USW 30: Tangible Things was not the class I expected.
At its surface, USW 30 is about examining objects in Harvard’s museum collections. During each class, the professor would go through an eclectic assortment of physical items in the collections, discussing the historical underpinnings of each. Yet despite the best of intentions, the contents of the course were in many ways aimless, unmotivated, and frankly uninspiring.
Granted, part of its initial allure (other than the fact that Winnie said it would be nearly 0 hours of work a week) was that I had no expectations of greatness. This was to be, like many of the other courses in my General Education curriculum, a throwaway class designed to satisfy an obligatory graduation requirement. The goal was not to learn something interesting in USW 30; it was to free up time for other more interesting things in my life.
But ironically, I find that many of my most transformative ideas this year were captured in the themes of this course. While 2016 was a year of maturity, 2017 was a year of self-discovery. I found a new love for mathematics, a subject that never came easily to me, and rekindled a passion for arts of all kinds. Most importantly, I built this blog. I’ve since wanted not only to learn anything and everything, but also to document and remember how far I’ve come. As a result, I’ve become the sort of personal curator that USW 30 had wanted me to be all along, finding ways to memorialize my past so that I may better inspire my future.
My Nexus 5 has never been known for its camera. To be fair, it was infamous among my social group for its remarkably grainy quality that prompted more than my fair share of the question, “Did you take this photo with a potato?” This naturally led to a distaste toward well-constructed photos. Snapchat quickly became my go-to method of media sharing with its low-brow content and quality culture (sorry dog filter users), and I tended to avoid photo ops since the photos would never turn out quite right. But in doing so, I lost a lot of the memories I had earlier this year. Only by comparing with Dad’s photos was I able to relive our trip to Utah where Mom and Dad flailed about, yelling at each other to be careful as they slid down the skiiers’ bunny slope. I saw awkward photos of me on an old Mac computer doing our part to fill out the world’s largest ancestral tree at the Church of Latter Day Saints. In the moment, the experience felt like more of an annoyance than anything else, but through these pictures, I remembered Dad’s solemn earnestness in trying to find Ye-Ye on record, and Mom’s youthful happiness as she recorded me skiing alongside her. Now, I can only wish that I had a way to experience it all again.
Winter break quickly came to a close, and I headed back to college for the spring semester of my Junior year. By this point, the commute to and from school had become routine. This semester, I pushed my boundaries and took four STEM courses, including one of my favorite courses, machine learning. The semester went surprisingly well, but I don’t have much to show for it other than the never-ending day-by-day homework grind. Overall, Junior Spring was a chance to throw myself outside of my academic comfort zone. I developed the mathematical maturity to tackle problems I never thought were possible, while incorporating these ideas of logic and reasoning into daily practice.
There a few highlights: the weekly Sad Saturdays at Dunster Grille where I’d order some combination of waffle fries, an Oreo milkshake, and chicken tenders. DJ Tiesto hosted Yardfest, much to the dismay of practically the entire student body. Martin Shkreli talked about economics in the pharmaceutical industry, and a student told me I was murdering my peers by attending the talk. I think it’s important to share what I told her: it’s just as important to nuance your own beliefs with the arguments of others as it is to assert your own. She stopped yelling at me after that which was nice. Over spring break, I made my first (and probably last) full-length 3D animation for art’s sake, Grit. This was done with tremendous effort and support by my ever-patient roommate, Cecilia, who dealt with hours of late-night freestyle rapping in a cramped n-1 room double. Before I knew it, the semester was over. I moved my things to the Quad using Richard’s storage space and was excited to move things back until I found out he was joining us in Leverett the following semester. Having him down the hall was great; moving things alone was not.
And then the health scare hit. My heart was a bit too big for my own good, and the doctor told me to be careful until after the summer was over. I flew to Redmond to change my life at Microsoft. Every day, I bought a 2.5 pound salad bowl jam-packed with every fruit, vegetable, and meat imaginable and split it over lunch and dinner. After work, I made my way to the gym for a one-hour workout. I started feeling healthy, so healthy in fact that before I knew it, I lost over 5 pounds in three weeks. With the importance of carbs and fat in mind, I supplemented my meals with a hamburger, and all was well. By the end of the summer, the doctor said my health was not only greatly improved, but back to normal.
Over the summer, I became an adult. I drove to work every day in a rental car, worked my 9-5, and explored the city. I lived in an AirBnB with a lady who owned three cats and held custody over a high schooler who had a drug problem. I found a loving group of friends and ate free dinner at their hotel. I saw Portland and Vancouver and ate Voodoo Donuts and hiked up mountains and saw La La Land in the cold under the night sky and had the Chainsmokers set me up for the biggest and most first-world disappointment in my entire life, an Xbox as the intern gift. I watched Kimi No Na Wa far too many times with Ed and drank with Kim over her breakup and set a trashcan on fire on the Fourth of July and saw fireworks at Gas Works and listened to Ed Sheeran live. I got to spend time with Vicky in a way I hadn’t in quite a while. Vicky showed me her handpan, and I loved it so much that she sent it to me in the fall. She taught me how to play the ukulele. I played the piano in coffee shops and rock climbed until my arms were dead and was really, really happy.
My last year of college started in August. With a fresh look at the world and a desire to keep up my momentum, I pushed myself a bit harder and took advanced machine learning. In the meantime, this was my final interview season, and the online coding challenges wouldn’t stop until Facebook flew me over to Menlo Park. Only after I had a taste of their absurdly large and free lamb shanks did I realize that this had to be home for me for the next few years.
With the peace of mind of employment, I looked toward finding the interesting people and activities that were missing from the summer. I finally got to know Winnie after living up the street from her for years. I came out of Words With Friends retirement and destroyed everybody over and over again, although I found a formidable opponent in Audrey. Catherine accepted the heathen-ness of Richard and me and let us bake with her.
Now the year is finally over, and I’m happy to look back and say that I’ve found hobbies, memories, and people that I hope I’ll continue to cultivate for the rest of my life. More importantly, I’ve found a way to document these experiences through art, code, and now even words.
During the last weeks of the semester, I tried watercoloring for the first time in my life. My initial attempts were pretty terrible. Every painting was a blob of some form, a product of the water getting everywhere on the paper. Alone, the paintings aren’t that spectacular, but then I stuck them to the wall of my room. I’m pretty happy with how they look.