After almost two years of forcing my brother to come up to New York City, I finally got the chance to make the trip in the other direction and visit Washington DC this past weekend. While I was hoping to finally check off the cherry blossoms from my bucket list, the never ending winter foiled those plans. Luckily, thanks to some especially fortuitous timing and a last minute scramble, a few of my college friends from Penn (and one straggler from Princeton, ahem) managed to all convene in DC for a spontaneous reunion! As much as I love my new post-grad life in New York (I think I'm one of the only people that prefers "real life" to college...), seeing everybody in one place reminded me of what I truly value from my college experience. Yes, I had wonderful professors and a pretty great education, but most importantly, I was surrounded by an incredibly diverse group of people who were all high-achievers in vastly different fields. When I first got to Penn, I shunned the word "feminist", had no idea what racist microaggresions were, wouldn't have recognized privilege even if it slapped me in the face, and all around just knew so little about society! The diverse ethnic, cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds of this group here as well as so many more of my friends at Penn totally transformed my viewpoints on life, society, education, and culture. Even though we didn't realize how diverse our little reunion actually was, looking at these photographs now brings so much joy to my heart. Beauty truly has no bounds - just look at these people! Beyond the lofty thoughts, though, of course the whole weekend was just an all around great time. I got to explore more of the city, meet my brother's friends, experience some epic brunches (shoutout to Tonic for their ridiculous breakfast tots and Busboys & Poets for their very unique Iraqi corned beef hash!), experience one of the weirdest shows I'll probably ever see, eat a gigantic passion fruit macaron from Bakers & Baristas (although it wasn't a "real" macaron in my humble opinion #ladureesnob), check out the incredible Newseum (the Pulitzer Prize photo exhibit brought tears to my eyes multiple times), re-live my study abroad semester with a friend at Nando's, and of course force everybody to pose for portraits and more portraits. Can't wait to travel more!
A few months back, all the seniors at Penn were required to take graduation photos. Unsurprisingly, nearly everybody's turned out hilariously horrible (shoutout to those of you who can actually rock the cap and gown pose!). After endless pestering from her mom, my best friend, Janet (or as I like to call her, JChowder), begrudgingly asked me if I'd be willing to take some senior portraits of her. I was ECSTATIC. Not just because she's my best friend, but because here was this prime opportunity to turn her (unwillingly) into the glorioussss model that I had envisioned! In other words, she was my puppet and had no choice in the matter.
You see, Janet and I are total opposites: I'm a hopeless romantic, way too Type A sometimes, and pride myself on being an early adopter. Janet's way more realistic when it comes to relationships, really chill about a lot of things, and always complains she doesn't know how to use her iPhone. We're so different that my friend Christy actually came up with a "Janet-Amanda Spectrum" for our group of friends. The theory goes that if the average of any two people on the spectrum comes out to somewhere in the middle, they'll be really good friends. Considering we're the ends of the spectrum, we average perfectly to the center: BOOM! Best Friends For Ever.
One of the things that I realized from this photoshoot was how important it is for there to be a comfortable relationship between the photographer and subject. Janet pretty much dreaded this entire photoshoot, but I was able to make her climb in bushes and try weird poses. Even better, I got to yell at her the entire time: "JANET. You're NOT SMILING. SMILE HARDER! No, I know how you smile, and that's FAKE. Do it again or else I'll make you stay here for hours!" I know she absolutely hated it, but in the end it was totally worth it! True, I had to delete about 50% of the photos because she was either making an unhappy face or fake smiling, but the rest are golden! So, I present to you, my wonderful and beautiful best friend:
As an English & History major, Janet also wanted some pictures with Bennett hall. It was really different shooting indoors without a tripod, but I still love a lot of these shots!
