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.
It is extremely important to speak your mind. I have always admired/feared friends of mine who cut straight to the punch. Friends who say what they want to say and don't beat around the bush.
I chose the GIF above from an HBO show you probably haven't heard of (I joke) called Game of Thrones. The character above's name is Ygritte, and she is in love with Jon Snow even though she knows she shouldn't be. She tells him "You know nothing, Jon Snow."
Now Ygritte, maybe you could inform Jon Snow what he doesn't know. You are being a little cryptic. More on this later.
The importance of speaking your mind cannot be emphasized enough. When you don't speak your mind, you are left with a million unanswered questions. You left with the "what ifs." When you don't say what you want to say, when you don't ask, when you don't put yourself out there, you will never know what the answer might have been.
Some say old habits die hard. I could not agree more with that statement.
Letting go of past habits, past people, past anything can be quite difficult. There is a genuine comfort in things we already know. Even if people disappoint or hurt us, even if habits are destructive and unhealthy, even if the past is not where we want to be, it's known. In other words, letting go of the past means drifting into unknown territory; what a scary thought.
Mustering up the courage to let go of people we once loved (or still love) in favor of a possibly brighter yet somehow murkier future is no easy task. I recently was talking about the idea of letting go of old friends with a close friend of mine. She asked me what I thought about her holding onto a friend who wasn't putting in the same effort into their relationship and to be frank, was no longer honoring her happiness and needs. Should she hold on to the past and let this newer and now constant behavior go, or should she let go of this old friend who still means a lot to her?
I had this to say:
It's easy to feel caught up in the tests and tribulations of life. I often feel like I am barely treading water, barely keeping up with the unending work, the unending challenges, and the unending disappointments.
Focusing on the positive can frankly be really hard when it feels like a million things aren't going perfectly. Positivity and optimism can often be associated with a naiveté, and I don't think they should be.
Any person that has ever had some kind of adversity in his or her life (that's all of us) knows that life isn't always smooth sailing. Life can be heartbreaking and sad and really unfair. Life can beat you down into a juicy pulp where you feel like your love and strength are oozing out of a punctured shell. In those broken down moments, it's very easy to feel bad about yourself. It's very easy to feel un-beautiful, not good enough, and like a failure.