reflecting sunior year


I think it’s safe to say this year has seen me develop myself. Doing a 3 year program means that I’m cramming two years of experiences into one, alongside pursuing my passions and maintaining that tricky 3.8 GPA. Sometimes I’ve asked myself if I’m cheating myself of a proper undergraduate experience by giving up the fourth year to pursue a Master’s instead, but looking back at what I’ve done, I think I’ve done as much as I could to have the best damn time.

Freshman year was all about finding my place in this school; about finding my families and friends. This year was about finding my purpose. I naturally got drawn to work on communities, to see how to build them and make them more cohesive. My experience with The Hidden Good had exposed me to the power of community activism, and I was excited to get back into the fray of finding ways to improve the way some of our communities function. My work on IFC saw me vastly transform the notion of community and how we need to educate ourselves on topics related to it. Mayfest allowed me to be part of one of the biggest community building events of the year.  ISO gave me the platform to set the stage right for the international community as they entered into Northwestern. And there’s so much more – either in the works or under wraps – that I’ve been found myself working on, that I truly feel like I’ve identified my purpose on this campus.

The concept of purpose is a complex one. Most would identify purpose as a milestone i.e. my goal is to become a lawyer. In college, that’s all too common. Many are here to strive for the degree, and eventually get a job. But purpose in that form does very little for the soul. The soul is an engine, full of fiery powers that connect to adrenaline, lust and happiness among others.  Purpose is the fuel. Good fuel is purpose identified as a state of being i.e. my purpose is to build communities.  With that, there’s always some new way to achieve the purpose even as multiple milestones are hit. It’s also more connected to your daily habits and ultimately, your values and principles, effectively molding you into a better person. This past year helped me realize that.

I think this year also saw me vastly reconsider how I approach friendships. While I love meeting people and growing my circle, I’ve found myself developing multiple core friend groups that I’ve just wanted to stay strong and secure in. I’ve made an effort to appreciate the people in my life, and I’ve felt the love back. Through the work I’ve done talking to seniors and alumni, what I’ve learnt is that keeping those core groups precious is extremely important, because those are the people you’ll want to remember past college.

One of my few grievances of the past year has to be with how little I’ve seen my family and how much of a crucial year I’ve missed. My siblings are going through transformational stages of their lives and I’m limited to how much I can be a big brother to them because of distance and time. More than once now, I’ve not been able to make it to family gatherings around the world simply because of logistical frustrations. It’s difficult, seeing friends who are from the US, constantly go for dinners with their families, when I know I have wait a whole year before I can experience that.

My biggest joy for the year past though, is how much I’ve developed my photography skills. I started photography as a hobby to complement the videography I wanted to do for The Hidden Good. Yet, over time, I learnt I had a natural eye for settings and also a tendency to put myself in dangerous but prime positions for amazing shots.  I loved being able to capture a mix of emotion and reality in a single frame, and translate that into beauty that I could reflect on. I’ve gone out on multiple projects just to keep the trigger finger happy, but every time I’ve completely enjoyed being a witness to the world around us.

So much has happened this past year. And yet there’s so much more I want to do. Senior year is next. And you know I’m not going to let it rest.




The Thing about Decency

Disclaimer : This is a personal post, and in no way represents the views of Mayfest or the University.

Honour and pride is easily expected when you work in a public environment, but perhaps more likely forecasted are vitriol and criticism. I took some time today to detach myself emotionally from Mayfest, the group that organises Dillo Day and to critically evaluate whether anything done over the past few months was lacking or substandard. I’ve dedicated myself to be effective and that meant not letting bias cloud judgement. I love the people in Mayfest and all that it’s done for me, but I needed to be objective. My conclusion is that the hate is still undeserved for various reasons. This will be a lengthy post, but indulge me. Let me present what I believe to be facts.

