Where to begin? It feels like just yesterday that I was flying to Baltimore to start the first day of my freshman year of college. 8 months later, I am preparing to depart for the summer. In between studying for finals, I have been sorting through the carefully collected ticket stubs, photos, pamphlets, pomps pomps, proposals, cheatsheets, and tokens of my first year.
Now, maybe it's the fact that it's finals period, or maybe I have been listening to Views too many times, but I have grown increasingly emotional over the past few days. So, I've given myself some much needed time to hit the pause button. In between moving boxes and doing practice tests, I have compiled a gratitude list. At the suggestion of my wonderful friend Caroline, I have been trying to think of the little moments, people, and things that make me happy during times of difficulty (I highly recommend doing this little exercise). Here are my little lovely moments compiled. These aren't all of them (not even close), but I want to say thank you to all of the people that have made my year what it was: challenging, surprising, and well, perfectly imperfect.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who showed me your understanding, kindness, and generosity; it didn't go unnoticed. If I didn't have the chance to tell you, I am grateful for you and thankful for whatever time we got to spend together.
When you’re young, you’re thinking, 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie,”- Gloria Steinem on "Real Time With Bill Maher"
I remember it well. It was 2008, and I was in the fifth grade. I had my backpack on and was standing in the doorway of my classroom by the cubbies. I was wearing a shirt from the Barack Obama campaign rally at UCLA I had attended one day prior.
I was a girl who had grown up with CNN blaring in the background. I was a girl who said two of her first words, Bill Clinton, after hearing her first State of the Union address at her grandparents' house. I was a girl who loved politics: the urgency, the passion, The West Wing esque idea of democracy that had not yet been corrupted. When my mom took me to this Barack Obama rally at the Pauley Pavilion, it was one of the most exciting days of my life.
It wasn't just that I got to see Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey, Maria Shriver, and best of all, get Michelle Obama's autograph, but it was the fact that I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. I felt excited about the possibility of hope and change. I felt excited about a candidate who was a charismatic and inspiring speaker. I felt excited about the issues Barack Obama spoke passionately about: allowing women the autonomy to decide what to do with their own bodies, making sure every child in our country would have access to a good public school education, creating more legislation to reduce carbon emissions and stop global warming, banning the sales of semi-automatic weapons, and insuring every American had access to health care. And to top it all off, I felt excited about the possibility of having the first black president, the first black democratic nominee for president for that matter, in our country's history.
So there I stood on a Monday, outside of my fifth grade classroom. A girl in my class came up to me and said,
"If you don't support Hillary Clinton, you don't support women, Kate."
2015 has been a year of change, some welcome and others, well, not so much. Was 2015 the year I thought it would be? No, frankly it wasn't. 2015 was hard. 2015 was joyous. 2015 was full of disappointment and full of love, laughter, and a new appreciation for life. 2015 kicked my ass. I also kicked 2015's ass. In short, 2015 was perfectly imperfect: messy but wonderfully so.
If I had to sum up what I learned this year, I would say that I learned that I am capable of more than I think I can handle. I have confronted challenge after challenge this year with a persistence that I sometimes forget I possess.
On my way to Niger in March, 36 hours into my journey, I sat in the Charles de Gaulle Airport and cried. I just walked off my plane from the US where one of the aircraft engine's had stopped working. Firetrucks were standing by on the tarmac in case the other engine caught fire. I had just fallen down the end of an escalator with my hands full of camera equipment, sunscreen, and saltines. I had developed a bad cold under the stress of delayed flights, bad weather, and lack of sleep. I was all alone in Paris with no cellphone service and no easy way to contact home. I told myself that this was it. I needed to fly back home. I could not handle a trip of this magnitude. What was I thinking traveling to West Africa alone? I still had to go through Istanbul.
Kate, you aren't strong enough for this trip. You really think you can make it to Niger? Well, you can't. Just give up. Go home. You are already going to be two days late with all of these delays. It's not worth it. Give up. Turn around.
I recently reread an article in The New York Times "Modern Love" column from the Modern Love College Essay Competition 2015. Winner Jordana Narin's essay "No Labels, No Drama, Right?" has stuck with me throughout the first few months of college, popping up, lingering in the back of my mind.
She writes about her "Jeremy... an archetype, a trope, an all-purpose noun used by my college friends to talk about 'that guy,' the one who remains for us in some netherworld between friend and boyfriend, often for years." Jordana's "Jeremy" gives a perfect insight into what modern love often is for millenials: undefined, perpetually confusing, neither here nor there, messy, and for lack of better words, often infuriating.
We never know quite where we stand. You're "friends." You're "just hanging out." You're "dating but not exclusive." At least among my friends, both men and women, there seems to be a never ending quickstep of trying not to step on your "Jeremy's" toes by asking for more or less commitment, for asking for a label, for wanting more than just a hookup.
A friend and I were recently talking about some of the guys she had been seeing. I asked her if she would like something more with one guy who she felt particularly connected to. She paused before continuing: "I would like to take things to the next level with Jeremy. Maybe getting Insomnia Cookies after hooking up. But I'm not sure if that would work." I pushed further: "You don't think he would want to do that? Just getting a cookie?" She wasn't sure.
