Halfway.

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I’m back on a plane again. Surprise, surprise. Today, I’m forty-thousand feet above the world, currently passing over Arizona on my early morning flight back to Stanford after going home for the weekend. Tomorrow, I officially start the second half of my Stanford career, beginning junior year with a sense of uneasy excitement.

My constant restlessness makes it hard to stay in one place for very long. That’s why I traveled through five different countries this summer, which included a ton of cities throughout the United States. It’s why I hopped on a plane to go home the weekend before classes started, even though it didn’t really make all that much sense to do so. It’s why I’ll be traveling through parts of Europe this December, studying at Oxford University in England in the winter, and then returning to the Middle East for a week in March. My mind always wanders, and only recently has my body been able to follow.

It probably comes as no surprise then that home presents its own challenges for me. Other than the fact that my time at home is often me staying in one place—Dallas—for however long I’m back, there’s also the fact that there’s so much happening around me. Just yesterday, I was hit with the weird realization that my younger brother is growing up. He’s only thirteen, but he turns fourteen next month. He has all the teen angst that comes with his age that I, quite surprisingly, outgrew. (My teen angst has been replaced with a different angst more characteristic of one’s twenties.) He’s beginning to grapple with difficult truths about the world—most of all questioning why the often cruel world we live in doesn’t match the values of kindness and love that have been instilled within him.

Yesterday, he came to me telling me he didn’t think he wanted to be confirmed in the Catholic Church, a rite of passage in which, according to Catholic belief, seals the recipient of the Sacrament with the Holy Spirit. I asked him why, and he said that he didn’t believe in most of the things that the Catholic Church taught in regards to moral teachings—already, at the age of thirteen, he supported reproductive rights and he supports equal rights and dignity for gay people.

There’s a certain irony that I was the one tasked with convincing him that he should go through with his Confirmation. After all, I’m his openly gay brother who unapologetically criticizes the Catholic Church for its dangerous moral stances, especially on reproductive justice and marriage equality. I’ve written on this blog about how it’s not a matter of if I abandon Catholicism officially, but when, thanks to the Church’s anti-gay stances, which include a belief that I shouldn’t be allowed to get married and that all romantic love that I could feel for someone is inherently sinful. Not to mention the Church’s frequent fights against equal rights ordinances that would prevent me from being fired from my job or kicked out of my home just for being gay. Even the seemingly simple question of “do you believe in God” gives me so much anxiety that I usually answer with some combination of “God is love” and something about how if God didn’t exist, it wouldn’t change anything about my belief in treating people with dignity and respect.

So what did I tell him? Other than me trying to be the good child who was trying to convince him to not rock the boat too much, I told him that it doesn’t really matter what you believe about Catholicism—your Catholic identity is cultural so this is a cultural responsibility; there are good Catholic priests, nuns, and laity who uphold Catholic social teaching and understandably disagree with Church hierarchy these moral teachings, and you should align yourself with them; Catholicism is what brought us the preferential option for the poor, and its social doctrines are radical and about the fight against the oppression and marginalization of the poor; and oh God, please don’t make a scene that leads to you not getting confirmed because I really don’t want to be blamed for it just because I’ve helped nurture your ability to think critically, to dissent, and to call out injustice as you see it. I’m not really sure if I convinced him or if he was just momentarily sympathetic.

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Stanford’s Memorial Church

After trying to put out the fires that I may have accidentally started at home, I’m now returning to campus to both put out some existing fires and to most likely start some new ones. My penchant for starting fires continues to be ironic because I’m really not that radical of a person, and I think the ways in which I’ve embedded myself within Stanford institutions makes that clear. I’m a quiet radical who, in some ways, has created a personal brand of my own, unafraid to critique people from both the left and the right and to simultaneously point out the realities of the world while also encouraging others to dream big. I use my writing, my creative art, my academic career, and the strength of my personality to get people to listen to me—often a difficult task that comes with varying levels of success.