And finally, only a fraction of the many annoyed/unhappy/sad Janet photos that I have:
In all reality, though, my friendship with Janet stems out of the deepest love for each other. There are few people in the world who understand me so well. Even though we're so different, we stretch and pull to meet each other whenever the other needs it. She's always excited and happy for me no matter how dumb of news I share with her, and she supports me in nearly everything I do. She's been my rock and my go-to person for what seems like forever. I can't imagine my life without her, but I'm glad that never needs to happen. I know for sure, we'll be balancing each other out until the days when we're retired and finally look like we're 30 (gotta love those youthful Asian genes!). I can just imagine myself trying to teach Janet how to drive a hovercraft, but she's only just figured out how to take a screen shot on her iPhone 4. She'll write the novel about the grand Notebook-level love story of my life, and I'll force her to adopt a small fluffy animal and admit it's kind of cute. In the end, though, no matter where we are, we'll be together. Love you, JChowder!
A few weeks ago, my housemate, Amy, asked me if I could try photographing her at her senior dance show for Onda Latina. I was super nervous because I knew there would be a lot of low lighting, fast movement, and a no flash photography rule. I told her to not have too high of expectations, but I actually think the photos came out better than expected! A lot of the show had very bright color backlighting which made for some cool silhouettes. And of course, Amy was PHENOMENAL. Seriously, girl can moveee! I always knew she was talented, but over Fall Break we went to Boston together and she dragged me and my friend Maegan out to salsa dance. It was traumatic. While she was doing crazy spins back and forth with her partner, I had a guy ditch me after 10 seconds because I was so bad hahah. It was much more fun to watch HER move and sit in the stands this time around.
Some of my favorite images from the show:
The best part of it all was that this was Amy's last show at Penn! It was so great seeing her senior class dance together and four years of hard work culminating together. I know from living with Amy that Onda Latina has been her second family for a long time. It was so great to see that all come together!
And of course, we had to capture a little bit of Chi O representation while we were there!
When I look back on my four years at Penn, what will I remember? I know the memories that stand out the most to me today, but I wonder what I'll remember six months from now, 20 years from now, and which stories I choose to highlight as more and more time passes on. There's obviously the phenomenal education that I received from The Wharton School, but my education has been so much more than just lectures and exams. There's the insanity of group projects and team dynamics like freshman year MGMT 100 where we routinely booked 8 GSRs back to back and then my Impact Investment team this year where our main thread had the subject line "Kevin Sucks!!!!" for over 40 emails. There have been bonds formed over the collective struggles of junior spring OCR, leaving core classes for senior year, and trying to write as tiny as possible for our formula sheets. There have been late night Wawa runs and Insomnia deliveries, and who can forget staying up until 5:30AM in the Struggle Booth? At the same time, there have been classes beyond Wharton that have defined my life in ways I never imagined. Adding Digital Photography as a 6th class my second semester senior year was a little aggressive, but it's fueled this blog and pushed the boundaries of my creativity more than any other class at Penn. Without my Asian American Communities class, I would probably still be uncomfortable with admitting that I am an Asian American, something that I've embraced more and more in the past year.
But above all else, it's the friendships that have shaped my life. I have found people that truly know me inside and out. People who understand my quirks and oddities, yet love me anyway. I'm still amazed that my insane freshman hall experience resulted in some of my best friends at Penn. I'll never forget the time we installed an elliptical in our balcony, or the time I unwittingly drank beer water for 2 weeks out of my Brita, or the time when the dining hall was unprepared for Snowpocalypse and we had to live off of bread rinds. I've lived with two amazing houses which has fostered relationships that are going to last a lifetime, and I've spent four years with the amazing women of Chi Omega and become a real family with my lineage. I delved so much deeper into my faith thanks to Greek IV and found relationships in the Greek community beyond what I could imagine my freshman year. And who can forget all the people beyond Penn as a physical place? There was that time I thought I was terrified of being separated from a Christian community for 9+ months, and God sent me the most beautiful small group at Redeemer in NYC and plopped me into the world of Martha's Vineyard FOCUS. And of course, there's London. I don't think enough blog posts will ever describe the love in my heart that I have for my group from London - these people helped me find myself, even though I was thousands of miles away from home.
So a huge thank you to everybody who has shaped my life and my experience at Penn. I couldn't have done any of it without you, and God knows I wouldn't be who I am today without you all either. I started this journey such a different person, and now, four years later, I finally feel like I am who I am meant to be. And yes, it's an amazing place to be.