’s right in front of us.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to any current William & Mary student?
Take opportunities! These will be the defining moments rather than trying to always get an A on every test. It’s very frustrating to do this since grades do matter a great deal depending on what you are going into, but taking at least on opportunity may last with you for a while. Another piece of advice is to go be an amazing friend to a least one person. So many things can be prevented if there is at least one genuine person looking at for another.
Any special thanks to anyone?
I want to thank every single one of my professors. They go above and beyond and go out of their way for the students. They are kind, generous, and understanding, and care more about the student rather than task completion. They want to have an influence in our big picture. I am beyond grateful to all my friends and they know that—at least I hope they know that. I’m grateful for the behind-the-scenes people that make this campus run and put work into the things that we take for granted and sometimes simply disregard.
Funniest moment at William & Mary?
I was giving a tour and a dad asked me the classic “What is the alcohol policy here?” I gave the honest answer that we are a community that looks out for each other, we educate students about alcohol and school policy yet, we are still a college. At the end of the tour another dad pulled me aside and told me that while I was going over our the alcohol policy of our school a student that was coming back from beach weekend was dropped off behind me, pulled out his cooler and proceeded to take a shot in front of the tour…. While I was going over the alcohol policy, it was simply hilarious.
Stephanie Faucher ’16 is one of the founding members of Humans of William & Mary, and she co-directed the team from Fall 2014 to Spring 2015. Please visit her personal website to learn more about her artistic projects.
I wanted to interview you because you seem like a very artistic, wonderful soul on campus. So I wanted to know, what do you think your place is on campus? Do you think this artistic perception accurately reflects you?
I always find that such a weird question because, especially this year, a lot of people have come up to me and they’re like, “Oh I’ve seen your work, it’s so great!” And it’s weird because I never set out with that intention like, “I need to make a change and influence this campus!” I do things because they just pop into my head and I’m like, “I’m gonna do it!” But it is really amazing that people will resonate with what I put out there, and react in such a positive way. Freshman year everyone is like, “You’ve gotta join all these clubs and tick all those boxes on your resume!” No one cares about those boxes, that’s what I’ve learned. Senior year I quit everything. I left Humans because Humans is an artistic endeavor and it was time to let it go. I wanted to hand it over to someone else and see what they do with it. The beauty of this project is that it’s fluid and it can change and influence so many people. So I decided to just pursue my own artistic things. Last semester I was making a short film which took up most of my time. This semester I just got this drive to do all these creative things.
What it comes down to is my love for showing people the essence of human beings. Everyone has a story to tell. Actually last night, I was out and met some people and someone said to me that people here don’t have interesting stories. And I sat there very flabbergasted, and was just like, “What do you mean?” And their marker for interesting was something grandiose, like traveling and going on adventures. However, 99 percent of the time life is boring. Life is mundane. Life is sleep, cook, eat, go to school. It’s important to see the beauty in the mundane.
My projects aren’t doing anything crazy; I’m just shooting people around campus and it shows that there is something beautiful and interesting and diverse about everyone that goes here. I guess my place is just that I’m a listener. People just have an easy time opening up to me, which is fantastic. Because I get to hear people tell me these beautiful things about themselves, I want to show the world how beautiful these people are.
Again it’s a weird question because I didn’t see myself as anyone special. I’m just myself, and I love talking to and getting to know people. Everyone is human, and I may not like you or agree with you, but I do understand that you are human. I want to showcase that everyone has complexity, and you can’t dehumanize someone because you don’t agree with them.
I saw your vulnerability project and I really resonated with that. It’s an interesting concept and something that not a lot of people showcase to the world.
Yes, and I feel so privileged that people feel they can be a part of my projects and open up to me and know that I’m going to be, you know, posting this on the Internet. With everyone who’s done my vulnerability or empowerment projects, or my Expose series, they’re all doing something so brave. You’re putting your guard down in a way. And people really shouldn’t minimize that. I think because I’ve done Humans, I’ve learned that it’s so hard open up like that and know their story is going to be out there for people to judge and scrutinize. It’s amazing to me that people will be part of my projects; I feel so privileged.
Have you done any projects about you? Like not showcasing the human experience?
