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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Final Thoughts

Published: April 19, 2013
Section: Opinions

It’s true, what we heard at our first day of orientation: There is no experience quite like the Brandeis experience.

Growing up, my parents raised me with the traditional ideals of what many Chinese daughters experience: to be quiet and docile, to play the violin and piano, to achieve straight As in school, and to enter a prestigious college. They discouraged me from speaking my opinions, and believed that Friday nights should be spent hanging out with SAT books. And I gave in to these expectations. I learned to play piano and violin. I spent more time with SAT flashcards than friends. And I, to my parents’ delight, entered a top-tier university called Brandeis.

The first club I joined was the Brandeis Asian American Student Association because I wanted to meet other Asians since I grew up in a predominantly white community. Joining BAASA gave me a home away from home at the Intercultural Center. My peers encouraged me to share not just my culture, but to immerse myself in other cultures. The ICC gave me opportunities to develop leadership skills and to share my love for diversity and acceptance. Still, I remained the quiet Asian girl who rarely spoke and stayed in on Friday nights to write chemistry lab reports. Although I was achieving academically and was welcomed at the ICC, something was missing from my college experience: learning how to communicate what I was truly passionate about.

Two years ago, the ICC hosted a holiday party with the Greater Waltham Arc, which works to improve the lives of residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. During the event, I noticed a woman sitting by herself. I smiled gently and, taking her hand, led her to the dance floor. I slowly tapped my feet to the beat and hesitantly spun her around. She smiled and I smiled back. I taught her how to do the shuffle, and she taught me how to swing my hips. As a disclaimer, I was never trained in dancing—I’ve only tried to copy moves in YouTube videos and to look super cool (yeah, I failed miserably). Still, I saw how an alternate form of communication—dancing—allowed me to relate to someone who seemed very different from me. I was initially afraid to approach her because I did not think I could communicate effectively with someone with mental disabilities. Yet, we found that words were not necessary.

The idea that I could communicate with someone using a different medium took off when I met the Jubilee Project a few months later. The Jubilee Project is a trio who makes films for good causes. Each video educates and empowers the community to take action on various issues. When they came to Brandeis two years ago, I realized that YouTube was a simple yet powerful way to spread awareness about important, sometimes sensitive, topics. I saw that I did not necessarily need to verbally express my opinions but rather use another platform—social media—to communicate with and empower others.

With the Brandeisian call for social justice, my sister and I established the Brandeis Chapter of the Jubilee Project. I wanted to create this chapter to challenge myself to fight for something I truly believe in: to spread good—one act, one blog post, one Tweet and one cupcake at a time. While I do not have skills in video production or editing, I wanted to learn how to use tools like Facebook and Twitter to express my ideas. Even though I have held various leadership positions, I was still that quiet girl who could not always eloquently voice her opinions.

Through the Jubilee Project, I acted using multiple platforms to share my beliefs. For example, in November we hosted a two-day Movember bake sale for men’s health awareness and fundraised for the Livestrong Foundation and prostate cancer research. Our chapter raised more than $500. We also participated in the “12 Days of Kindness Campaign” in December, where for 12 days we challenged ourselves to spread love and joy to others. We realized that every day should be a day of kindness, regardless. Moving forward, we began a blog to share our experiences, and I opened a Twitter account to Tweet quotations, articles or videos that I find inspiring. We are also now working on our first short film to spread awareness about leukemia and the need for bone marrow donors, especially among minorities.

Because of this experience, among others, I gained self-confidence. Being able to share and educate others without having to be physically present is empowering. You know you’re doing something that may be affecting someone else’s life in a positive way, whether its someone in your community, or a stranger across the globe.

I credit my Brandeis experience for making me realize that ordinary people like us—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, class, educational background, or age, whether we’re the person who is the center of attention or the shy awkward person who keeps to themselves—can do extraordinary things with tools that we already have. If you believe in a cause deeply enough, by performing just the smallest acts you can make a difference. You don’t have to be the face of an organization to set the stage. Your one Tweet, your one blog post, your one Facebook status, is being read by your friends, your family and maybe even by someone on the other side of the world. That can start a movement.

Thus, to my fellow Brandeisians, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and to find your own medium to express yourselves. Don’t be afraid to try something you never deemed possible. Who knows, that medium could set the stage to change the world.