Let’s start with the topic of hiring a proper production house to produce Mayfest. I understand this inclination completely. It could feel so much more reassuring to know that we had paid a premium of around $80-$150K to an organisation , and trust that they would have better protocol and judgement than a bunch of ‘incompetent students’. I have Two Counterpoints to this. 1) Mayfest is made of Northwestern Students. As much as so much of the festival leadup and the peripherals of the day of is dismissed as trivial compared to the actual concert, they are truthfully some of the biggest forces bringing students together on this campus. On a school criticised by its own students for not having more events that achieve these effects, the only people who could truly understand and be intimate with the students to develop a festival catered for students are the students themselves. No matter what, I would not trust a production house to produce a concert for Northwestern students. Perhaps a generic one, but then what’s the culture in that? Say what you want, but there’s something to be proud of when our own school can produce a concert. It’s unfair to only sing praises when the sun is shining. 2) Cost. More money goes to the production house, less money goes to the artists. Raise the student activity fee, and cause more students to doubt their ability to continue their education.It’s humbling to remember any raise in costs affects someone; there’s always someone at the margin.

Onto the topic of contingency. The most frequent slam on Mayfest is that the organisation is inadequate for planning ahead in case of inclement weather. The conversation is then steered to target the fact that Mayfest did not book any wet-weather area a year ahead , knowing that weather will be bad this season. Welsh-Ryan was booked for a high school graduation. Planning for Dillo begins once the Exec is formed, which is normally only after the previous year’s Dillo. Knowing the inner workings of Mayfest to a relative level, I can attest to the fact that members aren’t trivial in dealing with contingency. Think of yourself – do you see yourself forecasting problems with weather? Members in Mayfest have been in it for up to 4 years – weather is one of the most pertinent discussions. If you could believe that someone who goes to the same school as you and therefore is of the same intelligence range as you, has undergone 4 years of experience, and cares about Dillo despite  the unrewarded work gone into it, would not make all efforts to provide contingency for wet weather, then I suggest developing a stronger sense of empathy. There  was no location that could be booked in time, that made sense and fitted the recruitments of scale of production, and so Mayfest rolled with the cards they were dealt and went on to make the best of what they were given. Rain or Shine , the concert goes on. When did strong winds pop out on the weather forecast? Literally Friday evening. Wind was a whole ‘nother level of hazard that students or artists shouldn’t be put through – it could cause the structure to fall apart potentially based on their safety descriptions.  Just postpone it?  The weather was forecasted to get worse, which it  did, and artists were time-sensitive. The call had to be to cancel it, unfortunate , terribly unfortunate, but necessary. Were people in Mayfest nonchalantly excited to cancel the concert they had spent a majority of their year planning?  It doesn’t really matter. The Fire Department made the call. Mayfest stood behind it because it was the right thing to do, and it takes courage to do the right thing in light of unpopular response.

Wristband refunds.  I went through the ticket policies of Lolla, Tomorrowland, Coachella and a few others. All had explicitly stated they didn’t refund for tickets no matter what. Norris Box Office stated the same terms and conditions – standard protocols. Sure, discretion could be exercised to provide refunds if Mayfest was to blame for the cancellation. Yet, this was clearly out of the hands of Mayfest.  Near full costs had probably been excised , and there was no financial capacity to afford a refund – they were mostly returned to SAFC, and not into Mayfest’s budget.

Finally, probably the most trivial of all complaints. That Mayfest didn’t publicise the free show that occured the very night of Dillo Day. Firstly, it wasn’t a rational move to publicise a 21+  event that excluded a majority of students – that wasn’t what  Mayfest was meant for. Second, only around 8 out of the 75+ members in Mayfest went to the  concert, inciting criticism that this was therefore an exclusive Mayfest event. Yes Mayfest people went to the event, because they too are humans and therefore capable of  beings fans of the artists. There were around 40-50 other Northwestern students present at the event, who by being true fans  of Miguel and A$AP Ferg had followed their socials and went to catch the free show. Perhaps this is where I allow myself to be a bit more subjective and state that I find it difficult to comprehend how after a month of complaining about the line-up, people can get riled up that the same artists had produced a show out of the context of Dillo Day, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of Mayfest. Do it out of courtesy? Refer to point #1. We love this school, but we don’t want to encourage anything that could divide the school rather than bring it together.