Yeah, I mean the first Expose project I did was a self-portrait project. With art, it’s kind of a reflection of what you’re going through at the time. And at this time in my life, I’ve been focused on the human experience, and that’s what’s pouring into my projects right now. I do love doing sports photography! I also love senior portraits! I just love taking photos and that will manifest itself in different ways. But I’m starting to know myself more and I’m realizing that the stuff I’m really good at is human experience-related. With art, you either have to choose to expand your skills or become a master in one aspect, and I’m kind of at that crossroads right now.
So, in your projects, is it your objective to show that we’re all diverse or that we’re all the same?
Really my main objective is empathy. There’s a lot of empathy lacking. It’s amazing to me how terribly people can treat other people just because they don’t even try to understand. You don’t have to like someone, but you have to understand they are human. Empathy is so important because sometimes we need to get out of our own little bubble and put ourselves in other people’s shoes and just be like, “I get it.” That person who said that nobody’s stories are interesting, I was just like, “You lack empathy; you’re just not listening.” A lot of the best moments aren’t grandiose and crazy, they’re just fun. What I’m trying to show through this diverse range of people is that we all need to be empathetic towards each other.
To me, one of the biggest problems at this school is a lack of empathy…and a fixation on the shallow things. Yeah, getting 400 likes on a picture is great, but out of those 400 likes maybe two of those people will be there for you when things really get bad. At this school, people follow the path that’s already been set for them. If I do this, and I tick these boxes, I will get this job, etc. The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone is that no one gives two shits about your resume. What will get you farther in life are your personal skills, so stop being obsessed over being the most popular on Facebook or doing things because you think you need it. The best jobs I’ve ever gotten are because I sat down and had coffee with someone and they didn’t even look at my resume. Being empathetic and nice to people and knowing how to act appropriately will get you so much farther in life than being SA president or president of this or that.
College should be that time when you make mistakes and learn from them. People here see making a mistake as a weakness and it’s not; I’ve learned the best things from making mistakes. I’ve seen people post pictures on Facebook with their best friends and then sit down and talk terribly about them and I’m like, “What are you doing?” And it’s all just part of this social media illusion. We just try to make our lives interesting, our stories interesting because we want a picture to post on social media to get external gratification. And everyone does it, I Instagram way too much. Internal validation is what’s important though—understanding why people act the way they do. If you see someone screwing up, instead of bitching about them, try and help them out. Sit and talk with them. Find out why they’re acting the way they are. We’re all adults.
So yeah, what’s driving my projects is the fact that no one is perfect, and that trying to be someone because you think it will make you successful will make you the least successful person ever. You will never be the next Steve Jobs because Steve Jobs was successful because of all of his personal factors that you don’t have, including his mental health, his personality, his lifestyle and childhood. The people who are successful never follow a path already taken.
That was a long tangent.
No, that was a beautiful tangent! So were you always this confident in your philosophy?
My dad’s from the state department so I moved here from Europe, and I’d only lived in the States from 5th to 7th grade. And moving here sucked. There was a lack of empathy for my situation. People would be like, “Why do you talk about missing Europe? You’re such a snob!” And in some ways I was a pretentious snob, I mean freshman year, you’re only 18 and trying to fit in. But yeah, people disregarded my story because, to them, a two-hour train ride from Brussels to Paris doesn’t make sense, but a four-hour drive to New York from NoVa does. There was a lack of parallelism. And as an 18-year-old girl, you have a lot of confidence issues. You’re questioning what it means to be attractive, and you’re stuck in an artificial environment, especially in Williamsburg, which is such a bubble. So freshman year I succumbed to those pressures. I gained a lot of my friends early on due to drinking and partying. That’s all we did and talked about. And when I was in a terrible place, no one was there and it was like “woah.”
Midway through sophomore year, it was like a wall. I was like, “I need to change.” I basically spent a semester caving to myself and I had one friend. That’s all I needed; I didn’t drink and I took time to figure myself out. At the end of junior year, I got a scholarship to go to New York for the summer. Last summer was the summer I grew into myself. I was living alone in New York and knew no one, and it was surviving. If you look on my Facebook or Instagram, it looks so luxurious and fun. But you know what I didn’t post? Having to eat three bowls of oatmeal some days because I didn’t have the money to buy food and didn’t have a kitchen. But yeah, it was also fantastic; I came back to school with a whole network of professional people and got to work on my first feature film.
