Comfort the disturbed. Disturb the comfortable

I love spoken word poet Sarah Kay.  I am low-key proud that my middle name is Kay so that our names are a bit similar.  For those of you who have no idea who she is, you can get a glimpse of her young wisdom here and her humbling humor here.  That quote comes from her speech she gave to Scripps graduating class of 2015.  I just really like that quote.

As a senior in college, I was hit with a little epiphany.  When else will it be my job to go to class everyday to learn anything that I could possibly want to learn about?  When else will it be acceptable for my parents to support me 100% as I walk on the most beautiful campus in the world that’s pretty much an open book of extraordinary traditions, discoveries, and lessons?   All my classes this quarter made me literally think “I love learning” almost every single day.  As the time ticks towards the end of this book, I find myself exponentially valuing my time sitting in lectures, seeking professors in office hours, and seeking out subjects I’ve always wanted to “randomly” learn about.

Every morning I trekked to the furthest side of campus about 40 minutes away from my apartment to take American Sign Language 1.  It was a class that didn’t fulfill any requirements, yet it was a class I begged the professor to let me into (I was on the wait list) and woke up sleep deprived every morning to attend.  Starting my morning with that class truly brought a smile to my face – I have never met a professor as kind hearted and passionate about his teaching as him.  We also occasionally matched:

Being in this class has given me a lot.  It’s given me excitement to ask questions during class, and for the first time, regularly go to office hours simply because I just wanted to sign with my professor about my day.  It’s made me want to look up sign language Youtube videos during my free time to become better.  It’s also made me highly interested in Deaf culture, and I even took the time to make it out to CSUN to attend a conference about social justice put on by its Deaf association.  I have never been surrounded by so many Deaf individuals, and although I felt welcomed, it made me feel like an outsider and put things into perspective.

My interest in Deaf studies was warmly welcomed by my Disabilities Studies class.  As a writing II class, I enrolled in it because I needed to fulfill writing requirements for medical school applications.  It being an upperdiv writing class, and me never being a strong writer, I feared it at the beginning. A lot.  And the readings and assignments were endless, but I set a goal for myself to try to love the class. And I did.  For the first time, I tried my absolute best to complete the readings before class, sat myself at the front of the room every lecture, and forced myself to participate in my 80-person class.  I thought to myself, why not? Why not be like those super opinionated and eye-opening students who I always wanted to be like?  And while at first, my heart thumped every time I raised my hand to answer specific questions, pretty soon, they weren’t forced, and I shared random thoughts, disagreements, and connections I saw with my daily life.  I became comfortable saying that it’s in human nature, as much as we deny, to seek pure perfection in body type and mentality.  That although Hitler was an extremist who wanted a “pure” race, history may be repeating itself through today’s eugenics and constant pressure to “over come” and essentially wipe out disabilities.  We are constantly seeking normalcy.  We can’t stand ambiguity.  Well, at least I can’t.  I’m a Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major (try saying that 5 times), and I spent this last quarter trying to memorize the developmental cycle of B cells (did you know there’s 3 different types?) that goes through 6 stages with the presence of different cell surface markers like B220 and Cd43 at each stage.  If one of your many cell surface receptors aren’t working, well your whole immune system may go to shit. I’ve been molded by the sciences to seek black and white, solid answers, and unambiguity.  This disabilities class pretty much made me question every topic from opposite directions.  Disabled people may not view themselves as disabled since they are able to do what “normal” people can.  But on the other hand, disabled people are proud of their disabilities…and the concept of disability is only present because of the concept of abnormality from a socially constructed normalcy…which disabled people see themselves as fitting under.  Well that was just a circle of confusion.  Kind of represents what my brain’s been dealing with for the quarter with this class. It shattered my narrow-minded, super specific fact-driven mentality.  Thus this class was a 180 degree change from my other classes.  It made me realize, frustratingly, deeply and respectfully, that these human bodies I intricately study every little cell and systems of, have histories, narratives, and relationships with others. Who knew. I enrolled in an upperdiv Disabilities Law class for next quarter. An upperdiv law class. Me. For fun….

But that is not to say I did not enjoy my Immunology class.  It was in fact, so insanely mind-blowing taught by some of the most ‘very big deal’ people I’ve ever been taught by.  Utmost respect to this subject, people who study it, and the phenomenal human body.  I remember when I was studying for the MCAT, immunology was one of my favorite subjects.  It is so incredibly complicated, and I became slightly addicted to the complexity.  This class, however, was a bit too much.  So fast-paced that it was impossible to understand everything during one lecture and homework assignments took hours.  It was probably the hardest class I took with some of the smartest people I have ever had a class with.  Taking it at the same time as my research immersion class may have been spreading myself too thin.

The research immersion class I took this past quarter was a 2 quarter lab series – the first quarter last spring was based on wet lab experiments and isolating a novel virus.  This quarter was focused on analyzing its genome. It’s the most work I have ever done on a class.  My team and I met at all hours of any day: 6am on Sundays, 10pms on weeknights, before class at the library, rotating through everyones apartments.  We isolated and characterized a mycobacteriophage that may be able to be used for phage therapy against closely related bacteria such as tuberculosis.  But, aside from the mind-blowing science, 50 page final manuscript, and the poster we made, this class has taught me the true value of team work.  I have always dreaded group work; it always felt like I was always stuck on the short end of the stick, picking up others slack and wishing I could do everything by myself.  I could not have survived this class without this team, these exact people.  We were all going crazy throughout the quarter, especially towards the end when we had multiple assignments and deadlines every single class, and I thought I was intense and more focused than the average student.  Their commitment got me through some frustrating and late nights.  Their lame jokes about viruses kept me laughing through every writing assignment and genome annotation.  Their willingness to work past how long we originally decided all the time resulted in an amazing research project, and I could not be more proud.  You learn a lot from teachers and books, but you don’t realize how much you learn from each other.  I realized for the first time that team work, although it takes luck finding the right people, can take you exponentially further than your own individual work.  This was probably the most rewarding class I had ever taken, and our poster got accepted to be presented at a west coast biological sciences conference in San Diego next year.

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I had always had an inkling of desire to raise my hand in class and voice my opinion, to be that student who randomly goes to professor’s office hours to talk about life, to become completely invested in teachings of a class.  But for the past 3 years, it was I’ll do it later.  But later is now, and I had to disturb my comfort.  We always seek to comfort the disturbed – to make what’s wrong right and fix things.  But sometimes, it takes stepping out of your comfortable bubble, disturbing your daily routine, and doing something that makes your heart thump, to redefine your comfort.

I have never worked harder on my academics than I have had this past quarter.  Senioritis is not a thing.  Being a senior actually ignited a sense of naive curiosity.  Whenever I walked out of my research class late after class time was up, rushed to my ASL class early mornings after waking up late, and left my immunology class feeling like I had been slapped in the face with so much information that went over my head, I still said thank you.  Because every time I walked under the glowing arches of Royce Hall from the sunset, hiked up the bricks of Bruin Walk, and looked out into the brisk fall from the cozy fireplace of Northern Lights, I felt so incredibly thankful to be at this school no matter what circumstance, no matter what shit went down that day.  Freshmen year I yearned for each finals week to be over.  This year, even while I was biting back swear words studying for my Immunology final, I wanted time to go slower.  I didn’t want this quarter to end.  It is humbling to be able to walk, breathe, and learn at this amazing institution.

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