Like I’ve done throughout most of my life, I’ve probably overcommitted myself to trying to build my vision for the world. I’m taking a full load of classes this quarter (again): my anthropology postfield seminar, an anthropology seminar on religion and politics within the Muslim world, a second-year Spanish course with a focus on immigration and the Spanish Civil War, a course on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a philosophy course on justice, and French cooking. I’m still involved in the Pilipino American Student Union, this year as one of the three social co-chairs. I stepped up into the role of the co-president of the Stanford Cancer Coalition after being somewhat desperately asked to take up the role. And beyond that, I’ll be an editor for the anthropology department’s undergraduate journal, a teaching assistant for a weekly queer poetry workshop, running the Alumni Reunion Homecoming’s twentieth reunion, and a member of the Asian American Activities Center’s Advisory Board—but at least I get paid for some of these things!

And of course, I’m slogging away at my thesis: an examination of the formations of class identity among Stanford students with strong attention paid to the idea of “class shame.” My goal is to tie together queer theory, affect theory (which is about socially experienced feelings), and anthropological understandings of class as an identity in order to dig deeper into the somewhat surprising phenomenon of students from wealthier backgrounds feeling ashamed of the wealth and class privilege that they grew up with.

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So yes, I’m going to be busy. Again. Actually, in writing all this out again, I’m not really sure why I’m doing so much. But like I said, I’m incapable of sitting still. And the way I see it is that considering I managed to do most of these things in my sophomore year and still have an incredibly active social life and average about seven to eight hours of sleep a night, I can do it all again—with the bonus of getting paid for some of the work that I already did. Whether that was a sustainable lifestyle or just a fluke remains to be seen.

When I was on my way to Yom Kippur services on Tuesday (how’s that for religious pluralism?), a friend of mine who I ran into said that this summer it seemed like I was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Except, not just one—it was more like one every few days. She’s not wrong—I’ve done so much in the past few months alone that I haven’t even had the time to process all of it and write about it here. All my friends seem to want to know all the stories of my summer, but so much happened that they’re going to have to handle hearing small stories about my experiences randomly throughout the next year as I remember each of them.

But during the incredibly beautiful Yom Kippur service I attended, the rabbi told us a parable of another rabbi who was on his deathbed. The rabbi said that he was filled with regret, and the people surrounding him asked, how can that be? You’ve always been kind, you’ve always shown love, and you’ve always been careful to never say anything that would upset anyone. The rabbi responded, “But that’s the thing. I fear that, in the next world, I will be judged for not having said or done enough to fight for justice. Maybe if I had spoken up more, I could’ve helped change the world.” I constantly find myself asking that question—when I die, will I be able to say I’ve done enough to create a just world? And on a smaller scale, when I leave Stanford, will I be able to say that I’ve done enough to make my community a better place? Will I be able to say that I’ve used Stanford’s resources to the fullest—not just to help myself, but to help others?

I’m halfway through my time at Stanford. I have two more years. I’ve decided pretty definitively that I’m not going to shell out money to get a master’s in a fifth year, mostly because I just don’t have the financial resources to do so. I still think I’d really like to pursue a PhD program in anthropology, and my goal is to get into a good, fully-funded program so that my graduate education won’t cause any financial strain. I’m still trying to figure out my life’s “mission statement,” and I’m hoping that years from now I’ll be able to look back at this post specifically and laugh about how filled with uncertainty I was, in the same way that I look back at all the worry and dread I felt in the college admissions process, not knowing that I’d end up with an abundance of resources and opportunities at Stanford. So many, in fact, that I’m still trying to figure out how to take as much as I can from this university while it’s throwing more opportunities at me than I can feasibly take advantage of.

Lastly, I wanted to leave y’all with a poem and a prayer that a friend of mine shared with me last week when we were catching up. They’re a pretty cool, amazing person who’s coming into their own in terms of organizing and activism, and in the spirit of Catholic social teaching that I wrote about earlier in this post, I thought I’d post it here.

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Until next time.

Notes from Stanford: Looking back on my freshman fall quarter

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Well, I did it. I managed to survive my very first quarter as a college student at Stanford—and I really do mean survive. I always knew freshman fall was going to be a struggle because I’d be trying to adjust to living on my own, meeting new people and making new friends, taking my first college-level classes, and generally trying to make the most of my Stanford experience. But I really didn’t expect the sheer amount of “struggles” I ended up facing over these ten weeks!