But I came back to Williamsburg, and started seeing the way people treated each other, and it was really disheartening. In New York, people are tough because they’re surviving, but people were always there for each other. And here I would see the way people talked about their friends or put people down, and it just made me go “wow.” So I started going with my gut more and helping people, even if they thought I was crazy. This empathy is what’s grown in the past four years.
I mean, I was a stubborn asshole freshman and sophomore year. Through these failures I’ve had, failed friendships and failed relationships, I’ve learned that taking risks is so important. You learn how to take risks better if you take risks and fail. It’s been this four-year journey of my trial and error, losing friends and being hurt and disheartened by people, and making mistakes. So yeah, I definitely was not confident with my philosophy when I was younger, but it has culminated over four years. And I think I did college right, because when I look back at my freshman self, I’ve changed so much.
When you started Humans of William & Mary, where were you in life?
Well, I think I was coming from a place where I wanted to make the change that I made this year. I was at the start of a change, but I didn’t have the confidence in my philosophy.
What has Humans taught you about life?
That I can approach random strangers and ask them a question and they’ll answer. I got stuck in a bubble freshman year. I was very involved in one club and had one set of friends. But Humans gave me the means to interact with different people. Humans taught me that I couldn’t pass judgement, that I had to sit with someone and ask questions that were thought-provoking and curious. Through those interviews, Humans taught me to be a good listener and ask questions that’ll push the limits without being condescending. Humans was kind of the start of me becoming empathetic.
I sometimes feel like there’s not a lot of room for art at this school, did you feel that way when you were choosing to come here?
So originally I wanted to be a history and econ double major, and work in developmental economics, so I wasn’t thinking about art at all. I love history, and I think that contributes to me being empathetic. I see things in a nuanced way, because when you’re a real history major, you learn that things are not good and bad and everything is nuanced. As I grew, I guess I just realized I like graphic design, and photography and videography. I was like, “There’s no room for it, but I’m just gonna do it!” That’s what New York really solidified for me. No one is gonna just pick up your ass and help you do something; if you wanna do something, you need to be proactive. I initially didn’t think I was gonna be creative in college. I was pretty preppy in high school in a sense. I guess if you do college right, you just kinda grow into who you’re supposed to be.
What do you want to do after college?
I think at the end of the day, I just want to tell people’s stories, whatever that means. I’ll find a way to do it.
Where are you from, not your hometown, where is your essence from?
That’s really good. I don’t know. I think I’m from the house that I grew up in. I know that kind of fits the location side of things, but I have this keychain that my mom got me when I graduated from high school with the coordinates of my home on it, and it’s the home I grew up in; I’ve lived there since I was two years old. It’s a big deal to us. My father talks about how he never wants to move out of it. Now that he’s getting older, and there is talk about moving to a nursing home, he says, “Leave me in this house, I’ll be fine.” That house is kind of the focal point of everything.
What does your house look like?
It’s two stories and we have an attic. It’s right near all of my friends and family that I’ve grown up, close to everything. It’s got this big bay window in the living room. I think that’s one of those things that I notice when I go to houses that don’t have that and I think, “That’s not a home.” It’s a very homey house. My mom has lots of knick knacks all around. It’s not one of those cool, minimalistic houses. It’s one of those that is full to the brim with life and things. Sometimes I judge her for having so much stuff, but it’s one of those things that makes a house a home. Things that I made when I was a child, we still have up through now. I think when I’m older I might get rid of them, but it’s been nice to come back and see those parts of my childhood.
What is something that your mom has held onto that you didn’t think at the time you would’ve wanted her to hold onto, but now you see as really important?
