Just as the weather is getting warmer, the air is relaxing to a sweet breeze and the fountain turns back on, I’m taken back to a quiet place in my memory, three years and one semester ago. The Freshman Me, sitting at a Washington Square Park bench on a sunny — but not hot — day with my then-brand-new laptop, trying to capture a specific moment. That week’s assignment was to observe something happening at the park and to see if that scene recalled anything in my brain space. The piece we read in class was about how language is actually a series of symbols conceptualized in our minds; different images represent different things to each of us according to our own unique experiences. I ended up writing an essay about my grandfather.
The course was Writing The Essay, one most NYU students take and one that challenged me to take bits and pieces of my past to relate to the present, which leads to forming beliefs about the future, all while articulating this process. I still remember my professor Katie; she was beautiful, warm, friendly and so smart. I really hoped she would become big one day.
That’s not to say WTE was all revelations and awakenings — I can’t count all the nasty exercises and endless write-ups due each class, but I think it really was the beginning of it all. Summer of 2014 I actually told a friend — who had recently graduated from the school perhaps I might have gone to instead — about this course. She was fascinated, “Wait, you were learning that at eighteen? I am only learning how to connect anything together now.”
I think that’s when it finally dawned on me that I was truly lucky to be here. Not to trivialize any other universities, but I was just lucky to be here.
The other day I saw a picture of my dad when he was an undergraduate student. He left his big personality of a hometown, Busan, South Korea, to be a cosmopolitan in Seoul, leaving his parents and family behind. Not everyone in his home could do that, but he was privileged and his dad was able to financially support him. During his first year away, he remembers phoning his mom in tears because Seoul was not the Seoul he had dreamed.
As graduation approaches, I can see that Dad’s story and mine are not all that different. We left home to find something newer, to be a part of something scarier, to have it acknowledged that we can be city people, too. And though we felt defeated so many times wondering if we really and honestly made the right choice, if all of this was worth it — and by that I mean the money — if just trying to discover another place where we could belong had any meaning at all. We eventually survived and became conquerors.
It is no longer Fall 2011, but Spring 2015, and though the air feels similar, I’m a survivor of WTE, the sophomore slump, years of sleep-threatening internships and the all-too-familiar senioritis. Dad’s story didn’t end there, but he went onto face even more frightening things — almost being destroyed, struck down, pressed up on every side — but he took it on, thanks to what Seoul did to him, thanks to what his school taught him. Thanks NYU for humbling me, for throwing me out on the streets, for being a tough parent. What you’ve graced me with is not just a memory, but also a Future Me.