The World Is Our Campus

The Arcadia Quill

The World Is Our Campus

The Arcadia Quill

The World Is Our Campus

The Arcadia Quill

Senior Column: Michelle So


Inspired by Ocean Vuong’s “Künstlerroman”

I have been waiting three years to finally drop the hottest autobiographical expose. I mean, I’ve lived quite a while. By my calculations, I’m roughly 1400 days old. I’m older than most Victorian children were when they were sent to the coal mines. I’m nearly two times older than the world’s oldest mouse, Patrick Stewart!

My age has lent some legitimacy to my advice. To the young’uns reading this like a secret recipe for some super special seafood sauce, heed my every word yet, simultaneously, take all that I say with a grain of salt. My penchant for alliteration and sarcasm may muddle the path, but I shall not lead you astray. I want to detail the horrors that befell me at my worst, capture the triumphs that lighted my way toward success. I invite you hopeful readers to peer through this inverted lens. To look into the reflecting pool as I unearth the memories—good, bad, and wholly embarrassing. So, hold onto your hats. It’s time to switch gears. We’re going full reverse (and into the third person narrative)!

Aug. 2023

Michelle spent her pre-senior year summer immersed in Science Technology Engineering (mostly English) and Math. She landed her dream internship at a beetle-focused lab and spent a month at a STEM summer program. It was during this fateful summer of 2023 when she discovered that bugs, both microbes and those of the six-legged variety, were fascinating subjects of study. Having gained laboratory experience, she began to discover her niche in the broad topic of biology. 

Perhaps, she thought, perhaps I shall study Evolution or Microbiology… 

Her fellow program attendees hailed from all provinces of the grand state of California. Michelle, naively familiar with her nurturing city of Arcadia, was astounded that human beings could live as far north as Davis, or as far south as Baja California. Eager to hear about the sea lions of La Jolla and the cows of Bakersfield, she yapped all month long with summer classmates, spending just as much time learning about alternative lifestyles as she did studying gastrointestinal microflora. She learned all about how other schools ran their newspapers, or their study tips for Science Olympiad. 

People are cool, she thought. I feel inspired!

It was also this summer that Michelle stepped foot on the prestigious (albeit old) campuses of the Ivy League which, she was disappointed to learn, were not in fact covered in three-lobed vines. She came to several conclusions about the four campuses she visited: Dartmouth? Summer-campy. Harvard? Unattainable. Cornell? No, thank you. Brown? The dream.

Ironically, Michelle did not visit the school she would, in a whirlwind seven months, somehow end up attending (hint: it rhymes with kale). By speaking with people, insanely smart, brilliant, thoughtful people, she began to get a sense of the world and its wonders. Senior year was coming up, and with it came a sense of urgency to exist meaningfully. Michelle wanted to learn for the sake of learning. She wanted to do things that she enjoyed doing. She knew wanted to…change the world!

Dec. 2022

As junior year began, Michelle strolled onto campus feeling slightly bolder and slightly wiser. No longer would she be the squirming underclassman (there were clueless freshmen who would take that position). By December, she had already failed a couple quizzes, gone to the Rose Bowl Flea Market thrice, and stayed up to 2:30 a.m. (purely for academic purposes). Her walls were covered with notebook paper, on which she had scrawled chemistry equations. AP Chemistry was a character builder. It stripped her of her spirit, instilled in her a sense of renowned determination. Michelle began to accept the fact, with new dignity, that hard classes existed. Classes where she couldn’t speed through the work and study for the night before. She could not “coast” or get by with common sense. Michelle would, for the first time, earn her grade. It was a novel concept, this diligent studying. But as she studied gas laws, bond orders, and equilibrium problems, she was awed by the subject. And, with this newfound determination, she was humbled by science and its complexity. It was a love that she had to work for, and work for it she did. 

Sept. 2021

Michelle felt duped by the false allure of high school. There were no entertaining stereotypical cliques to gossip about. People were NOT the heights she had imagined (camera placement and perspective were terrible indicators of reality). She feared death by suffocation, especially when in P.E., she was asked to run two miles in the summer heat, while sweating rivers within her mask. 

She also didn’t know how close to stand to people, or what to do with her hands. She noticed that some classmates stood really close when talking with her. Others would barely make eye-contact. Everyone was rediscovering their social language, so meeting people in the middle seemed to be the best. Michelle had to remind herself to enunciate, to put her mask back on after meals, to be social. Strangely, quarantine, and being on campus for the first time, had eased away her insecurity about her “coolness.” In reality, everyone wore the same Among Us-esque facial coverings. She felt equal to her classmates in a way she hadn’t felt before. Hardship had interfered with a crucial coming-of-age time, delayed it, even. 

June 2020 – 

Michelle entered Dana Middle School’s campus wearing two masks and the most beat-up, soiled Toms (there was nothing to do those days but to garden). She was still Cross-Country lean, albeit much much paler than she should have been for a summer month. It felt so wrong, but then again, the entire year felt entirely wrong.

 Eighth grade had not been fun for Michelle. Back in Aug. 2019, she had been determined to make it a fun year. Michelle was ASB President, Orchestra Concertmistress, and a Science Olympiad competitor. Plus, she ran XC three days a week and competed in tennis matches on the weekends. She had lodged her foot into a rung on the ladder, on her way to make the final ascent up the middle school mountain until…wait…she got a phone. Then she got on social media. And, like a naive teen girl, she began to feel insecure. About her friends, her nose, her smile, her social skills. Just like that, Michelle began to spiral. Rather rapidly, too. (There were other factors that led to this. The death of Kobe Bryant. A bad case of the stomach flu. An iron deficiency. But it was easier to pin the blame on a single culprit).

Michelle wanted to go to the mall, but she had to attend classes. She wanted to keep her Snapchat streaks, but her screen time limit would block activity after certain hours. These trivial things were inconsequential just months before they became gravely influential. She began to feel this odd sort of feeling that one often feels when they are suddenly cast into the complexly interconnected digital world, which was this: she was surrounded by people, yet she felt so alone.

Perhaps it was her multipotent nature that was her eighth grade downfall. She wanted to do everything, so she did. She wanted to be friends with everyone and, to some degree, she was. She wanted to be liked, to be accepted universally, but she could not keep her priorities straight. So, Michelle became a personality akin to a batter watered down too thin. She was emotionally exhausted and, like a badly made crepe, lacked substance. 

Here comes the baffling confession: The COVID-19 pandemic was, for Michelle, the best thing that happened in 2020. The extended vacation began on her birthday, well, two days prior. She spent her 14th birthday in forced isolation to focus on herself. Well, she woke up, took a few selfies, then began a new chapter in her life. Her family began walking the dog, a hyperactive Maltese-Chihuahua named Max, together every night. Michelle picked up more dog poop in those first three months than she had in her whole life (or ever did afterwards). She began gardening, crocheting, exploring her mother’s wardrobe. Within the confines of her house, she found herself. And did it without the pressure of anyone else.

So, when the time came to grab her diploma in June, Michelle did so confidently. She walked onto campus, running into several classmates along the way. Everyone seemed a little taller, had the pandemic-disheveled hair, and ambled about a bit awkwardly. She waved to her science teacher from afar, who squinted and waved back. She wasn’t sure if he had even recognized her with her internal self-growth (in physicality, Michelle had not sprouted a single centimeter since Mar. 13, 2020). As she neared her alphabetized diploma, she noticed something shiny next to it. An extra certificate? She picked it up and read the gold script lettering. “Voted Most Likely to Change the World.”

Wow, Michelle thought, with renewed confidence in herself. Maybe I will do just that.

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