Pictures. That’s one of those things that has been a huge part of my life for so long. The pictures that she’s held onto aren’t good. They’re horrible. There are pages and pages, photo albums and photo albums of the pictures I took as a kid with my throwaway camera. Most of them are just black, or bright lights or the side of the road. Nothing pretty, no composition. We have a baby book of my little brother who is six years younger than me, and we have all these pictures of him vomiting, like mid-vomit. Why would you take that or keep it? In some ways that means a lot to me. Those little moments that wouldn’t have meant so much to me because I have a more artistic background in photography, meant so much to her.
How long have you been doing photography?
I started doing photography back in high school. I had a little snap, point-and-shoot, blue camera that had that rapid-fire setting on it, and I realized that that was the easiest thing in the world to use because I could take 5,000 pictures and one of them would turn out well. So I started getting good at it, being able to go through my 5,000 pictures and pick out the 10 that I actually liked. The first time I got that really crumby little camera, I think I posted like 500 pictures on facebook every time I used it, so I’ve learned to pick out my favorites. When I graduated from high school, my parents went in halfsies with me on a new DSLR, and it’s a same camera I use today. It has a name and a personality. I love it to death.
What’s your camera’s name?
How did you come up with that?
Really good question. The musical and the character from Lord of the Rings, so a cross between the two of them. I’m not obsessed with musicals or Lord of the Rings at all, but I came up with the name and everyone was like, “Where did it come from?” so I had to make up some sort of answer. If I didn’t give it a name and a personality, I would’ve broken it.
What’s it like?
More recently, it can be a bit temperamental. It’s been giving me some problems because it’s an old camera and I’ve had it for a really long time. I’m hoping in the future I can invest in a new one, but I don’t think I could ever part with it because I’ve had it for so long. So we’ll go with temperamental now, but initially, when I switched to this camera I didn’t stop taking pictures for four months straight. I’d bring it everywhere with me, to school, on bike rides. I wasn’t used to having a camera that took such crisp images. At the beginning it wasn’t as temperamental, it was more like, amazing. We’ll go with that.
What’s your favorite picture that you’ve ever taken?
Right now, since I’m at the point that I’m graduating and this school is so full of so many emotions for me, the picture I’d have to choose is the picture from convocation when we were walking through the Wren building towards campus. I was with my whole freshman hall, my roommate from freshman year who’s stayed my roommate for three years and is a great friend from high school. When we got to the door on the other side of Wren where you can look out and see the Sunken Gardens, I just saw so many people, and everyone was there, everyone was cheering, high fiving us. It was that moment where I felt really connected, really happy to be a on campus, to be a student. So I snapped one picture, and you can see it was beautifully lit, and everyone was wearing all of these different colors, and it just seemed like a very accepting photo, a very happy photo. It’s one of my screensavers on my desktop, and it changes all the time, but that’s one of the ones that whenever I see it, I minimize my screen and just look at that picture.
That was four years ago now, right? Your freshman year?
Yeah. It’s terrifying now.
Do you want to do photography with your life? Or is is just a really passionate hobby?
When I first got Pippin, I thought photography would be what I was doing for the rest of my life, and then I realized to be able to do that and live comfortably you needed to have enough money to live that lifestyle. That was something that was really hard for me to accept when I was younger, chasing those dreams; you can make it work, but it will be very hard unless you can find something else to sustain you. When I came to college, I started out with a psychology degree. When I told my parents that I wanted to be a psych major, they told me I should pair it with something else that would make me more marketable. So I’m marketing and psychology and I love photography and I love design. Those are those four things about me that I really appreciate and enjoy. For me, I wouldn’t want to do photography full-time after college, but it would something I would love to do on the weekends. It’s something that I really enjoy, and I worry that if I were to make it a full-time job I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. Even now, I did three photoshoots today and I’m exhausted. I’m really glad you’re the one in charge of pictures because I’m just so tired. Photography can be this wonderful thing on the side where I would be able to shoot weddings on the weekends and hang out with the kids I’ve seen grow up and take their senior pictures. I think it would be a lot more of an emotional thing for me than it would be a practical thing.
Do you have plans for next year?
I do, and I’m really excited finally that I do. I was pushing it pretty close to the end there. I’ll be going up to Charlottesville. I’ll be working for a marketing agency in Charlottesville, but I have an entire summer. My start date isn’t until September. I have all of this time to find stuff to do with.
