In our continuing series of midyear Senior Wisdoms for midyear graduates, we bring you Kyla Cheung, who’s been working on her Senior Wisdom for years. Seriously.
Name, Hometown, School: Kyla, Jersey, Barnumbia
Claim to fame? Ha, “fame.” Mmhm. Okay.
I suspect I got nominated for this because I started writing parts of this Senior Wisdom years ago. I have a lot of love for this series, ever since I read Sari Ancel’s plea to Columbia to “stop and chat” as a first-year, so every few months or so, I wrote down small, hard-won bits of experience and memories, and a few of my good friends have read the whole, long-winded Google Doc.
But I don’t know what all that premeditation really amounts to. I’ve pared this down, but I come off as way earnest and way twenty-something and way into lists and maybe kinda humorless. I mean, the oral sex / cheese answer could definitely have been better. I had so much time to prepare, you know?
Where are you going? In my hope of hopes, to a field filled with puppies and kittens to take a five-day nap and then babysit Blue Ivy for an afternoon while Beyoncé whispers the secrets of the universe into my ear.
In reality, to the intercampus shuttle.
Three things you learned at Columbia:
It’s way too easy to learn new ways to feel inadequate on this campus. (“Why do people keep laughing when I ask questions in class?”, “What the hell does ‘neoliberalism’ even mean?”, “Why don’t my professors want to mentor me?”, “Why didn’t I do __ when I was in [eighth grade / kindergarten / diapers]?”, “Why can’t I just be a happy, well-adjusted person like X?”) (Note: X, whoever they are, suffers too.)
These feelings are so real. But I’d like to tell you that you can survive this. That you belong. Not belong in some brochure-ready, packaged-family sense. Belong in the sense that you are worthy of being here, of others’ attention and respect, of the care that this institution and society so often withholds. This doesn’t mean that you’ll get these things — I can’t guarantee that classmates, strangers, citymates, professors, or even advisors won’t be utter shits to you — but they have no business trying to hurt you. It would be disingenuous to promise you everything will definitely get easier, better, less bad, less difficult. All I can say is that nothing lasts, not even pain. You are already magnificent, so keep doing you. There will always be people who are trying, if sometimes imperfectly, if imperceptibly, to help you do just that.
We have been, are, and will likely continue to be responsible for the silence and suffering of others. There’s no amount of good intention, ignorant bliss, intellectual analysis, self-aware humor, denial, or even privilege that can drive those demons away. They’ll keep knocking until you bear witness to pain you’ve caused and let it change how you act. There is no substitute for opening the door.
To ask for what I need. This seems entirely elementary on the surface, but I can think of nobody at this school who knows how to do this in all realms of their life. It means different things at different times. Like knowing when to call or when to email, who in the administration is willing to listen to students, how to ask for money, and how to book space. But it can also mean knowing how to access psychological resources. It can mean requesting an extension. It can mean asking someone to look at your code even though you’ve spent 5 hours debugging what you suspect is an off-by-one error. It can mean throwing off the thousand acts of marginalization you have endured and speak truth to your pain, even for a moment. It can mean asking for medication. It can mean going off medication. It can mean having the guts to break up with a friend. It can mean telling people you only want to hook up with that you only want to hook up with them. It means showing the people you love that you love them, all the time. It means not being so afraid of your innards that you never ask yourself what you feel, what you want, and what you need. It almost always means you have to be brave and vulnerable. Shameless, too. Because there is no shame in needing, just as there is no strength in apathy or withholding. Be honest and generous with each other. You’ll find no greater gift than someone showing you how to care for them.
Back in my day…
FemSex didn’t exist. Or NoCo. Or Jin Ramen. Sad world that was.
The Diana was called the Vag.
I wasn’t afraid of saying GIF out loud.
I wasn’t this intense. I think.
Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: I love.
Write a CU Admirers post to anyone or anything at Columbia: To all the people in the classes below me (’13), thank you for taking me in this semester and showing me how warm, brilliant, and passionate you all are, and how ignorant and lucky I was to have befriended you only this semester. Specifically, to the ppls of FemSex: you do some of the most amazing work on this campus (all for the very low cost of $40 per semester *cough* SGB *cough*). My 2013 wouldn’t have been the same without any of you, and I keep being astounded by how ready you are to give and learn and care. You’re pretty wonderful, and your hugs are fucking amazing <3
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? I am lactose intolerant. Lactaid helps. Lactaid is expensive. Aaaand I am cryptic.
One thing to do before graduating:
Break some rules. Learn which boundaries tend to be silly (like those between academic disciplines) and which must be respected (like your and others’ emotional and romantic and sexual ones).
Have patience. In the words of Grace Lee Boggs, professional badass: “The illusion of a quick answer leads to burnout.”
Pay attention to NSOP programming. Consent seems basic, but it’s not. Inquiring into social formations and identities might seem simple, but — you guessed it — it is not.
Question your ambition and your attraction to power. Question what you think is success and what is #winning. Someone at some point convinced us that our hard work and brilliance entitled us to certain things — on one hand, jobs and meals and a roof above our heads, and on the other, wealth and social recognition of our exceptional characters/intellects/natures. But really, we may never receive any of that. It’s important to know who we are and what we act for in the absence of getting what we think we deserve or even need to survive. Especially when we witness other people get them instead — there’s a difference between being righteously angry and poisoning your heart with bitterness. Someone I really love said to me recently, “What you want for yourself will come to you. It will. It might take time, but you are too deserving of the goodness of the universe to spend the rest of your life thinking other people have ‘won.’”
There’s this idea that relationships can end, when in reality, it’s just that the terms change. Saying “You’ve lost all my trust” or “I’m done with this person forever” is tempting. Hell, it can be fun, and it’s often extremely, extremely necessary. Yet I will say: insulating yourself with the illusion of “being done forever” with a person does nothing with the fact of your pain, with the memory of your trauma. Trust usually isn’t a thing we give or take in one action. Boundaries and expectations aren’t negotiated via contract. Healing isn’t taken care of in one moment. Managing our expectations is possibly one of the most difficult and unnoticed forms of emotional work we do on an everyday basis. Meaning, this shit is hard. Give yourself time.
Treat disagreement as respect and with respect. There are few acts as loving as somebody engaging with your views and believing you have the potential to change. There are also few opinions worth having that can’t be altered. If you disagree with what someone says or does, pay attention. It’s rare that people are real-life trolls, so realize that what you’ve got on your hands is a sincere someone who’s expending time and effort on what they think is right and what you might not understand yet. Respect that.
Let go of the need to be right all the time. The statistician George Box famously said, “All models are wrong: the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” In other words, you and your world view will never be right. Never. Neeeeeever. Isn’t that frightening? Isn’t that also incredibly exciting? The trick is to figure out what assumptions you’re making and how useful (see: ethical, kind) they are.
Give yourself credit. For many, it takes a lot of courage to quit, to drop out, to get out of bed in the morning, to feed yourself and get to class. There’s too much heroism that goes on everyday that we refuse to recognize and remember.
Emotions are for understanding yourself. You’d be foolish not to listen to yours.
Whatever I or anyone says, keep doing you.
Any regrets? Not ever drinking enough water before Bacchanal. Not taking advantage of the Barnard Zine Library. Not saying hi when I recognized people (to too many of you: I’m sorry I can be so awkward). Not always practicing what I preach (umm see above). Not saying “thank you” more.
Also, CC-ing PrezBo, MiMoo, and the NYC Health Department on my bed board request. That was definitely a mistake.