I’m clearly affected by the past day and so. I spent 2 years in Singapore trying to fight negativity and encourage empathy, solidarity and an effort to understand before judgement. Sure, criticism is due where it’s necessary. But seek to find information before criticising. Ask appropriate questions, targeted at clarifying rather than accusing. These were principles a whole country decided was necessary for its progress, and it’s disappointing to be honest, to see that those are principles that need to be spread on this campus to. I read a speech referred to me called This is Water. It’s a fantastic speech but this quote got me good –

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.
It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Mayfest is sorry. People cried in the tent. Are they sorry because it’s their fault? I doubt it. They’re sorry because they too wanted to be part  of the experience that everyone describes as the best day of the year. They too were deprived of that opportunity, and although as shown above, they weren’t the reason behind the disappointment of cancellation, they (and now I shall start saying we) felt responsible. We too are Northwestern.

Members of Mayfest were spat on, members of Mayfest were heckled at and shouted at. Members were called ugly names and then their public details publicised online. I was told not to fight back , and I’m not going to. Instead I am going to encourage those who are reading this, who agree with me that civility and decency is something that we must truly hold on to, lest we regress, to be loud about the decision to fight negativity in this school. Fight untruths, fight discord. Because this world is a hateful place already, and if we as the future choose to carry that trait, then we decide the society we inherit. We can build a better society, regardless of it’s with regards to Mayfest or any other organisation in this campus  that aims to give back.

Do more good, do less evil.

I will always continue believing we can do better.

Once again, this is my opinion and mine alone.


dillo day;3000 friends;an epic turn of events

In my unusually involved life, I am rarely bored. But these past few weekends, and the weekend to come has and will be extravagantly exciting for me. Tomorrow is Dillo Day. The Day Northwestern becomes a State School; the Day where we become a community again; the Day where this school realises how fortunate they are . Joining Mayfest in the Fall was initially a dip into a pool I never expected to eventually delve so deep. There was so much to learn, so much to do, and such a great community of people to be around.

I am consistently excited by the level of skill and talent brought to Dillo Day by the people organising it, and even more thrilled by the fact that this festival is truly truly put together by the students. There’s very little work outsourced, and that makes Mayfest and the month of May such a joy. As is my philosophy, I put myself out there. I made friends, committed to tasks out of my purview to learn and indulge in the background of the festivities, and got dealt a dish so sweet I couldn’t stop digging in.

Today we had our pre-production, where as a crew we had to help set up everything. I was appointed the KeyMaster, a role extremely involved for a newcomer but so very intimate with the movements of the festival. I had earned the trust of the people around me, but more importantly I was able to do something meaningful for this event. I was able to be of value, and I was a wildcard – probably one of the few, if not only , international students on the board. Then again, I never allowed my background to disrupt who I am and what I am to offer , and I’m happy it was the case here again.

Tomorrow is going to be a rollercoaster. But as with every ride, you walk up wanting to get back again, and feel the ups and downs. I’m glad I made the friends I made here – some of my favorite people on campus are in Mayfest now, and I’m fortunate to meet the likes of them.

I hit 3000 friends on Facebook yesterday. I know only because Facebook sent me a notification, and I almost wanted to do a Facebook cleaning to remove the friends who were simply ‘fake’ friend requests. I went through my list and then realised I couldn’t find many people who I  didn’t actually know and have memories with. It’s an interesting moment then to realise you’ve truly reached a point in life, at such a young age, where you have a widespread network of friends and companions around the world, in almost every continent.

I value my friends and networks a lot. One could even say, it’s been one of my key strengths – relating to people. There’s just so much to add to one’s life by understanding someone else’s – no matter their background or ability. Their stories inspire your stories, and you share in the knowledge that life has a common message for everyone – You are breathing now, so live.

To the people that have made my days and nights spectacular – thank you.

After this quarter, I’m finally ready to start making moves on the Big Idea. I’ve decided to spend as much time in Summer upgrading myself again, and learning new skills and building new relations.  Something epic will come soon. I promise.

stay excited everyone.