On Graduating And Pursuing The Unknown

July 05, 2020

A few weeks ago, I graduated Hopkins with degrees in Computer Science and Economics. Usually by the time I get to the end of that sentence, one question lingers on people’s minds: why study Computer Science or Economics at a school famous for medicine?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: In my years leading up to college, I never would have dreamed of studying Computer Science or Economics. Actually, I wasn’t even planning to attend Hopkins at all.

A lot of people imagine the college selection process as touring around the United States, finding your “dream” school, applying, then getting in. Unfortunately, none of that was true for me. From the onset, I scoffed at the idea of driving hours away to hear college admissions repeat the same message over and over again - we have interdisciplinary studies, millions of student organizations, and great Greek life, whatever that meant. So I drew up my college list in quite possibly the most arbitrary way possible: I “randomly” selected from the top 20 schools in the US News & World Report —with a strong preference for those without large amounts of supplements— then threw in a few safeties. By that point, I already had around 10 schools on my list. Then I asked my parents what they thought of my list. Soon, 10 schools became 11, then 12, 13, 14.

Then, the night before we officially started winter break, my parents asked me what I thought about Hopkins. No way, I immediately thought. At that point, the only people I saw attending Hopkins were studying some kind of science, and as a self-proclaimed hopeless case in chemistry and physics, science was the thing I wanted least in my life. I didn’t want to go to a “STEM” school. I also didn’t want to write another 500 word supplement. I don’t remember why I ended up applying, only that I was still belaboring over the application as the ball dropped us into 2016. It was the last application I sent out.

2016 ended up changing my life. It turns out when you apply to a bunch of colleges, you just end up with a bunch of rejections, quite a few waitlists, then some acceptances. By some stroke of chance, Hopkins ended being one of those acceptances. When I finally got around to taking a second look at the school, I realized they had the number 1 public health program in the world and hadn’t I just competed in five years of Disease Detectives? And so my stubborn refusal to even apply to Hopkins transformed itself into a matriculation deposit a few months later.

Fast forward to autumn. As I prepared to sign my Declaration of Independence from my parents, I held these truths to be self-evident: I was going to become a Public Health and Environmental Science double major. I was going to do research in Environmental Health at Hopkins’ School of Public Health. Then I would graduate and become a doctor, epidemiologist, or an environmental lawyer.

As you might guess, none of those things ended up panning out for me. I did try out a stint volunteering for an Environmental Health researcher, who I’m still fortunate took me under her wing. And I did play around with the idea of being pre-med for quite a while— leading to a summer taking costly chemistry courses at my state university. But those choices didn’t end up becoming the most formative experiences in my college career.

Instead, I walked into my first-ever programming and economics classes, found I quite enjoyed them, then declared myself Computer Science and Economics the semester after. While mulling over and over about whether I was pre-med, I began volunteering for Financial Futures for Families on a whim, which undoubtedly led me to some of my biggest role models, my best friends, a love for Baltimore City, even my full-time job in technology today. I joined an entrepreneurship club. I became a freshmen RA.

I attribute much of my accomplishments to this simple advice my mom gave me on the first day of college orientation: try something new. I had strayed away from programming because in high school, I barely knew any girls taking the class. I had strayed away from economics because we didn’t have AP Economics, just Honors Economics, and I didn’t want to risk dropping my GPA. These are pretty crappy reasons, I know. Reflecting back on my mom’s words made me realize we’re only confined by the limits we impose upon ourselves. In reality, the bounds of what we can achieve and become are infinite. It was this realization that drove me to sign up for Intro to Programming and Elements of Macroeconomics, then Financial Futures, TCO Labs, and the person I am today.

To any underclassmen, incoming freshmen, anyone reading this, if there’s anything you take away from this tale, I hope it’s this: even when you’re sure of the future, pursue the unknown. Over the course of these four years, I’d been so sure of who I was going to be, where I was going, and how I was going to do it. I always thought I had to take specific classes and do research in specific fields to become an environmental health advocate because up until that point in my life, that’s all I knew. Yet in many ways, it’s because of my new experiences that I now see myself as the environmental health advocate I aspired to become five years ago.

People often like to ask the question, “if you could do it all over again, what’s one thing you would change?” But the thing is, there is rarely an opportunity to do anything over again, and given our lives as transient beings, we are almost always pressed for time. So I urge you now, to go out and pursue the unknown. It’s the serendipitous moments that make life worth it.