I held my tongue but felt unduly frustrated after I went back to my dorm. On one hand, hooking up doesn't have to mean deep feelings, love, or affection. We have the right to do whatever we want with our bodies with whomever we want. And yet, I feel like there's something missing here. She isn't even sure if she could ask to get a cookie with him after hooking up? This feels so off.
Hover cursor over photo to navigate the slideshow.
Two weeks into college and I am having an absolutely amazing time. I have met people that make me laugh so hard I think I might burst, people who inspire and motivate me, people who are beautiful, quirky, loving, intelligent, and thoughtful, people who I already find myself having wonderful connections with.
My classes make me giddy. I feel inspired and rejuvenated. I come to class everyday excited to learn. I am already feeling intellectually enlightened, and most exciting of all, I can see my future unfolding before my eyes. It’s exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.
College really is a whole new world. But it’s not a world without its challenges. I’m not just talking about laundry room fiascos (cockroaches!!), accidentally flinging scoops of ice cream into the faces of unassuming dining hall patrons, sweating profusely always, getting stuck in a hot rainstorm, the list goes on.
I am talking about adjusting to a new normal. A normal that is filled with varying degrees of hardship: meeting new people, trying to stay connected to those new people, sometimes having no one to connect to, new workloads, total freedom, pressure to exude some sort of “right” image, going to the best parties, again, the list goes on.
Sometimes it seems like everyone is effortlessly gliding through orientation and the first weeks of classes. Sometimes it feels like people don’t feel the same occasional onslaughts of hopelessness, loneliness, isolation, and inadequacy that I have experienced.
On June 11th, 2005, my world changed forever. Two days before I graduate from high school will mark the 10th anniversary of my grandma's death. My grammy was my world. She was my everything. She made me feel so safe, so loved, so indescribably happy. She would let me brush her curly hair and paint her nails whatever color I wanted. She would let me sleep in between my grandpa and her in their big bed when my mom was out of town. She would hold me in her arms when my feelings were hurt or when I was upset. Her sweet voice sang out old Irish tunes and The Three Tenors when I came home from school. I think about her everyday. I love her so much that sometimes I think my heart will burst.
On my last day of high school, many of my classmates cried. They cried about leaving friends and school. They cried because ending high school is emotional. It means you are no longer a child; you're an adult. I too cried on the last day of school but privately. I cried because all I wanted was to have my grandma there. I wanted her to see me graduate in June. I wanted her to give me one of her amazing hugs and tell me how proud she was that I made it through the most difficult four years of my life thus far. I wanted to be able to look out at the crowd when I was getting my diploma, and more than anyone else, I wanted to see her smile.
Abbreviated version originally published in The Mainsheet: Volume 65 Number 6
Over Spring Break, I took five of my little cousins to see Disney’s new live action movie, Cinderella. I am not afraid to admit that I had been looking forward to seeing this movie for months. Cinderella had always been my second favorite princess, behind Mulan.
Cinderella’s rags to riches romance has always captivated and bewildered me. In Disney’s animated 1950 classic, Cinderella is hardworking, genuine, but helpless. As the girl group the Cheetah Girls put so perfectly: “I don’t want to be like Cinderella sittin’ in a dark cold dusty cellar waitin’ for somebody to come and set me free. I don’t want to be like someone waiting for a handsome prince to come and save me... I’d rather rescue myself.” I always loved Cinderella, but as I got older, I wanted her to take charge of her own fate. I wanted her to know that she was strong enough to rescue herself, to be the heroine of her own story.
So when I walked into the movie theater holding the hands of excited little people who were seeing a Cinderella movie for the first time, they had read the story but never seen the original movie, I hoped that they wouldn’t subconsciously absorb the message that I had 15 years earlier: you need someone to make you whole.
It's taken me a little while to get back to my blog. I tried to post everyday while in Niger, but because of the painfully slow internet connection, a few accidentally deleted blog posts, and very minimal (no) free time, I didn't get to post as much as I would have liked.
I arrived home at midnight on March 13th, and since then I have been trying to pull together my thoughts. How do I articulate how I have changed? How do I begin to comprehend what this trip has given me? How can I passionately convey to others how great the need for clean water wells is all over the world?
Hello Sun and Moon Classes from Chadwick School!
Thank you so much for reading my blog and following my trip! It means so much to me. Some of my friends in Niger wanted to say hello to you too! :)
Sorry for the long delay in posting a new blog message, but I am happy to announce that I have safely arrived in Niger! It was not an easy journey to get here. There were many points were I sat in airports thousands of miles away from home feeling sick, tired, and unsure if I was strong enough to finish my trip to Africa. Somehow I mustered the courage to keep going and to persevere through sickness and every potential delay known to man (snow, airplanes sliding off runways, airplane brakes not working, firefighters on the runway, etc.), and 55 hours after I left California, I arrived in Niger.