I know each and everyone of you in this auditorium have big aspirations about the future. Perhaps, you dream of working at companies like Facebook someday. According to the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook headquarters keep their employees thinking big all day for their success. There’s a poster in red around the wall that reads, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
This mantra keeps me awake each day to excel in majoring in unafraid. So today, I would like to clarify what majoring in unafraid exactly entails and how it has transformed my life.
Starting in elementary school, it became apparent that I wasn’t “the smart” or “the academic” kid. Luckily, I possessed a talent that compensated for my academic failures: Singing. But then even applying myself to engage in a creative activity required me to jump over several hurdles.
I decided to apply to an arts middle school. When I first applied for admission, I was rejected.The infuriating rejection incentivized me to give it a second shot.
After spending a year at a public middle school, plastering my report card with Ds and Fs, I still hoped to apply for admission to an arts high school. However, my consistent failures highly disturbed my adviser. When my mom and I discussed my future plans to the adviser, she burst into laughter and said that there’s no way for me to get into the school.
Her ruthless commentary became another motivation. As soon as I figured out that I could be readmitted to an arts middle school by repeating sixth grade in their institution, I decided to reject the embarrassment of “being the oldest kid in the class” and focus on earning admission to the school. This time, my dedication came through. I got in!
I fell in love with the arts school, until I realized what waited behind my back. Who knew preventing invasion of privacy would be impossible? At arts school, everyone knows who ranked top three in auditions; you constantly hear your peers critiquing some other students’ performance. Behind the curtains, there are students who try to buy in their way to conservatories.
Furthermore, the vocational education system limited my course options and curiosity for other academic disciplines. Although I wasn’t the brightest kid in the world, I remember looking forward to learn something new, but that excitement evaporated. By the time I reached 8th grade, I started to doubt my one-sided path. What if, all of a sudden, I wanted to give up? Is it possible to start something all over again? Will my parents and my friends look down on me? This time, I couldn’t find an answer. The only thing I desperately wanted was an “escape from reality.”
Coincidentally, my parents offered an opportunity for me to fly 6203 miles away from Seoul, South Korea to study abroad in the U.S. While my perception of an American high school life revolved around pop culture films, my first week at the Blake School taught me a lesson: Films Are a Myth. At 3 a.m. in the kitchen, the reality is quite different. Each night, I embraced a mug full of coffee to stay awake until sunrise to finish up piles of homework. While learning a new language and cultural custom, I also needed to learn to “study” non-music related subjects with depth. While South Korea ranks third among the best education systems in the world, I became embarrassed of my lack of knowledge and inability to exemplify excellence.
Not being able to contribute a single word, I aimlessly sat around the corners during English discussions, or I inevitably messed up a history simulation I’ve prepared for weeks. Consequently, I created confusion and received humiliating feedbacks from students.
For the first time in my life, I felt the pressure to be competitive and respected as an academic student. I sought college admissions as the cornerstone of my life just like any other Blake student. I tirelessly pushed the gas pedal to the point, where study habits equated to anemia and sleep deprivation.
Beyond academics, participating in Acapella choir and the theater productions didn’t seem enough, so I dedicated my entire weekend on voice lessons and ensemble rehearsals to keep up with my reputation as a musician, even though it felt like a burden.
I thought embracing the distresses in life to excel in pleasing prominent people such as my parents, friends, teachers, and even college admissions officers was what majoring in unafraid looked like.
But I finally realized that I was wrong, because I wasn’t living up to my own expectations; I lived up to what the rest of the world expects from me; and it made me feel like a fake; even if you’re so successful, if you feel like a fake, that certainly isn’t about living your bravest life, right?
Some of you may seek my story of earning admission to the arts school or studying abroad as an example of majoring in unafraid. That’s awesome, but I cannot confidently claim that they exemplify majoring in unafraid, because those experiences have never been for the sake of my own pure happiness. I had an adviser that I desperately wanted to revenge against. And even though I left arts school, I couldn’t quit singing for a long time, because I doubted that the rest of the world would look down on me.
I think I started majoring in unafraid just a year ago. I’ve learned that majoring in unafraid is living a life that’s centered around myself. And you can do that if you begin with a clean slate, tolerate your failures, and trust your intuition.
So, first, I began with a clean slate. I sat aside what the rest of world demanded of me. Although they wanted to see my achievements in music, I decided to quit and disappoint some of the most important people in my life. They said that I was nuts, but I’m not nuts. I AM HAPPY.
And I learned that quitting opens up new opportunities. I took a computer science course and joined Spectrum. I asked myself why and for what I was making these choices. I told myself that they were just “for me (pause..hands on chest) for me.” And not anyone else, which reassured me that I was doing the right thing.
Second, I tolerated my failures. Instead of beating up myself, whenever I did get things wrong slightly high, I worked to feel less ashamed of not knowing and the unknown.
Third, I will forever and always trust my intuition. To this day, academics still remain as a challenge. At the end of my high school experience, I didn’t even get close to where I wanted to end up. And my early decision one college wasn’t satisfied with my records too; I distinctly remember the day when I uncontrollably teared up in front of a cold denial letter. My sights became blurry; I felt miserable and self-conscious. I couldn’t resist from comparing myself to my classmates who earned their early admission.
Few days later, I opened my laptop to access my college list on naviance. I scrolled down the same list for hours and hours. The list composed of various schools but mostly small liberal arts colleges. So a large research university in the heart of a cosmopolitan city particularly drew my attention that day. Though I haven’t visited the campus, my gut urged me to pour all my heart to belong along Charles River. And I got really lucky. Boston University, where I will be attending this fall, accepted me for who I am. Thanks, BU.
Although the achievement tastes exceptional to me, I know there are people who will judge me or think that my school is subordinate to where they will be attending.
I used to care about that so fucking much, but I’ve learned that it’s not worth it. What matters the most is that I steadily run towards reaching my highest point, even if that means starting from the bottom or embracing others’ arrogance. Trust me. You will never know what you’re capable of unless you try.
If I were afraid, I would’ve never knocked the doors to Ms.Reid’s newsroom, where I created and stabilized the first fashion page in Spectrum’s history.
If I were afraid, I would’ve never taken Intro to Computer Science being the only female enrolled in the class.
If I were afraid, I would’ve never met quality people, Amy Juang, Annie O’Connell, Anselma, CC, Chapel, Fatiya, Katerina, Kelly, and many others, who’ve helped me to get through the agonizing days of high school.
If I were afraid, I’m not sure if I’d be standing up here to present the single most important life lesson I’ve learned: Major in unafraid.
So, what about you? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?