In a nutshell, the whole quarter can be summed up in one sentence: this quarter, I learned a lot about myself. Yes, I learned a lot in my classes, and I learned a lot from the many new people I met, but at the end of the day, the most valuable thing I took from this quarter was all that I learned about me.

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Outside the Caltrain station in San Francisco

Coming into my own skin

I walked into my first day at Stanford pretty sure of who I was, what my values are, and what I wanted from my college experience. But it was only a matter of days before all of that broke down, and I found myself spending much of the quarter just trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

It’s actually a little shocking to look back and see how much I’ve changed since high school, but at the end of the day the thing I wanted the most from my Stanford experience was personal growth, so in another sense it’s comforting to see how much I’ve grown in just the past quarter.

In high school, I considered myself a pretty strong introvert. I was definitely able to speak to people and to make friends, but I wasn’t particularly social—if anything, the thought of long periods of social interaction just sounded completely and utterly draining, which sometimes comes as a shock to people who know me (because I really do love to talk). But just this past summer while I was doing an internship at a Dallas children’s hospital, my boss (who’s known me for the past six years) said that I’d probably stop considering myself an introvert once I went to college. I didn’t believe her, but she ended up being completely right.

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Dorm trip to San Francisco

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Notes from Stanford: Surviving the first three weeks

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Picture this: a student bikes furiously through Main Quad, messenger bag straddling his hip, his wrinkly lab coat still on. In his right hand, he’s clutching a small paper to-go container filled with the tabbouleh that he’d just made earlier that day. And then, as he comes up to the turn to exit the main quad, he squeezes his left break, but then—the front wheel of the bike stops—the back wheel keeps spinning—BAM. Bulgur and chopped vegetables scatter across the floor, and passersby slow down and stop to make sure the student is okay.

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Pre-accident

In case you haven’t guessed, that was me on only the second day of classes. The worst part of my first bike accident (other than it being completely self-caused and not even a collision of some sort)? The reason I didn’t have any injuries was because I’m an embarrassing pre-med who was biking all the way across campus still wearing my lab coat from the chemistry lab I was coming back from.

My first three weeks at Stanford—New Student Orientation for the first week and two full weeks of classes right after—have been a roller-coaster that’s half “best thing ever” and half trainwreck. I actually won the dorm’s unofficial “Person Who Had the Worst First Week of Classes” award because I had to shuffle nearly my entire class schedule in the first couple days—and then of course there was the biking accident! Even though my preliminary study list had 17 units of classes, a fairly heavy load for first-quarter Stanford freshmen, I reached a low of 6 units—full-time students take at least 12—by Tuesday evening after my Tagalog class got moved to a time that conflicts with my chemistry lab, my Human Biology class ended up being only juniors and seniors (turns out it was an upper-division class!), and my class on Economic Policies of the Presidential Candidates turned out to be not right for me.

Ultimately I ended up at a resonable 14 units: chemistry, a class in writing & rhetoric that looks at the rhetoric of “success,” an introductory seminar on race and politics (a class I got off the waitlist for), a weekly lecture series in the medical school about physicians and social responsibility, and a once-a-week seminar offered only to residents of my dorm that explores gender, sexuality, and identity in American culture. Luckily, what started as an awful first couple days of class, mostly because I didn’t actually know which classes I was even taking, quickly became a first-quarter class schedule that I really love—even chemistry, whose workload continues to be the bane of my Stanford existence, has one of the most engaging and interesting professors I’ve met so far.