Do you have a plan for the summer?
I have a little list going. My poor father, he has no idea. He wants me to start a part-time job or something, and in the mean-time I want to travel. I want to volunteer at a nursing home or the Richmond Animal league which is a shelter I volunteered for back in high school. I love animals, so I’d love to go back there and work. And my little brother is just now learning to drive. He’s not really comfortable driving yet, so I feel like a lot of my summer will be spent helping him become more comfortable driving, and since I’ve been away from him for so long, it’s going to be nice to live at home for a summer and build that bond back a little bit better.
Were you close when you were little?
No. (laughs) It’s interesting because when he was younger, we would fight a lot. I love children, and I think kids are the cutest things in the world, but when I was that age of course you don’t think the six-year younger brother is anything worth your time, which is tough because you’re at the age when you want all the attention. I think we had some problems when we were younger, but when I was in middle school and high school, I started learning that a lot of sibling relationships were much worse, and that the younger sibling would suffer because of it, because they didn’t have a role model or someone they could talk to. I realized it was probably advantageous for me to start building those bonds with him before I went off to college, so we really fixed that when I was in high school. We still have our fights, like all siblings do, but especially now that I’ve been away, I try to text him everyday. We have this joke that whenever I come back I say, “What are the three things the parents shouldn’t know?” And we both go back and forth and do it, and it’s a bonding thing. It’s backfired on multiple occasions. I went skydiving my freshman year and my parents were not supposed to know about it, and I told him, and he told everybody, which is fine now since I lived through the skydiving part. It’s just nice having that time over the summer when we’re able to get back into a rhythm, living together and everything.I hope that it will build a strong platform for a relationship that I can have in the future with him and his wife and his kids.
Is it weird looking back at making the “college decision” yourself?
Yeah, it is strange. Both my parents came here and they had polar opposite experiences. My mom didn’t really like the College very much. She didn’t really fit in here, and oftentimes she didn’t have enough money to do the activities that other students were doing. My father loved it. He played frisbee and had all these friends. For me, it was nice because when I started the whole application process, I was worried that they would try to force me to one school or another. It was a tough decision because I was a legacy student, and it’s sometimes easier to get in as a legacy student. That was weighing on me. If I got into William and Mary, would it be because I deserved it or because I was a legacy. Looking back on it now, I definitely made the right decision. I love it here, and I’ve loved it all four years. There have been rough patches, but any college would be like that. My parents handled it in a great way, and I think I learned a lot from the way they helped me through the process, so when I have kids of my own one day or friends that are younger, it’ll be easy for me to ask, “Well where is it you want to go?”
Why did you end up choosing William and Mary?
I don’t know. When I made the decision, I wanted to be close to home. My parents had been very good about telling me what the pros and the cons were of the school, but I really liked the atmosphere here. When I stepped on campus for the first time, it was with my freshman year roommate from my high school. She had done early decision, and she had already gotten in, and I hadn’t heard back yet. We went and did a mini-tour and walked around ourselves, and we got so lost. We couldn’t find anything, but it was so much fun. One of the things that I’ve always love about William and Mary is the people, and knowing that this high school friend was going to come here and knowing how much fun we had. A lot of it was just that experience that I had. When we got lost over on the trails by the Crim Dell Bridge, and we were just trying to find the bridge and it was so hard, we were asking people and waving at people, and everyone was so helpful and would stop and talk to us and tell us about their experience at the college. William and Mary lets you pursue whatever passion you want and you can tell that every person here has a passion, regardless of what it is. It doesn’t have to be historic or academic at all. It can be photography. It could be ceramics. I love how you could ask every single person here what their passion is. At a lot of other colleges, I don’t think people have good answers, or they won’t be able to come up with something right off the bat.
If you could give advice to your freshman self, what would you say?
I think I did okay. One of the biggest things for me was when I decided to be a psychology major and my parent were pushing me in the business direction. I thought it was my parent not accepting what I wanted to do with my life, and I think I made the best of it because I do love graphic design and I love marketing. It was one of those cases where I hadn’t considered doing anything besides what exactly I wanted to do in that moment, so I think I would’ve told myself freshman self to be a little bit more flexible while making those decisions that you know will benefit you in the long run and understand that my parent were there to help me. When I got off the phone with my mom after I told her I wanted to be a psych major and she had said, “Haha, but you got to do something else too because that’s not marketable,” I was really upset and angry with her for not agreeing with my opinion right off the bat. There’s still a part of me that wishes she had been a little more responsive in that sense, but I think what I realize now is that I’m happy with what I ended up doing, and I’m happy that I chose a double major, and I’m happy that I’m doing that photography on the side and not trying to make it a life career. Given how I feel now, I would’ve told me freshman self to not take it personally. My parents just wanted me to be self-sufficient when I’m older. Getting into the business school was one of the hardest things I ever did. I applied four different times, and kept getting rejected, and I took that very personally too. But I did end up getting into the program and I saved some money because I was a minor and then a major. The business school is one of the best things I’ve been a part of, so I think I would tell my freshman self to not take things personally and be flexible.
If you could give advice to a group of William and Mary students, what would you tell them?
I think reach out. That was something I didn’t really understand when I was going through this process. I didn’t understand that professors were people. I didn’t understand that other students are going through similar things. The biggest thing is about the professors. They seem austere and untouchable. It doesn’t seem like you can relate to them or have relationships with them, but I think when I joined the business school that’s something that really stood out to me. Every one of those professors really wanted us to succeed. There had been a lot of stuff going on, on campus, a lot of suicides, a lot of depression, and the whole campus was in a rut, and everyone was feeling the pain, and my marketing professor stood up in front of the class and said, “Guys before we start class, I want to get some stuff off my chest. You all mean the world to me, and I had a hard time going through college, and I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I went through, so I want you to know that if you ever need anything, my door is open.” In that moment I realized that she was a person. She had this whole life before she started teaching at William and Mary, and she cares about the students and she really does want us to not only succeed academically, but also socially and emotionally. She really meant it when she said, “Whatever it is, no matter how small or insignificant, please come to my office.” As a freshman, I didn’t like that close interactions with professors because I was worried that I might mess something up or not get to know them well, but I think I realized when I got to the business school that they really do have our best interests in mind.
Is there anything else that you want to get off your chest before you graduate?
I feel like a lot of stress is caused by the academics here at William and Mary and the personality types that come to William and Mary. I feel like that is difficult to balance with emotional health. One of the things that’s helped me is taking time away from campus. You can still be on campus to take time away from campus. You can go to Lake Matoaka and take out one of the canoes. You can just walk over to the cool abandoned amphitheater and sit there and read a book. You can hike, or walk around, or go into CW and get something from the Cheese Shop, or wander down to Jamestown beach, all of these things that give you that time away that you need where you say, “Right now, what’s more important than getting this homework assignment done is taking some time for myself.” Something to get you out of your own head, away from the academics and the people that are amazing and wonderful but can be really stressed and pent up with a lot of feelings.
Were there moments when you felt like you didn’t give yourself the break you needed?
Yeah. There have been a lot of times like this. This semester has been hard for me, transitioning because I live in a single, but I fall semester I still had best friends that were all on campus with me. One of them is studying abroad in Spain right now, one of them graduated early and is working with her parents, working as an EMT and a scribe, and one graduated and is in Virginia Beach, teaching. Those were my three best friends, so when they left me all by myself here on campus, it was startling. I didn’t give myself enough time to not grieve, but cope with the fact that they were gone. I jumped back into everything. I went a mile-a-minute, and I knew I was upset, but I just tried to fill it up with other things; coursework, being super involved with extracurriculars, but two weeks after everyone was gone, it all it hit me. I hadn’t taken the time to say, “Yeah, it’s upsetting that they’re gone, and I miss them.” I know that they’re all doing wonderful things and having a great time. It’s just a tough transition stage for me and for them too. So I gave myself some time to call my mom and cry and talk to my friends and touch base with them and see how they were doing and make plans to see the ones that were still here in the states. I didn’t give myself enough time to process that whole thing until two weeks after it happened and then it all hit me, and I realized that I really should’ve gone to the beach and thought about this and gotten through it.
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.