Of course, Stanford isn’t all academics, and if it was I would probably go completely insane because, at least for me, the classes are extremely challenging. In the past three weeks, I went to my first service event to help combat world hunger. I went to my first football watch party (Stanford vs. UCLA) at Stanford Stadium and sprinted across the field to get a free Snuggie. I went on my first boba tea run with friends. I rode on a hover-board for the first time. I made my first meal all on my own, did my laundry by myself for the first time, and learned how to quickly wash the glasses that I drink out of every day. I went to my first frat party (would not recommend), as well as a less gross party that had free samosas (would definitely recommend, even if the samosas went fast). I got to watch as friends had In-n-Out for the first time, and I got to eat greasy food at one of Stanford’s late night eateries. I went to my first Stanford home football game and sprayed my hair red for the first time. I got to go to San Francisco with my dorm and explore the city by foot. And most excitingly of all, I’ve gotten to know some really great people from all over the country and from all different backgrounds.

Stanford, and even just being in college, is by no stretch of the imagination easy. But already, nearly one month since I first moved in, it already feels like home.

Stanford: A New Chapter

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These past few weeks have been more grueling and difficult than I ever could’ve imagined. For many high school seniors, the months of March and April are a fairly exciting and nerve-wracking time since most college decisions come out in the second half of March, giving everyone about a month between acceptances and matriculation deadlines (usually May 1). But for me, the whole month of April came down to deciding between two colleges I had completely fallen in love with, a most difficult choice.

Over the past few years, I’ve written about some of the colleges I had been dreaming about—Columbia, Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Texas at Austin, to name the major ones. I was guaranteed acceptance into UT Austin since Texas law requires them to provide automatic admission for Texas students in the top 8% of their high school class, but in February I was accepted into two honors programs I really wanted to be a part of: Plan II honors, an interdisciplinary liberal arts program, and Health Science Scholars, a departmental honors program in the College of Natural Sciences.

For about a solid month or so, I really thought I was going to UT. I was excited about the thought of living in Austin, getting to do research in my freshman year as part of Health Science Scholars, and having the opportunity to intern at the Texas Capitol (they only accept Plan II students) and do actual policy work (as my state representative explained). But then things changed in mid-March, when I got a letter from Brown University saying I can expect to be admitted on March 31, the day that all Ivy League acceptances come out.

Needless to say, I got incredibly excited about the thought of going to Brown. Brown had an Open Curriculum, which meant that I wouldn’t have any general education requirements and would thus have way more space to explore different fields of study. It was in Providence, Rhode Island, which fit my dream of being at an East Coast (read, Ivy League) school, and Providence itself is charming, friendly, and beautiful. And unlike the rest of the Ivy League, it’s quite laid-back and it doesn’t have the same pretentious quality around it, despite being one of the best schools in the entire country. But then, over Easter break, I got the most shocking and unexpected news.

I got into Stanford. Continue reading

Why I Love Harvard

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They say if you rub the foot of the John Harvard statue, you’ll have good luck.

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The foot of the statue is cleaned daily because of the many tourists that touch it every day! (And other things…)

And for good reason! Harvard University has an admissions rate of less than 6 percent, a number that makes it one of the most difficult colleges in the country to get into.

I first visited the crimson-colored campus in November of 2013. It was my first time seeing the warmly-colored Boston leaves—the only “warm” thing in the city, aside from the Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts on every street corner.

I’d always imagined that, if I visited, I’d see Ivy-coated walls and lots of people wearing glasses (because that’s obviously a sign of smartness). I didn’t end up seeing any Ivy-covered walls and most people didn’t wear glasses. But I did find something else instead.

I found a university that I would love to be a part of one day, someday. Continue reading

Falling in Love with Columbia University

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I’d like to mention that this post definitely goes over key parts of Columbia University, partly because I want to share what I learned with all of you AND so I can actually remember everything when college admissions season rolls around.

I’ll be honest, I think I fell in love with Columbia University.

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And how can you not fall in love with this Ivy League school in New York City? When I was in New York in July, Columbia University was my second stop—after Times Square the night before. Since college is on the horizon (sort of) and most people my age aren’t thinking about it yet, I might as well get a jump on it, right? Most people don’t realize this, but I’m going into my sophomore year of high school in about one week.

So there I was, sitting in Low Library and listening to people from the admissions department talk about Columbia University—their different programs, their engineering school, stories, and anecdotes—while surrounded by people who were actually going to start the application process this year! Um, whoa, just whoa. Continue reading